Why You Should Stop to Smell the Lemongrass

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Garlic, black pepper, cayenne, thyme. These are some of your more common, “everyday” spices and herbs you may use at home to flavor meals. And although they all make great flavoring agents and deliver some amazing health benefits, I find myself wanting to further engage my taste buds and cook with ingredients I am less familiar with using.

One of these ingredients is lemongrass, an herb that has a lemon taste (hence the name) with a hint of ginger. It is popular in Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Vietnamese cooking, and used in teas, soups and curries.

I love lemongrass, but I usually only come across it when I go out to eat!

So I did some research to learn more about this herb, explore easy ways to incorporate it into my diet and find out some of the health benefits lemongrass may deliver.

Lemongrass, also called citronella, is a tropical plant native to Sri Lanka and South India.

The botanical name for the lemongrass plant is Cymbopogon citratus. This plant belongs to the grass family of Poaceae, along with bamboo, millet, barley, corn, wheatgrass and more.

Studies indicate that Cymbopogon citratus possesses various pharmacological activities such as anti-amoebic, antibacterial, antidiarrheal, antifilarial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Before we get into how you can use lemongrass in the kitchen, it may be of value to you to know that lemongrass essential oil is something you may use outside of the kitchen to boost your health.

The essential oil of lemongrass, which is extracted from the leaves and stalks of the plant, is commonly used in aromatherapy. The oil has a wonderful, invigorating citrus scent. This is why you may have seen lemongrass body lotions, soaps, candles and other home and body products.

You can use the oil for massage, topical applications and inhalation.

Reportedly, lemongrass essential oil is “...becoming a popular tool in aromatherapy to help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.”

You don’t have to wait until your next spa day to try aromatherapy.

Consider getting an essential oil diffuser and using lemongrass oil. Not only will your home smell great, but doing this may also help you breathe easier and improve cognitive function.

One report states, “...we found aromatherapy an efficacious non- pharmacological therapy for dementia. Aromatherapy may have some potential for improving cognitive function, especially in AD [Alzheimer's] patients.”

And using a diffuser with lemongrass may also repel insects (lemongrass is a natural bug repellent).

You can also use a vaporizer (which disperses steam in the room).

“As a vaporizer, the oil [of lemongrass] works as an effective panacea against bacteria, flu and colds,” reports the NIH.

Lemongrass has powerful antimicrobial properties.

“In one test-tube investigation, published in the medical journal Microbios in 1996, researchers demonstrated that lemongrass was effective against 22 strains of bacteria and 12 types of fungi,” according to one source.

You can even add a few drops of lemongrass essential oil to your bath water or make a body spray of lemongrass oil and water. You can also add a few drops of the oil to your shampoo or conditioner.

Test a small area of your skin first to see if you have an allergic reaction.

Since lemongrass has such strong antibacterial properties, it has also been touted to be helpful in your at-home dental care.

A homemade lemongrass oil mouthwash may help fight gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) better than a traditional mouthwash you can buy at the store. This study suggested that lemongrass mouthwash was better at reducing gingivitis-causing plaque than regular mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine (a disinfectant and antiseptic that is used in many commercial mouthwashes).

“To make a lemongrass mouthwash, dilute 2 to 3 drops of lemongrass oil in water. Swirl around the mouth and then spit out. Repeat up to three times daily,” according to this report.

So easy!

Now, let’s move on to how we can reap the benefits of lemongrass in the kitchen.

Probably one of the easiest and most relaxing ways is to sip a hot cup of lemongrass tea. You can either buy this tea or make your own. If you want to make the tea, you can use fresh lemongrass stalks or dried lemongrass (but I always recommend using the fresh option).

You can also ice this tea for a cool summer beverage and add fruit, like blueberries and strawberries, for added nutrients and antioxidants.

You may want to drink lemongrass tea, because lemongrass contains powerful antioxidants.

Antioxidants help prevent and delay cell damage by combating inflammation and oxidative stress (OS), two major contributors to several types of disease. Antioxidants may be found in supplement forms but eating natural foods that contain them may be a better way to help protect yourself from diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, arthritis and more.

“Antioxidants of note [in lemongrass] are chlorogenic acid, isoorientin, and swertiajaponin. These antioxidants may help prevent dysfunction of cells inside your coronary arteries,” according to some reports.

Drinking lemongrass tea may also be great for digestion and help stave off bad bacteria that can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.

One National Institutes of Health study suggested that lemongrass may help fight gastric ulcers.

And while most people praise (as they should) green tea for its many health benefits, lemongrass tea also deserves to be one of the stars of tea.

Drinking lemongrass tea may reduce blood pressure and help regulate cholesterol. And drinking all of those powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidants may keep your skin, hair and nails looking healthy and beautiful.

Lemongrass also contains essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin C and manganese.

So what are some simple ways to cook with lemongrass?

Lemongrass is a great flavoring agent for chicken, fish and seafood and vegetables.

Check out former President Barack Obama’s short ribs recipe which includes lemongrass. May be something fun to try at your next barbecue!

Or for a healthy vegan lunch or dinner, try making this brown rice bowl with lemongrass, tofu and cashews.

You will need:

  • 8 ounces extra firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (divided)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil (flavorless, such as grapeseed)
  • 1/2 onions (thinly sliced)
  • 3 tablespoons lemongrass (grated, white part only)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 3 cups brown basmati rice (cooked)
  • 1/4 cup cashew nuts (toasted and coarsely chopped)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves (coarsely chopped)

Any reasons to not eat lemongrass?

Overall, lemongrass in moderation appears to be safe.

However, there have been some toxic side effects, such as lung problems after inhaling lemongrass and a fatal poisoning after a child swallowed a lemongrass oil-based insect repellent,” according to WebMD.

Pregnant and breastfeeding woman should also proceed with caution. Lemongrass may start menstrual flow, so some medical professionals believe it could increase the risk of miscarriage. As always, speak with your doctor and see what he or she recommends.

I always recommend caution with any foods, especially for people with existing medical conditions. If you take any medications - prescription or over-the-counter - you always want to avoid a drug interaction.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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