Family: Poaceae (Gramineae), Cymbopogon species

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Lemongrass, a perennial herb widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics, designates two different species, East Indian, Cymbopogon flexuosus (DC.) Stapf., and West Indian, Cymbopogon citratus (DC. ex Nees) Stapf. East Indian lemongrass, also known as cochin or Malabar grass is native to India, while West Indian lemongrass is native to southern India and Ceylon. The lemongrasses are cultivated commercially in Guatemala, India, the People's Republic of China, Paraguay, England, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Indochina, Africa, Central America, and South America (11.1-73). The plant grows in dense clumps up to 2 meters in diameter and has leaves up to 1 meter long.

The reported life zone for lemongrass is 18 to 29 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.7 to 4.1 meters with a soil pH of 5.0 to 5.8 (East Indian) or 4.3 to 8.4 (West Indian) (14.1-9). The plants need a warm, humid climate in full sun. They grow well in sandy soils with adequate drainage. Since the plants rarely flower or set seed, propagation is by root or plant division. The plants are harvested mechanically or by hand about four times each year with the productive populations lasting between four and eight years (14.1-9). Extensive breeding programs have developed many varieties of lemongrass.

The quality of lemongrass oil is generally determined by the content of citral, the aldehyde responsible for the lemon odor. Some other constituents of the essential oils are -terpineol, myrcene, citronellol, methyl heptenone, dipentene, geraniol, limonene, nerol, and farnesol (14.1-9). West Indian oil differs from East Indian oil in that it is less soluble in 70 percent alcohol and has a slightly lower citral content (14.1-9).

Lemongrass is used in herbal teas and other nonalcoholic beverages in baked goods, and in confections. Oil from lemongrass is widely used as a fragrance in perfumes and cosmetics, such as soaps and creams. Citral, extracted from the oil, is used in flavoring soft drinks in scenting soaps and detergents, as a fragrance in perfumes and cosmetics, and as a mask for disagreeable odors in several industrial products. Citral is also used in the synthesis of ionones used in perfumes and cosmetics (11.1-73, 14.1-9).

As a medicinal plant, lemongrass has been considered a carminative and insect repellent. West Indian lemongrass is reported to have antimicrobial activity (1.8-84, 1.8-130). Oil of West Indian lemongrass acts as a central nervous system depressant (7.6-187). Oil of East Indian lemongrass has antifungal activity (1.8-132). The volatile oils may also have some pesticide and mutagenic activities (11.1-96, 11.1-136).

Cymbopogon nardus is a source of citronella oil. Cymbopogon martinii is reportedly toxic to fungi (1.8-53).

Lemongrass is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a plant extract/essential oil (21 CFR section 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997