Growing up in Malaysia, lemongrass – locally known as serai – was a common and easily found spice used in curries, spicy soups, flavoring rice, etc. It has a distinct fragrant; lemony and spicy with a zing.
When starting my balcony garden, lemongrass was definitely among the plants on my mind. It can be slow to cultivate lemongrass from seeds, so the general recommendation is to start with stems or buy a plant. Information can be found online on how to plant lemongrass using stalks bought at the market, but since I have rarely seen them sold fresh in Taiwan, I decided to go out and get a pot instead.
Which brings me to March 22, when I came across this lemongrass plant at a nursery.
It is looking much better in this photo than when I first saw it, with the many dried-off brown leaves already trimmed off. The other pots at the nursery looked just as sad, but the nursery owner assured me that with the weather getting warmer, the plant will liven up in no time.
It was obvious the pot was way too small for the plant, with roots overflowing from the bottom, and the soil mucky and hard. A transplant to a bigger pot was long overdue.
Brown leaves I trimmed off from the plant.
March 23: Here is a much clearer shot of the plant the next morning.
For a couple days, I placed the plant a slight distance away from my other plants, kind of like in a quarantine (ha!). I watered generously, however noticed that not much water was getting through the compact soil.
On March 28, the 12-inch pot I ordered finally arrived, and it was time for lemongrass to move into a larger, more comfortable home.
March 28: Lots of roots overflowing from the bottom, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t dig up the plant from its initial pot without cutting off all the overflowing roots.
March 28: Lemongrass looking much happier in a spacious new home!
March 30: Lemongrass loves moisture, so I decided it was time to experiment with mulching. My first attempt was with wood bark, leaving a wide distance from the stalks to avoid disrupting any new shoots.
March 30: Harvested a couple stalks, they seem slimmer than I remember from home.
March 31: Growing well!
April 2: Experimented with mulching using dried lemongrass leaves previously trimmed from the plant.
April 6: Growing lots of leaves!
April 13: Leaves growing so tall it was starting to get in the way of other plants
April 15: Towering over everyone, and getting in the face of others, especially the adjacent seedlings.
April 17: Decided to give the plant a haircut and trimmed out all the haywire leaves, giving it a “cleaner look”.
April 21: But just days later, it started rocking a shagged rockstar type hairstyle
April 22: This hairstyle would have done well in a headbanging contest!
April 23: But since we won’t be hosting headbanging contests any time soon, it’s time for another haircut. And I’m thinking a buzz cut…
April 23: The leaves have gotten super long!
April 23: Post-haircut
April 24: Still happily sporting the buzz cut the next morning, which I doubt will last long enough.
So what did I too with the abundance of leaves?
We don’t have a kitchen right now, so cooking with them is sadly out of the question. I’m guessing they would taste good in marinating spicy meat or flavoring rice. I separated them into two knotted bundles, where I hanged a bundle in my shower which I am hoping would work as an indoor air freshener, and the other bundle I will be slowly using to make lemongrass tea.
The flavor really comes out in hot water, so a tiny amount will go a long way. I would drink it plain – just lemongrass in hot water – or add a small amount into my favorite teas for an extra kick. Lemongrass water supposedly helps digestion, soothes nerves, and lowers your body heat. Nonetheless, I would be cautious on the dosage, as it carries A LOT of flavor and can be overwhelming in large portions.
I am still in an experiment-as-I-go mode with lemongrass, but summing it up for now:
- Container size: Go with a larger container if possible, as it spreads and grows quickly. A larger container size will also (hopefully) enable thicker stalks.
- Sunlight and heat: Lemongrass is a tropical plant, and hence no surprise loves warm weather and sunlight, but can tolerate some shade.
- Watering: Loves water. When tips of the leaves turn brown, it means the plant needs more water. Not sure if it matters, but I avoid wetting the stalks when watering as an extra precaution to prevent rot.
- Upkeep: As long as it doesn’t get too cold, this plant is quite hassle-free. Not too picky with soil, and I haven’t encountered any pest problems so far.
My current (experimental) uses of lemongrass (without a kitchen)
- Dried leaves as mulch
- Lemongrass leaves in hot water or tea
- Natural air freshener
- Natural mosquito deterrent (supposedly mosquitoes hate the smell)
My favorite guides on growing and using lemongrass
The Vege Girl Project: Day 51