Lemongrass, or lemon grass is a type of grass native to Asia and used both as a culinary herb and to make a caffeine free herbal tea. Lemongrass widely used in Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Thai cuisine, and is also frequently used as an ingredient in herbal teas and other blends.
Is it important that it smell like lemons?
Although unrelated to lemons, lemongrass has a distinctive aroma of lemons, due to the fact that it shares a number of chemical constituents in its essential oil, including citral, citronellol, and geraniol. A number of other herbs, also unrelated, have similar lemony aromas because they share various concentrations of these same chemicals; these herbs include lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon myrtle. Fascinatingly, many of these “lemony” chemicals are responsible for the medicinal properties of these plants.
Health Benefits of Lemongrass:
A growing body of evidence points to antiviral and antifungal activity of lemongrass, as well as the potential to prevent or treat cancer. However, most of these properties have only been established only under the controlled conditions of in vitro (lab culture / test-tube / petri dish) experiments, and it is not clear the degree to which these benefits would actually be available to people drinking lemongrass tea.
- Cancer treatment and prevention – There is some preliminary evidence that lemongrass could be used to prevent or treat cancer. Citral was found in lab experiments to activate the cell death program of cancer cells. Various anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic chemicals have been isolated and identified from lemongrass, and there is some evidence of cancer-preventing properties from studies on rats, but there is an absence of controlled human studies firmly establishing any effects in humans.
- Analgesic (pain-relieving) properties – There is some evidence that lemongrass has analgesic properties, due to the presence of the chemical myrcene. This chemical is thought to act by a different mechanism from aspirin-like painkillers. These benefits have been shown in animal studies to be accessible through drinking lemongrass tea.
- Antiviral properties – Lab experiments have shown that the essential oil of lemongrass has antiviral properties, both against plant viruses and human viruses, including Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1), the virus which causes cold sores.
- Antifungal properties – In vitro studies found lemongrass to have antifungal activity, particularly against the Candida yeasts which often cause infections in humans.
Lemongrass has other uses in traditional medicine, but some of these other uses have not been validated by science. An older study failed to find any evidence of anxiety-reducing (anxiolytic) effects, even though lemongrass is used for this purpose in Brazil.
Other lemony herbs share a number of active ingredients with lemongrass. It is likely that the health and medicinal properties of lemongrass overlap with these other plants to some degree.