Lemongrass is a native to India and Sri Lanka that is now grown in tropical areas all over the world. It is a key ingredient in one of my favorite Thai dishes, Tom Kha Gai or Thai Coconut Chicken Soup. I tried making this soup once, but I made the mistake of using dried lemongrass. It wasn't anywhere near as good as what I've had in a good Thai restaurant because they use the fresh herb among other things.
Fresh lemongrass has a brighter, lemonier, and more complex flavor than the dried stuff. I assume the same is true for medicinal use. The fresh aromatic plant is probably more powerful than the dried herb. However, one can capture much of the healing power of fresh lemongrass by using the essential oil.
Traditional Uses for Lemongrass Herb
Lemongrass tea has been traditionally used for indigestion. It relaxes the muscles of the stomach and intestines easing intestinal cramping. It is also carminative, helping to ease gas and bloating. The tea is especially helpful for indigestion in children.
The tea is also used to reduce fever in colds and flu. It is mildly analgesic and may be helpful for headaches, too. The crushed fresh herb has also been used as a poultice to ease inflammation and pain.
Lemongrass Essential Oil
The most common way we use lemongrass in the West is as an essential oil. Lemongrass essential oil is a light, fresh, and lemony scent, with a little bit of a grassy smell. It has an uplifting quality that is refreshing and energizing. It clears the head and promotes concentration. It’s a great oil to use if you wake up feeling sluggish in the morning. Its fragrance has been likened to a morning shower that wakes up the mind and body.
In spite of its uplifting quality, it does not act to create nervousness. Instead, it is soothing and calming, easing stress and aiding recovery from nervous exhaustion.
Lemongrass oil has analgesic properties. It can be applied topically to ease joint and muscle pain, but it should be diluted in a fixed oil for topical use because it can be irritating to the skin when applied undiluted (neat). It is also antimicrobial and can be applied topically for acne, scabies, and other infections of the skin or scalp. It also helps with oily conditions of the skin and hair.
Using Lemongrass Oil
The safest way to use it is topically (diluted) or as an inhalation. It’s also a great oil for soaps, shampoos, and other cosmetic applications. Even though lemongrass oil is used as a flavoring agent and is considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) I would caution against using it internally. It can help to settle the stomach and ease urinary tract infections, but you should dilute it for internal use. The safest way to use it would be to add 1-2 drops to a spoonful of olive or coconut oil and take it twice daily. However, don’t do this for more than a week because it can be irritating to the mucus membranes if you use it too long.
While you can make tea from the dried herb, it's better if you can get it fresh. If you want fresh lemongrass, you can trying growing it yourself. I tried growing it indoors and while I got some fresh lemongrass, I couldn't figure out how to get the grass to spread and keep growing. Hopefully, if you try you'll have better luck and be able to have this versatile aromatic plant around all the time.