SUMMER GUEST SERIES: Alina Niemi
How to Grow Lemongrass
in Your Garden
One of the most exotic herbs you can grow in your garden is lemongrass.
It’s extremely easy to grow and spreads rapidly, making it a great choice for even the novice gardener.
You can start lemongrass from what you buy at the grocery store or a farmer’s market. They usually come as bare stalks with the roots and leaves cut off.
To start from a cutting:
1. Clip off the leaves, leaving the bottom six inches or so.
2. Remove most of the outer leaves as well. You want the plant using as little energy as possible growing leaves, and more energy to establish roots.
3. Place the stalks in a glass of water on your kitchen counter. Change the water daily to prevent rot, especially in warmer temperatures. After two to fourteen days, you should begin to see tiny roots forming.
4. Transplant the stalks to soil, placing them six inches apart and water them until they become established. I usually get about 2 stalks in 6 or 8 to grow this way. Give them a large area in full or dappled sun, in the ground or containers. Because they are tropical plants, they cannot tolerate frost, but they will survive temperatures up to 10° or 20° F if heavily mulched.
Lemongrass grows three to six feet tall, in large clumps that look like grass.
They are not bothered by most pests or diseases. Sometimes aphids find a home there, but they generally do not cause much damage or danger.
You can harvest the stalks and use the bottom and interior sections in curries and dishes for Thai, Malaysian, and Indian cuisine.
My favorite use is the leaves, as flavoring for herbal teas. Blend them with other fruity herbs, orange peel, hibiscus, rosehips, cinnamon, and mint.
Be careful harvesting lemongrass, since the leaves have sharp edges. They will cut you if you touch the edges in one direction, but not the other. I usually wear long sleeves and gloves!
Here is a recipe from my book,
The New Scoop: Recipes for Dairy-Free, Vegan Ice Cream in Unusual Flavors (Plus Some Old Favorites.)
Lemongrass Ginger Mint Sorbet
1-1/2 cups boiling water
1 handful fresh mint leaves (about 1/2 cup)
3 or 4 lemongrass leaves or stalks
1 inch (2.5 cm) fresh ginger, thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
1/2 cup agave nectar or sugar
1-1/2 cups cold water
- If you are using lemongrass leaves, cut them into shorter pieces. I find garden shears work well. If you are using the stalks, smash them with the back of your knife, or slice them thinly.
- Pour the boiling water over the mint, lemongrass and ginger. Let it steep for 1 hour.
- Strain the mixture. Discard the herbs.
- Add the sweetener and cold water to the herb infusion. Mix well to dissolve the sugar.
- Chill the mixture at least two hours, or until it is well chilled.
- Churn in an ice cream machine according to your manufacturer’s directions.
This is best eaten soon after churning, because it will freeze rock solid eventually and can be difficult to soften, because it melts very quickly and never really returns to a slushy state. But it’s still very refreshing if you eat it the next day or later, after thawing a bit.
To make without an ice cream machine: Make the base and put it into a shallow, wide container in the freezer. Every 30 to 60 minutes, mix it vigorously with a fork, breaking up the ice crystals that form. This helps to get a creamier texture. Repeat until the mixture is mostly frozen. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm enough to serve. Total freezing time is about six to eight hours.