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Where Does the Herb Lemon Grass Come From?

By Karyn Maier

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon spp.), also written as lemon grass, is an herb and ornamental grass that occurs naturally in several Asian countries and is cultivated commercially in tropical regions throughout the world. There are several species of lemongrass, each of which contain aromatic volatile oils. With a lemon-like aroma and flavor, lemongrass is used in various cuisines and in the cosmetic and fragrance industries.

East Indian Lemongrass

Also known as Malabar grass, East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) is a clumping grass that is native to India. With arching bluish-green, cane-like stems that yield a lemony scent when bruised, it is a popular ornamental plant grown as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Although it is a tropical plant, it will thrive in partial shade. The plant isn’t fussy about soil pH, but does require a moist, well-drained site. It can also be grown in a container and brought indoors for the winter.

Fresh East Indian lemongrass leaves are bundled and steeped in boiling water to produce tea. The stalks can also be used as skewers or laid across foods while grilling to enhance flavor.

West Indian Lemongrass

West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is indigenous to Ceylon and southern India. This is the species preferred most for cooking and is the one typically sold in grocery stores. Like other species of lemongrass, it has a citrusy scent. Its taste is both earthy and bright, with a flavor profile that includes notes of ginger. The herb lends flavor to tea blends and is widely used in Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian cuisines. The leaves also have a high concentration of citral, an aromatic compound used to scent perfumes, cosmetics and household cleaners.

In the U.S., West Indian lemongrass is grown as an annual, or evergreen perennial in USDA zones and 10 and 11. It prefers organically rich, well-drained soil and full sun, although it will tolerate partial shade. Because the plant rarely flowers or sets seed, it is usually propagated by root division. In fact, it is difficult to find seeds for this plant.

Citronella Grass

Also called nardus and mana grass, citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus) is original to Southeast Asia and grown as a perennial in USDA zones 10 through 12. This plant is a source of citronella oil. Because this aromatic oil has a reputation for deterring mosquitoes, the plant is often positioned near decks and patios and the oil is used in insect repellent sprays and candles. The dried leaf is added to tea blends and potpourri mixtures.

Citronella grass features slender, reed-like greyish-green leaves and thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. This species of lemongrass does flower, but the cream-colored blooms aren’t particularly noteworthy.


About the Author


Karyn Maier is a seasoned columnist and feature writer. Since 1992, her work has appeared in Mother Earth News, The Herb Quarterly, Better Nutrition and in many other print and digital publications. She is also the author of five books, and is published in six languages.