We know lemongrass mainly from Asian cuisine. With us, too, you can grow the exotic at home with a little care and care. The original home of lemongrass ( Cymbopogon citratus ) is in Asia, probably the south of India or Sri Lanka. The plant belongs to the sweet grass family (Poaceae) and is closely related to our domestic grain varieties.
Except for taste and smell, however, sweetgrass has nothing in common with lemons. The grass can grow to be 1 to 2 m. Lemongrass forms rhizomes underground, but it does not grow uncontrollably in the garden. Since the rhizomes are very short, the stalks form into dense clumps. The narrow, pointed leaves reach a considerable length of up to 90 cm and can have a slight bluish cast. Even if the frost-sensitive grass does not want to do without the subtropical to tropical weather, it can also be grown in cooler areas with a few tricks for use in your own kitchen.
Lemongrass: Grow it yourself at home
There is a problem with growing lemongrass: it is absolutely sensitive to frost. Commercial cultivation therefore only takes place in warm areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa, or South America. Nevertheless, lemongrass can also be grown here. In any case, it should be placed in full sun.
Either you cultivate the lemongrass in pots all year round, or you plant it in the bed for the summer months. In any case, a well-drained, humus-rich substrate should be selected. A high-quality organic soil, which is mixed in a ratio of 1: 1 with a coarse material such as sand, expanded clay, or perlite, is suitable for growing in pots as well as for the bed to create drainage.
One way to propagate the lemongrass is by sowing it. For this purpose, the seeds are spread from the beginning of February to the end of March. This must be covered with earth. The sweetgrass is namely a dark germ. At optimal temperatures of around 15 ° C, it takes three to four weeks for the seedlings to break through the covering substrate layer. In late spring, however, there is also the simple and quick possibility of multiplying the division. You can simply tear apart the clump-forming, connected shoots and plant them again here and there.
If you neither have lemongrass seeds nor a mother plant to divide, you can also buy fresh lemongrass stalks. Instead of cooking with these, you put them in a glass of water for rooting. The water should be changed regularly, as the longer the water remains, the more and more of the ducts in the plant become clogged. Once the first roots a few centimeters long have formed at the base of the stalk, the young plant can be potted in the substrate.
Watering and fertilizing
As with so many plants, there is a healthy mediocrity when it comes to watering lemongrass. If it is kept too dry, it will stop growing. With constant moisture, there is a risk of root rot. Also in the bed, it is absolutely necessary to water, especially because of the preferred location in full sun.
An annual application of a primarily organic long-term fertilizer is sufficient for the supply of nutrients. Organic universal fertilizer is ideal for lemongrass and releases its nutrients slowly and gently to the plant.
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The lack of frost hardiness in our latitudes, as already mentioned, represents a challenge for cultivation in the cultivation of evergreen perennial grass. In any case, the plant must be overwintered frost-free. Specimens that have been planted out in May have to be dug up again with the first threatening frosts and transferred to the house in containers. During the winter, the place for lemongrass should be as sunny as possible and not cooler than 10 ° C. When the lemongrass is brought outside after the ice saints in mid-May, you should choose a not too sunny day for it. It is as gentle as possible for the plants, which are no longer used to direct sunlight due to the overwintering.
Lemongrass is otherwise considered to be not particularly maintenance-intensive or susceptible to pathogens. Only rust fungi can attack the grass at one point or another. Infested plants should no longer be harvested for consumption. The fungi can produce harmful mycotoxins. Uniform moisture and the avoidance of drought stress prevent rust fungus infestation.
You can find even more tips and tricks for care under “Caring For Camellia: Expert Tips For Ideal Care”.
Lemongrass: harvest and store properly
The evergreen grass can basically be harvested all year round. The stalks can easily be cut close to the ground. However, you should stay five centimeters above the surface of the earth so that you run the risk of the rhizome no longer sprouting again due to injuries. Lemongrass is most aromatic in summer. In addition, only tender, young shoots should be cut, as these are also the most intense in taste.
Like all kitchen herbs, lemongrass is best used as fresh as possible. Since the sweetgrass is mainly produced commercially in distant countries and it has a long transport route behind it when it is for sale in our stores, attention should always be paid to freshness. When wrapped in kitchen paper, the lemongrass can be stored for several weeks without losing its aroma.
And by freezing you can even extend the usability of the grass to several months. If necessary, the required straws are simply removed from the freezer compartment. However, lemongrass should not be dried. As a result of the process, the herb loses too much of its aromatic ingredients and the characteristic flavor is lost.
Lemongrass: Use in Cooking
The lemongrass owes its name-giving smell and taste to the essential oils it contains. The two most important are the so-called citronellol and geraniol. These essential oils are also found in some varieties of rose and scented geraniums, for example. Lemongrass is most famous for its use in Asian cuisine. The long, narrow leaves and the stem base are mainly used here. It is actually suitable for seasoning all hearty dishes. Lemongrass goes particularly well with meat and fish. But it is also often found in vegetable dishes. In order to create a soft drink popular in Asia, the stalks are tapped and then hot water is poured over them.
Lemongrass oil can also be extracted from the stalks. This is used as a fragrance in the production of perfumes and cosmetics. It is used as a repellent to protect against stinging insects.