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The Inflammation-Fighting Compounds of Lemongrass Tea

lemongrass tea

Story at-a-glance -

  • Lemongrass is an herb with a pleasing, lemony fragrance that originally came from tropical areas like India and China, and is made up of tough stalks that closely resemble green onions in appearance, but not flavor
  • About 55 varieties of lemongrass exist worldwide, but only the East Indian and West Indian varieties are suitable for cooking, along with making soaps, perfumes, lotions, and oils
  • Numerous studies indicate that lemongrass, when made into tea, is highly effective in combating a number of health-related concerns, including those stemming from inflammation issues, due to its free radical-fighting strength
  • Compounds in lemongrass, such as flavonoids, phenolics including luteolin, quercetin and kaempferol have been found to support oral health, reduce anxiety and tension, relieve pain and treat several serious diseases
  • You can buy lemongrass at the store or grow your own in order to make a tea to access many health beneficial compounds, or add the stalks to stir-fries, soups and sauces

Also known as citron grass or fever grass,1 lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is an herb used in cooking to give stir-fries, soups and many other dishes a hint of lemony brightness. It can also be transformed into lemongrass tea — a refreshing beverage with numerous health benefits.

What is Lemongrass?

Often used as an ornamental plant,2 lemongrass is like grass on steroids, arcing in graceful plumes, especially when it grows to its potential height of 6 feet. About 55 varieties exist worldwide.3 One highly appreciated function, as many gardeners and nature-lovers can attest to, is that it's a natural mosquito repellent.4 You can even break off the leaves to rub on your skin (just make sure to test it on your skin first).

East Indian lemongrass (aka Cochin or Malabar grass) and West Indian lemongrass can have their oil extracted to make perfumes, lotions and deodorants, but Medical News Today5 notes that these two varieties are also the only ones suitable for cooking.

What is Lemongrass Tea?

According to the blog Cup and Leaf, lemongrass tea is made from either the fresh or dried stalks and leaves of the plant. It’s a refreshing beverage with a light yellow color.6

Lemongrass stalks closely resemble tough green onions in appearance, but not in flavor. Originally from tropical and other warm-weather areas like India, Thailand and China,7 lemongrass has been described as having a very complex and sophisticated flavor — like lemon, but with a mild, delicate tang, a hint of ginger and mint and floral notes as well.8

Cup and Leaf describes it as “a slightly lemony taste without the bitter or tangy notes of classic lemons. It is mildly sweet and features a crisp, brisk finish.”9 As a tea, these fragrance components are pleasant, but it's the medicinal aspects I'll highlight today.

Lemongrass Tea Benefits

Both lemongrass and lemongrass tea have a history of medicinal use among several cultures worldwide for a variety of conditions, including digestive disorders, fevers, menstrual disorders, joint pain, inflammation and nervous conditions. Several regions have found the plant useful medicinally, the American Botanical Council10 notes:

 

In the Philippines, the tea is used to alleviate stress, treat colds, fevers and gastrointestinal distress, and decrease pain and arthritic conditions.

In southern Brazil, lemongrass is an herbal medicine used for pain and sedation.

In India, Cuba, Indonesia and Brazil, lemongrass tea is used to treat bladder problems, including urinary tract inflammation, incontinence and kidney stones.

In Nigeria, extracts of lemongrass treat hypertension, obesity and diabetes mellitus, as well as malaria, to lower fevers and to kill parasites.

As with most herbs, extracted oils and healing plants, studies on lemongrass usually mention that any therapeutic properties can be attributed to the synergy of many compounds working together rather than a single compound. In any case, the advantages are too diverse to ignore, as studies suggest lemongrass may:

Ease infection — Terpenes, ketones, aldehyde and esters are compounds in lemongrass that fight numerous infections.11

Alleviate anxietyBeyond the relaxing aspects of drinking hot tea, lemongrass aromatherapy may reduce tension.12

Boost red blood cell count — One study showed that lemongrass tea significantly increased red blood cells in all 105 participants13

Enhance oral health — A study found that among 12 herbs, lemongrass extracts were one of the most effective against cariogenic streptococci14

Reduce bloating — A high dose or prolonged treatment with a low dose of lemongrass tea suggested renal function improvement15

Relieve painNoted as having a significant "antinociceptive" effect16

Fight free radicalsUnstable atoms that can damage cells, cause premature aging and, ultimately, a host of diseases

Decrease inflammation — Citral is one compound in lemongrass oil that lowered skin cell inflammation in one study.17

One of the most dramatic benefits of lemongrass tea is how it fights free radicals, making it exceptionally effective as an antioxidant. In fact, free radicals are one of the greatest culprits in causing inflammation, as they can break down cells over time. According to Medical News Today:

"Inflammation is a factor in many adverse health conditions, including pain and heart disease. As such, lemongrass tea could be a beneficial drink for people to incorporate into their diet … Lemongrass contains the inflammation-fighting compounds chlorogenic acid, isoorientin and swertiajaponin."18

More Studies Reveal Powerful Compounds in Lemongrass

One study19 noted a number of powerful plant chemicals in lemongrass, such as flavonoids, phenolic compounds including luteolin, quercetin, kaempferol and apigenin, which all exerting disease-fighting, pharmacological activities, including:

 

  • Anti-amoebic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antidiarrheal
  • Antifilarial (antiparasitic)
  • Antifungal

Various effects from the compounds in lemongrass that are being studied include antimalarial, antimutagenicity (reducing the rate of mutation20), antimycobacterial (such as organisms that cause tuberculosis), antioxidant, hypoglycemic and neurobehaviorial problems.

In addition, a study in Japan21 found that the glutathione in lemongrass could be used in the future for skin cancer prevention, and in India, researchers reported it as "highly useful in the development of anticancer therapeutics," particularly leukemia.22 Polysaccharides in lemongrass were found to produce antitumor activity when tested in a study in East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.23

You can use all of the aforementioned compounds and plant chemicals contained in lemongrass to your advantage by starting a regimen of tea made from the stalks or leaves to treat a number of maladies, similar to how people in areas where the plant has grown for millennia have used it to treat colds, headache, bacterial infections, sore throats, circulatory problems and stress.24

Recipe and Uses for Lemongrass

You can add fresh lemongrass stalks to curry paste, sauces, soup stock and stir-fries. Look for them in the produce section or the freezer section in supermarkets. Make sure the stalks are firm, not rubbery, and that the lower parts of the stalks are pale yellow, while the upper stalks are green. The Spruce Eats explains that the best way to use each stalk is by cutting off the lower bulb so you can remove the tough outer leaves. Then:25

"From here, you have two options. The first is the easier of the two. Simply cut the yellow stalk into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Then 'bruise' these sections by bending them several times. You can also create superficial cuts along these sections with your knife, which will help release the lemon flavor. Add these bruised stalks to your soup or curry.

When serving, remove the lemongrass pieces, or ask your guests to set them aside as they eat. The second option is to slice the lemongrass. In this case, we are preparing the lemongrass to be consumed, adding fiber, nutrients, and more flavor to the dish. You will need a very sharp knife, as the stalk is quite firm. Cut the yellow section of the stalk into thin slices and place these in a food processor. Process well."

A possible faster alternative to slicing is to simply pound the stalks with a pestle and mortar until they become soft and fragrant, and then add them to your dishes.

How to Make Lemongrass Tea

While you can purchase prepared lemongrass tea in health food stores or online, you can also make your own, and it's no more difficult than buying the stalks and chopping them. You can use either the leaves, dried or fresh, or the woody stalks. Add one-half teaspoon of stevia, if desired. Here’s an easy recipe from Medical News Today you can try:26

Lemongrass Tea Recipe

Ingredients:

Lemongrass stalks

Water

Procedure:

1. Cut the stalks into 1- to 2-inch pieces.

2. Boil 1 cup (or slightly more) of water.

3. Pour the water over the lemongrass pieces and cover to keep it hot.

4. Allow the lemongrass to steep for at least five minutes.

5. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer and pour into your cup.

Other Lemongrass Tea Recipes You Can Try

You can serve cold lemongrass tea, too — just follow the recipe above, pour over ice and enjoy! Start by drinking one cup of lemongrass tea per day, then increase it to more over a matter of days, if desired. You may find, as researchers did in the studies, that your oral health improves, bloating is relieved and even pain and inflammation become less of a factor in your life.

If you want to add more flavor and potential benefits to your lemongrass tea, you can infuse it with other herbs. Here are two other recipes you can try:

Lemongrass, Mint and Ginger Tea Recipe

Ingredients:

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, grated

5-inch piece fresh lemongrass, chopped

10 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons raw honey

3 cups boiling water

Procedure:

1. Put the lemongrass, ginger, mint, lemon juice and honey into a large teapot. Pour boiling into the pot and set aside for five to 10 minutes to infuse. Stir it occasionally.

2. Strain into glasses or cups and serve.

(Recipe adapted from New Idea Food27)

Lemongrass-Lavender Green Sun Tea Recipe

Ingredients:

16 cups cool water

3 sprigs fresh mint

6 green tea bags

1 tablespoon dried lemongrass

1 tablespoon dried lavender

Raw honey for sweetening (optional)

Procedure:

1. Place the water in a large jar, ideally with a spigot so the drink can be served easily. Add the mint and tea bags.

2. In a tea ball, place the dried lemongrass and lavender. Alternately, you can just wrap them in two layers of cheesecloth and then secure it with kitchen twine.

3. Let the drink brew under the sun for the day. Remove the tea bags and herbs, and then store in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.

(Recipe adapted from Boulder Locavore28)

Lemongrass Tea Side Effects

One study described a patient who developed allergic contact dermatitis after ingesting lemongrass tea.29 If you experience any obvious allergic symptoms after ingesting lemongrass tea, stop taking it or reduce your dosage. According to WebMD, the herb itself may trigger menstruation, so if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, consult with your doctor before consuming this herb or the tea.30

Quick Tutorial on Growing Lemongrass

You can buy a small lemongrass plant at the grocery store or gardening shop in early spring, trim it to about 6 inches high above the root line and add a pinch of cinnamon as a root starter. As lemongrass grows, it can become an attractive indoor plant in a sunny spot on your windowsill, or you can move it outside into rich, loamy soil, which retains water better. Growing lemongrass is quite easy, given the optimal amount of sun, water and fertilizer. According to Hobby Farms:

"Lemongrass is harvested for both the stalk and foliage. You can begin harvesting lemongrass as soon as the plant is about a foot tall. Cut, twist or break off a stalk that is at least one-quarter-inch thick. The most tender part is at the bottom, so remove it as close to the ground as possible. Once you have harvested the number of stalks you want, remove the woody outer portion and the leaves. Slice the tender part of the stalk, and add as needed to your recipe."31

The edible part of the plant is closest to the bottom of the stalk. When the stalks get to be around a quarter-inch to a half-inch thick, cut the stalks close to their roots. Make your last cuttings before the first frost in the fall.

One of the great things about harvesting lemongrass stalks is how easy it is to preserve them by freezing. Freeze whole stalks or cut them into 1-inch pieces, and they'll be usable in recipes for about six months. If your favorite recipe calls for one or two stalks, store that amount in freezer containers to make the job quick and easy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Lemongrass Tea

Q: Is lemongrass tea safe to drink during pregnancy?

A: WebMD notes that lemongrass may trigger menstruation and lead to miscarriage, so if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, consult with your doctor before ingesting lemongrass or lemongrass tea.32

Q: Is lemongrass tea good for diabetes?

A: Citral, an aldehyde that naturally occurs in lemongrass, has been found to help boost insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, according to a study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, and was dubbed as a “novel agent” in managing diabetes.33

However, consult with your doctor before drinking lemongrass tea for diabetes. You should also avoid sweetening your beverage with sugar or any other sweetener.

Q: Is lemongrass tea good for anxiety?

A: One study notes that the aroma of lemongrass may have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties.34

Q: Can you drink lemongrass tea every day?

A: According to Medical News Today, it’s best to start with a cup of lemongrass tea per day and then increase the amount gradually over the next few days.35 However, take note that this drink may have side effects. One study found that it led to skin allergies in an individual.36 Listen to your body so you can determine if you need to reduce your dosage.

+ Sources and References