If you’ve ever spent any time in southeast Asia or if not at least visited your local Thai or Vietnamese restaurant you would almost certainly have tasted the perfumed taste of lemongrass. You might not realised it but it is an actual grass, but one with a fragrant citrus and slightly coriander taste and scent.
I’ve seen it growing wild in Vietnam and always though it highly unlikely that you could grow in the UK as, although we seem to have as much rain as Vietnam, we do not have its tropical heat. However after seeing some seeds available I decided to give it a go. I’m not going to lie to you, of the ten plants I started, I only had one survive infancy and it will probably never attain the full heady heights of those grown in it’s native land but if you want to have a bit of a challenge and a conversation piece, enjoy house plants, have room for something that could get up to a metre in hight and have a bright window for the winter or a heated conservatory then why not give it a go?
In spring, sow thinly in small pots on the surface of dampened compost and press down lightly but do not cover. Place in a heater propagator and leave to germinate, ensuring that the compost does not dry out. When germinated, thin out to 3 seedlings per pot. Remove from propagator and keep in a warm bright spot. Pot on when you see roots at the base of the pot using a compost for pots e.g. John Innes No 3 until they are eventually in a 9 inch pot.
From a shop bought stalk
You need to look for one with a good bulb, preferably with a bit of root left on and fresh as you can. Oriental supermarkets are more likely to have good quality bulbs than normal supermarkets but you might get lucky. Put in a glass with a couple of inches or water, change the water every couple of days. Keep indoors out of direct sunlight until it starts to root then remove and pot on in to a 9 inch pot with a compost deigned for pots e.g John Innes No 3. Pot on when you start to see roots at the base of the pot then pot on to the next size until eventually you are in a 9 inch pot.
You can buy lemongrass plants quite easily now in the UK and it is the easiest way to give it a go. When you plant arrives, check the roots and water well. If you can see lots of roots you should transfer it to a larger pot using a compost especially for pots e.g. John Innes No 3 until eventually it is in a 9 inch pot.
Lemongrass grows quite slowly here until it starts to heat up and it needs a lot of warmth and a constant level of moisture. Check the water level every couple of days and feed once every few weeks with a liquid feed. They can go outside in a sheltered sunny spot from June/July but need to be brought back in by the end of September. They are tropical plants so need a good degree of moisture but not a soggy bottom. During the winter they should be brought in a kept in a warm bright place and kept drier with the compost lightly damp. Do not let them drop below 4 degrees centigrade. It can take a while to get to harvestable size, probably up to a year. Once yours is up and running you can harvest by cutting a portion away from the base. if you want more plants you can split the plant carefully with a knife and repot the new sections.
In the kitchen
Harvest by splitting the plant and repotting what you don’t need or by cutting as close to the base as possible with a sharp knife. Remove the outermost layers until you get the softer white inside. Slice very finely and scatter in curry or stir fries or grind in curry paste. You can also use it in teas, marinades, especially for chicken or pork and I’ve also used some of the tough ends as a skewer for minced chicken kebabs when it imparts a its fragrance through the whole kebab.
Most major seed suppliers stock lemongrass
Plants can be bought from Sarah Raven