Posted by: gardenshf | January 14, 2012

Now Growing: Lemongrass

It may feel like spring, but the garden still is sleeping.

Spring brings about a lot of activity in the garden as insects emerge and the days lengthen. Despite the warm days we’ve had, birds and insects know in these darker, shorter days that it is not yet time to emerge.

The Gardens at Heather Farm still has that slow, quiet winter feel. Growing among the fallen leaves of Quercus lobata, the bright green leaves of Cymbopogon citratus, or lemon grass, provide a refreshing splash of bright color at a time when most grasses are dormant.

Cymbopogon is a genus of about 55 species of grasses. This perennial grass is native to India and Sri Lanka, and it is known for its culinary uses because of its refreshing lemon flavor.

Growing 2 to 3 feet tall, it is one of those plants that needs little care.

Lemon grass is used in teas, soups and curries as a culinary and medicinal herb.

The essential oils from lemon grass, which contain citral, are used to treat flu, fevers, headaches and upset stomachs.

Citral from lemon grass also is used to produce an oil for food flavoring.

When lemon grass is dried, it can be made into a tea that helps with digestive problems.

Lemon grass is probably best known for its use as fresh herb in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. The base of the young bulbous stem is similar to a leek and has an intense flavor. It is chopped and added to dishes right before serving to add a great lemony flavor.

As a garden specimen, lemon grass does not offer pretty flowers or foliage that change with the seasons. What it does add to the garden is its hardiness and its graceful light green foliage.

Under prime conditions, lemon grass may get as tall as 5 feet.

It needs regular watering and should be divided every other year to keep it from getting too large.

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Patrice Hanlon is Garden Manager at The Gardens at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek.

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