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Scientific Name(S): Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf. Andropogon citratus DC, A. schoenathus. C. flexuosus, A. flexuosus. Family: Poaceae (Gramineae), Grass.

Common Name(S): Lemongrass. C. citratus, is known as Guatemala, West Indian, or Madagascar lemongrass; C. fIexuosus is known as cochin lemongrass, British Indian lemongrass, East Indian lemongrass, or French Indian verbena.

Lemon grass ( Cymbopogon citratus ), a native of India, is widely used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  Lemon grass is a perennial, which means once you plant it, the grass comes back year after year.  Depending on the area you live in the plant will go dormant in the winter.  In harsh climates the plant will need to be potted and wintered indoors. This aromatic herb is used in Caribbean and many types of Asian cooking and has become very popular in the United States. Most of the commercial crops for the United States are grown in California and Florida.  Lemon grass is also used for medicinal purposes.

Botany: Cymbopogon is a tall, aromatic perennial grass that is native to tropical Asia. C. citratus is cultivated in the West indies, Central and South America, and tropical regions. The linear leaves can grow up to 90 cm in height and 5 mm wide. Freshly cut and partially dried leaves are used medicinally and are the source of the essential oil.

History: Lemongrass is one of the most widely used traditional plants in South American folk medicine. It is used as an antispasmodic, analgesic, for the management of nervous and GI disorders, to treat fevers, and as an antiemetic. In India, it is commonly used as an antitussive, antirheumatic, and antiseptic. It is usually taken by ingesting an infusion made by pouring boiling water on fresh or dried leaves. Lemongrass is an important part of Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in Thai food and has been used in flavoring. In Chinese medicine, lemongrass is used in the treatment for headaches, stomachaches, abdominal pain, and rheumatic pain.

Uses of Lemongrass

Lemongrass is used as a fragrance and flavoring, and in folk medicine as an antispasmodic, hypotensive, anticonvulsant, analgesic, antiemetic, antitussive, antirheumatic, antiseptic, and treatment for nervous and GI disorders and fevers. Because there is little human evidence to support its effectiveness in an oral dosage, lemongrass may be considered a placebo.

Culinary Uses

Lemon grass features in Indonesian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and Indian cooking and is widely used in savoury dishes and meat, poultry, seafood and vegetable curries. It harmonizes well with coconut milk, especially with chicken or seafood, and there are countless Thai and Sri Lankan recipes exploiting this combination. The stems are also used in teas or used in pickles and in flavouring marinades.

Side Effects of Lemongrass

Lemongrass is considered to be of low toxicity. Constituent beta-myrcene was found to interfere with cytochrome P450 liver enzymes, suggesting possible toxicities.

Toxicology: Lemongrass is "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) in the US.

Topical application of lemongrass has rarely led to an allergic reaction. Two cases of toxic alveolitis have been reported from inhalation of the oil. No laboratory test abnormalities were noted after ingestion of lemongrass tea. Oral doses equivalent to 208 times the normal human dose did not potentiate the sleep-time of sodium pentobarbital in mice. An infusion of lemongrass given orally to rats for 2 months in doses up to 20 times the corresponding human dose did not induce any toxic effects. The tea did not affect male rats in any way.

Similarly, female rats showed no abnormality in the estrus cycle, nor did doses interfere with fertility, pregnancy, or the development of the offspring. No external malformations were noted in the pups. The authors concluded that the lack of toxicity and pharmacologic activity made lemongrass a valuable placebo. Achara, an herbal tea made from dried lemongrass leaves, was found to be atoxic. Substance beta-myrcene was found not to be genotoxic in another report. Aqueous extracts of the plant used as an insecticide led to some mitotic abnormalities in Allium cepa root tips grown in these extracts, which may have implications in humans. In addition, constituent beta-myrcene was found in reports to interfere with cytochrome P450 liver enzymes, suggesting possible toxicities.

Lemongrass should not be used in pregnancy because of uterine and menstrual flow stimulation.

Summary: Lemongrass is widely used in South American folk medicine for analgesia, nervousness, and GI disorders. In India, it is used for inflammation and as an antiseptic. Lemongrass is also used as a food flavoring and fragrance in beauty products. The plant possesses marked antibacterial and antifungal effects, as well as anticarcinogenic actions. Lemongrass is generally considered to be of low toxic potential, but may alter certain liver enzymes.

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