Lemongrass has been used in cooking and herbal medicine for at least five thousand years. It was used by locals in India for a variety of medical issues.The plant has deep historical roots in Asian and African cultures as well. Lemongrass has been cultivated in Southeast Asia for the past two thousand years. History shows that in East India and Sri Lanka, lemongrass was combined with other herbs to make a drink locally known as fever tea. The locals would use this beverage to treat fevers, irregular menstruation, diarrhea and stomachaches. India also used the oil to treat fungal infections of the skin.
The Chinese used the herb in similar ways, to treat headaches, stomachaches, colds and sore muscles and joints. The Cubans use the oil today to reduce blood pressure. It is one of the most common herbs for digestive issues in Brazil and the Caribbean today.
There are reports that lemongrass essential oil might have been exported as early as the 17th century by the Philippines but distribution was limited and the oil remained quite secretive. It has only been in the United States for less than one hundred years, being introduced to warmer climates first where the plant would thrive. While considered to be a newer essential oil, when compared to ancient oils such as lavender or peppermint, it is still considered one of the top ten oils on the market today.
In 1905, a researcher named J.F. Jovit from Sri Lanka found himself with several lemongrass plants. He planted them at Bandarawela Farm in Sri Lanka for research purposes. As he learned more about the plants and the oil that they produced, word of the plant spread quickly. The first commercial cultivation of lemongrass oil was not until 1947 in Florida and Haiti. The closely related citronella oil was displayed at the World’s Fair at London’s Crystal Palace in 1951. This is thought to be attributed to the quick success of the oil in the world market.
Where Lemongrass Has Been Grown
Lemongrass has grown in the wild in the tropical and semitropical parts of Asia and Africa for centuries, however, only cultivated plants are used today for oil production. Today, India produces the largest quantity of lemongrass oil in the world. When lemongrass is planted, it produces very little yield in its first year. The second and third year are a bit better with the third and fourth year producing the most product. Volume slows down in the fifth and sixth year where the plant is then removed for a new crop.
To thrive, lemongrass requires bright sunlight for most of the day with times of light shade. It also needs damp soil with an excellent drainage system. The plant can adapt to many landscapes though. It is a common plant in home herb gardens and greenhouses, especially in areas with harsh winters that would cause the leaves and roots of the plant to die. Today, lemongrass is grown commercially in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. India produces the largest quantity and best quality oil. Guatemala produces a large amount, nearly 250,000 kilograms a year. China produces up to 100,000 kilograms a year. Both the United States and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic import nearly 70,000 kilograms a year while France and Japan import 35,000 kilograms a year.
Lemongrass is also a common plant to grow in home herb gardens. Seeds are hard to come by so the most recommended way to plant them at home is to buy a stalk and place it in a glass of water. Roots should form and then it is ready to be transplanted into a pot or flower bed. Once the plant grows, which is very quickly, it can be split apart to make multiple plants. If you live in a moist area, try planting lemongrass plants around the perimeter to repel mosquitoes.
Lemongrass essential oil is one of the top oils on the market today and is easily accessible. It is used by people of all walks of life and cultures as a natural medicine, aromatherapy staple and as a flavor booster in cooking. Scientific research is starting to catch up with all of the oil’s claims throughout history. Many of these studies are opening up doors to medical treatments that are overlooked by the Western world. Studies show that the oil is effective in killing bacterial and fungal infections and can safely lower bad cholesterol. Even more exciting studies show that the oil may be priceless in the battle against cancer. It has the ability to kill cancer cells in controlled studies, without damaging healthy cells, which is one of the biggest problems with modern cancer treatment.
Lemongrass is common enough that it will be found in most spas and medical offices that offer relaxing procedures like massages and therapy. The oil has pain relieving qualities that can soothe sore muscles and joints. It is also beginning to become a more prescribed oil as a natural treatment for sleeping disorders, stress and even depression.
As a large percentage of the world turns to more green alternatives, lemongrass oil is being used in homemade cleaning products, body and face washes and shampoos. Unlike most store bought products, there is little risk of reaction when compared to the chemicals used in commercial products. Lemongrass is able to safely moisturize the skin and treat damaged hair. It is also a common ingredient for exotic dishes, such as curries and Thai food, and is becoming an easy to find ingredient at specialty markets.
Lemongrass was a well kept secret for centuries but has now become one of the most well known and used oils. As research continues, it can be expected that the oil will only grow in popularity. Try out lemongrass by either buying the oil, making your own or by using the stalks in cooking. Any option will allow you to benefit from lemongrass’ healing properties.