For as long as I can remember I’ve loved trying to grow something new and different. As a kid my bedroom windowsill was crammed with citrus and avocado plants, as well as the odd pineapple and date palm. I’ve never lost this fascination in growing new and unusual plants so it’s maybe somewhat surprising that it’s taken me so long to have a go at growing lemongrass. When I spotted packs of lemongrass stalks in the supermarket autumn 2017 I naturally had to buy some and have a go at growing it for myself.
Lemongrass is a tropical plant from South Asia and an essential ingredient in Thai cooking. Native to India and Sri Lanka it really is a grass, Cymbopogon citratus, belonging to the Poaceae family. In addition to its culinary uses the oils extracted from plants in the Cymbopogon genus are used in medicine, perfumes and as an insect repellant.
Lemongrass can be grown from seed sown in spring, however this can be tricky and a previous attempt of mine failed a few years ago. This time around I stood the stalks in a glass of water and before long one of them had successfully rooted, the trick seems to be to find stalks that haven’t had too much trimmed off the base plate. It might be worth trying to source yours from a specialist supermarket rather than buying prepackaged ones that can be a bit on the dry side and with little or no base plate from which roots can develop.
Once rooted, I potted the lemongrass up and overwintered it on the windowsill in our spare room where it grew only slowly. In late spring and once I had emptied out the unheated greenhouse it was relocated there and potted on until it reached a 30cm container, which the roots had completely filled by the end of the summer. During the summer I kept it well watered, often standing it in a shallow tray of water during the hottest weather, with an occasional liquid feed. Looking back at my photographs it’s only now that I appreciate just how quickly it grew, from a single culm to a clump of about 18 culms in a few short months. Harvesting was simple enough, a combination of pulling and twisting a stalk, though a word of warning, like pampas grass, lemongrass has serrulate leaf margins which can leave you with cuts if you’re not careful!
There are plenty of recipes to be found online which use lemongrass, I used some to make a Thai coconut, sweet potato and lemongrass soup, following a recipe by The Happy Pear. I’ve also given a few stalks away and intend on keeping the rest to grow more plants next year.
If you want to try growing something a little different, that’s not too demanding and which you can use in your home cooking I’d certainly recommend growing your own lemongrass in 2019.