There are so many reasons that otherwise great botanicals are overlooked for their therapeutic uses. One example is echinacea, arguably one of the most popular medicinal herbs in the Western world. As a treatment for bacterial infections, arthritis, neuralgia, and rattlesnake bites, echinacea arrived on the market as Meyers Blood Purifier around 1890 and was the most frequently used plant preparation in the USA at the beginning of the 20th century. Its popularity faded rapidly with the advent of antibiotics, one of the many drugs along with aspirin, that was to become widely more fashionable as a “scientific” remedy through the 1930s.

One can say the same for many Western herbs, like boneset, lady’s slipper, bittersweet, lobelia, rue, and germander to name a small few that were once widely used and now used seldom if at all.

There are different reasons why some herbs are eclipsed and relegated to obscurity. One reason is that an herb can become so popular for a single use that the public, including herbalists who should know better, ignore or have forgotten its therapeutic use. Consider, how many people know the therapeutic use of common culinary spices?

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) would, for most, fall into the latter category. It is so widely used as a spice in Thailand and Indonesian cuisine generally, that few herbalists and most of the public have little appreciation for its therapeutic value. Lemongrass is highly effective for digestive, respiratory problems including colds, flu and coughs, nervous conditions including insomnia, anxiety[1],[2]  and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.[3]

An “Accidental” Proving

Considering that I, like many of my herbalist colleagues, had prior limited experience using lemongrass internally as a medicinal herb, you might be interested to learn how I came upon a newfound appreciation for its healing power.

I was recently afflicted with a non-flu, non-cold, severe lingering cough. I tried many different herbs and formulas that I usually use to treat patients with a cough like mine. What was unusual with my cough, was that in all other ways, I felt normal. I happened to be in my greenhouse tending seedlings and such when I spotted the pot of lemongrass that I had been growing for a few years. Feeling drawn to it, I picked a couple of the raspy leaves and chewed on them. I was amazed how much immediate relief I had from the cough; the juice seeming to reach to the very place deep in my throat and chest from where it originated. Encouraged by this, I sheared off several more leaves and carried them into the kitchen where I infused them for 15 minutes in a covered cup of boiling hot water. I sipped the tea during dinner found it to be delicious, and with a flavor which, unlike other herbal teas, I didn’t tire of.

Besides relieving my cough and throat, it was deeply calming, more than one might experience from German chamomile tea for instance. Furthermore, later that evening I found myself enjoying a deeper night’s sleep than usual. So, in addition to relieving cough, lemongrass appears to be a possible herb for anxiety, insomnia and even hypertension.

Since then, I recommend a delicious cup of lemongrass tea, steeped with two or three a slices of fresh ginger and a teaspoon of honey after the last meal of the day. Whether or not one tends to have digestive problems, difficulty relaxing, or with sleep problems, you may find lemongrass and ginger tea to provide great benefit.

Lemongrass is easily grown and found in subtropical climates throughout the world. There’s no danger of over-harvesting this prolifically growing member of the grass family. In more northern climates it can be grown indoors in pots which can be taken outside in the warm and hot weather.

Traditional Medicinal Uses for Lemongrass

My one experience prompted me to look further into the traditional healing uses of such a remarkable herb. I was surprised to find a wealth of information online and in print.

In Thailand, one of the popular names for lemongrass is “fever-grass tea.” This is based on its use in traditional Thai medicine as a treatment for fevers, colds, flu and digestive problems. Because of its deep effect on the nervous system, it is also considered a nervine.

Studies have shown that lemongrass is effective against 12 types of fungi and 22 different types of bacteria. The constituent citral is responsible for the plants antifungal and antimicrobial properties.[4]

I was happy to find that lemongrass, was used in Western herbal, TCM, and Ayurvedic medicine:

Lemongrass in the Western Herbal Tradition

Organs/Systems: Digestion, Skin, Heart, Nervous System

Key Western Actions and Medicinal Uses: Sedating, Antifungal, Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, Antiviral, Antioxidant, Diuretic, Detoxing, Antispasmodic, Insecticidal, Rubefacient, Antiseptic, Anticancer, Anti-inflammatory, Antipyretic, Diaphoretic, Nervine, Astringent. Insomnia, anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, fevers, digestion, stomach aches, intestinal spasms, diarrhea, acne, lowers cholesterol levels, cleanses liver and kidneys, insect repellent, spasms, muscle cramps, headaches, rheumatism, Lyme disease, skin and breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.[5]

Lemongrass in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Pin Yin: Xiang Mao, also known as Ning Meng Cao

Meridians: Stomach, Lungs, Heart

Key TCM Actions and Medicinal Uses: Clears Heat/Reduces Fevers: fevers, headaches, stomach aches, respiratory disorders, colds, rheumatic pain. Calms Shen: insomnia, anxiety, stress. Relieves Spasms: muscle spasms, convulsions.[6]

Part used: leaves and stalk

Flavors: acrid, warm

Contraindications: considered safe

Lemongrass in Ayurvedic Medicine

In Ayurveda, Lemongrass is considered bitter, pungent in taste (Rasa), and is cool in effect (Virya). It reduces Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, but increases Vata when taken in excess. Due to its pungent (Katu) and bitter (tikta) taste. Its secondary energy is Ushna (hot). Its two qualities are light and dry. Only 2-3 drops of the oil added to hot water and taken orally will relieve flatulence and abdominal pain.  It is a well-known folk remedy for coughs, fevers, tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, pneumonia, gingivitis, nausea and to stimulate or increase menses, relieving menstrual cramps. Applied to the face, the oil treats acne. A hot tea of 3-4 fresh or dried leaves is an antispasmodic, analgesic for the relief of pain, antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and sedative. Applied topically it relieves rheumatic pains, athlete’s foot, tinea, ringworm, and scabies. [7]

Being pungent, bitter, light and dry, lemongrass is particularly useful for diseases of excess dampness, heaviness and phlegm associated with kapha dosha.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)  should not be confused with C. Flexuosus which is used in the perfume industry.[8]

The tea should be prepared as an infusion, steeping 3 to 6 grams of the dried leaves or more of the fresh in hot water in a covered pot for 5 minutes. Of the oil only ½ to 3 drops should be taken internally.

Regarding the External Use of Citronella

As stated, lemongrass is topically effective as an anti-microbial, antibacterial, and antifungal. However, like most essential oils it should be diluted at a rate of 24 drops of citronella to one ounce of water, olive oil or coconut oil. I recommend that you first try it on a small patch of skin to determine individual sensitivity.  It is especially effective for Candida albicans fungus.[9] The diluted lemongrass oil can also be used for athlete’s foot, ringworm, and scabies. Its antiseptic and astringent properties make it useful as a skin toner, sterilizing and toning the pores whist strengthening the skin. Its diuretic properties help to reduce puffy skin and cellulite when applied to the affected area.[10]

Aromatherapists and herbalists recommend varying dilutions based on age and purpose. A good source for this information is found at a site called “Everyday Essentials.” [11]

Lemongrass oil as an insect repellant

The most common use of lemongrass is its essential oil, citronella, widely sold and used as a mosquito repellant and as an alternative to DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide).

Compared to the synthetic mosquito repellent, DEET research has shown that 100% citronella oil applied on the skin provides100% protection against 3 types of mosquitoes for about 2 hours. Because citronella evaporates very quickly, however, it is only effective for a short time. Besides the smell from continuous applications of citronella which can be unpleasant over time, the undiluted oil, which provides maximum protection, when repeatedly applied, can be irritating to the skin.

Despite the fact that Deet has an extremely low risk of side effects, you may still prefer to use citronella oil. One possibility is to combine it with vanillin, an extracted constituent of the vanilla bean. One limited study found that the combination of Citronella and vanillin provided 100 % protection for more than three hours.[12]

Besides mosquitoes, citronella oil or DEET is effective for repelling most other biting bugs, including ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Besides repelling mosquitoes, lemongrass oil also acts as a pheromone-type “lure” for attracting and trapping honeybee swarms.[13]

There are so many uses for lemongrass, including for cancer, that I encourage you to enjoy a cup of lemongrass tea and do your own research of this versatile, good-tasting herb.






[5] ibid

[6] ibid








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