LEMONGRASS Cymbopogan citratus
Lemongrass is essential in southeast Asian dishes and every cook should have a plant. The piquant fresh flavour is excellent for marrying sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. It is high in citral, the same oil found in lemon rind.
Lemongrass can be bought frozen or steeped in brine but nothing beats it fresh. Most Asian supermarkets will stock lemongrass, but better still, start your own plant. The part that is used is the sheath, or the lower part of the bulbous, leek-like stems. To use in cooking, the tough, outer leaves are peeled away until you reach the softer, pale-yellow stalk, which is easily cut. A stalk with a sheath will root readily in shallow water on a sunny windowsill.
Lemongrass is native to India and Sri Lanka where it grows up to 1.5m high. It needs a very warm, sheltered, frost-free site and at least six hours of sunlight. Plants like a loamy, fertile soil that is free-draining with lots of compost and plenty of water in the growing season. Here in inland Canterbury, we grow it successfully in our greenhouse.