GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

BOTANICAL NAME: Cymbopogon citratus

COMMON NAMES: lemongrass, ta krai, serai, citronella grass

FAMILY: Poaceae previously Graminae

ORIGIN: Ceylon

Lemon Grass growing as clumps around the vegetable garden.  You can use this as a border to keep the weeds at bay then, when it gets too big, harvest the leaves and use them as mulch – they deter pests.
This is the first in a series that I hope will be a mile long – plants that are easy to grow
and have a multifunction, i.e. you can use them for more than one thing.  Thinking about this concept is all part of  the Permaculture story – stacking a space full of plants that are going to sustain us in more ways than one.

I recently went to a talk at the Mullumbimby Community Garden by Jerry Coleby Williams (from our national broadcaster, the ABC) about cornerstone plants for the future – lemon grass would be right up there with them in his book and my book.

Why do I love this plant – because all parts are edible and it is very easy to grow AND – it is good for you.

I have lemon grass growing pots around the place – in very handy spots – so that we can make tea from the leaves without having to go out into the garden – i.e. the torrential rain!!  The clump in the top picture is right outside my kitchen door.


This is the part of lemon grass that you use in curries and soups – the white fleshy stem just above the root – the cut off leaves I use for tea.

It grows in grass-like clumps to 1 m tall. Lemongrass is adapted to hot wet summers and dry warm winters, is drought tolerant and will grow on a wide range of soils but prefers rich, moist loams. It dislikes wet feet. If it is damaged by frost in cooler areas, the tops should not be cut until all danger of frost has passed. This helps to protect the centre of the plant from further cold damage.


  • Food: a good source of vitamin A, the leaves can be used for tea, the stem bases are used in curries and Thai cooking & Vietnamese style salads.  Also contains C, potassium, magnesium, iron & phosphorus. Lemon grass with mint is the favourite tea of this household – for adults and children alike.
  • Chooks:  use chopped up lemon grass leaves as a bedding straw in your chicken run.  The six essential oils are released and help to keep mites off your precious girls.
  • Medicinal: oil used as anti-fungal.  Tea used for calming the stomach (with fresh ginger and mint) – teas also used for lowering cholesterol (University Wisconsin). Use cut leaves in muslin bag added to bath water.
  • Mulch: it can be cut continuously for mulch during the warmer months – especially around in orchards and food gardens where it acts as a passive pest control.
  • Erosion control: it can be planted on the contour on steep banks to control erosion.
  • Edging: useful also as a barrier to running grasses around vegetable gardens.  Attractive landscaping plant forming strappy lime green clump.


  • Recommended Planting Time: Plant spring in cooler areas; in tropical areas plant during the wet season.
  • Plant spacing: Plant rhizomes at a spacing of 1 m, with .5 m between rows.
  • Details: It rarely flowers. Harvesting for oil distillation begins when the clumps are 4-8 months old, it is subsequently harvested every 3-4 months, and this continues for about 4 years. The fresh grass yields 0.2-0.4% oil, giving 40-112 kg of oil/ha/yr.
  • Propagation:  By division in  late winter.  For clumps around the garden, close to the house, you may want to dig them up annually and divide them before they get too big.  Where space doesn’t matter – just shear off all the leaves in late winter (use as mulch) and just let it reshoot.

Recipe:  Dipping oil for bread. Store this in cool dark place for month shaking regularly.
Olive oil
Twig of rosemary, thyme
Bruised stem lemon grass
Clove of garlic
Crushed peppercorn

Click here to see the clever use of lemon grass as a satay stick – it flavours the meat and keeps it moist and your satay stick never gets too hot to handle!

For a traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry recipe with the fragrance of fresh lemon grass, click here

Two of my precious girls

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