Lemon grass is a native of India, is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking and has become very popular in North America.
It is a very pungent herb and is normally used in small amounts. The grass blade can be sliced very fine and added to soups and the bulb can be bruised and minced for a variety of recipes. The light lemon flavor of this grass blends well with garlic, chilies, and cilantro. It is frequently used in curries as well as in seafood soups. It is also used to make tea.
Lemon grass is available in ethnic markets such as Asian and Mexican. Select fresh looking stalks that don’t look dry or brittle. Store fresh lemon grass in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. You can also freeze it for about 6 months without any flavor loss. In addition to fresh, lemon grass may be purchased dried or powdered. The dried product has to be soaked in hot water and reconstituted before use. The powdered variety is useful in teas and curries but it’s not a good substitute for the fresh product. For best results in recipes use the fresh herb.
This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches. Research shows that lemongrass oil has anti-fungal properties.
In 2006, a research team from the Ben Gurion University in Israel found that lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) caused apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Through in vitro studies, the researchers examined the effect of citral, a molecule found in lemon grass, on both normal and cancerous cells. Using concentrations of citral equivalent to the quantity in a cup of tea (one gram of lemon grass in hot water), the researchers observed that citral induces programmed cell death in the cancerous cells, while the normal cells were left unharmed.