Photo by Tory McTernan
I’ve cooked with lemongrass for many years, but until this year I’d never grown it myself. As I harvested my first stem, I wondered why it had taken me so long to try growing it in my garden. I suppose I’d always assumed lemongrass was an exotic plant that wouldn’t fare well in the UK’s climate. However, it’s actually pretty robust and is happy to languish outdoors in the sunshine all summer long. Given the current fashion for grasses, it’s also an excellent plant for a small garden, providing soft fountains of lush green spikes that rustle and sway in the wind.
Grow: H 1-1.5 m; W 0.5-1 m
You can buy plug plants (as I did) or grow lemongrass from seed, sowing it in small pots in spring and using a heated propagator to get them going – well, they are used to tropical temperatures. Pot them on as they grow, but make sure the plants are quite established before putting them outside – the Royal Horticultural Society recommends waiting until they’re big enough for a 20 cm (8 in) pot. You can even grow this perennial plant from shop-bought stems, popping them in pots until roots appear and then potting them up. Choose a sunny spot for them and keep them well watered.
At the end of the summer, bring lemongrass indoors so you can keep it in the manner to which it is accustomed, with temperatures no lower than 5 degrees C (41 degrees F). The foliage will turn brown in autumn, at which point cut back to about 10 cm (4 in). When you see new growth in spring, start feeding and watering regularly.
Pests & Diseases
None to worry about, apart from the odd snail.
Harvest & Storage
Harvest stems as and when needed. If a clump is quite tightly packed, use a knife to remove a section and then prise the stems free. A good tip is to take a section off the stem and plant it, using the remainder in the kitchen – that way you’re not completely depleting stocks. Fresh is best when it comes to lemongrass, though cut stems can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks or they can be frozen. To dry lemongrass, tie it in bundles and hang upside down.
Lemongrass is a bit of a marvellous medicine. Drunk as a tea, lemongrass can aid digestion, reduce anxiety, act as a diuretic and detox your system, as well as relieve pain, reduce blood pressure, boost your immune system and fight flu and cold symptoms. Oh, and chewing on the stems freshens breath.
Lemongrass can also be used as a mosquito repellent: simply crush the leaves to release their oil and rub it on your skin.
If you want to use lemongrass in your cooking, you should only use the bottom 7 cm (2-1/2in) of the stem, chopping or pounding it to a pulp in a pestle and mortar. (The discarded top sections of the stems can be strewn along borders or around containers to deter insects.) Entire lemongrass stems can be used to flavour vodka.
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Cover courtesy of Kyle Books
Excerpted with permission from Grow Your Own Botanicals by Cinead McTernan (Kyle Books, 2019).