Last month, my hairdresser told me that I could buy lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) from the market and root it by sticking it in water. My hairdresser is Thai and when I was young I lived in Chiangmai and Bangkok for four years so we always talk about Asian cuisine, plants, and gardening. Like a dutiful daughter, I went to the local Asian market and bought two stalks of lemongrass for two dollars. They did not have any roots but looked healthy and thick. I put one in a cup of water and kept it indoors by the window. I planted the other stalk in a pot of soil and kept it on the deck. If it did not rain, I watered it. A month later, the one in the cup of water shows no roots but the one in the pot rooted so well I had to dig the plant out with a trowel to be able to take photos of the roots. So that I don’t lose the one that did not root in water, I immediately put it in a pot of soil on the deck, hoping it will still root a month later. I have read that the stalks do root in water but mine did not for whatever reason.
The moral of the story is: get a lemongrass plant for a dollar at the Asian market. Lemongrass can be grown in a pot or in the ground but it can get as large as three feet tall with a fountain like shape of narrow, sharp leaves. It is grown for the leaves, not flowers, and requires full sun, warmth, and a well drained soil. Because of its strong vertical lines, lemongrass makes an excellent container plant for the summer, surrounded by flowering annuals. But it is a tropical and should be brought indoors in October here in Virginia before the frosts kill it.
As the name suggest, the leaves have a lemon fragrance and are used extensively in Asian cuisine. Chopped fresh stalks can be added to sauces, curries, soups, stir fries, seafood, chicken, and pork dishes. Commercially, lemon grass is used for ice cream, candies, and baked goods. It is also used in perfumes, candles, and cosmetics. At home, lemongrass can be used in potpourris, in the bath, or as a foot soak. Fresh or dried chopped stalks are used in beverages and teas. The stalks dry easily so feel free to harvest and dry if you do not want to bring the plant indoors in the fall. As an herbal tea, it makes the best lemon flavor plus it is relaxing to drink in the evening. In fact, I have been drinking Chamomile Twist, an herbal tea from the Spice and Tea Exchange in Old Town, Alexandria, that has dried lemongrass bits in it. Later, when my plants are well established, I will harvest stalks to dry for my own herbal tea blends.