Cymbopogon Citratus goes by many names, but the majority call it lemongrass.
As its name suggests, it is a member of the grass family and is known for its distinct lemony scent.
More than that, it also offers fever-fighting benefits, which is enough reason for many home gardeners to grow it in their backyard garden.
When to harvest lemongrass? Start harvesting lemongrass only when the plant is strong enough to handle losing some of its stalks. Roughly speaking, this is around when the plant is a foot tall and approximately 75 to 100 days after sowing the seeds.
How Do You Know When Your Lemongrass Is Ready to Harvest?
Lemongrass is among the most common herbs home gardeners decide to grow in their gardens.
As a low-maintenance plant, even beginner gardeners will find this herb easy to grow. You can even try growing them indoors in pots.
That said, what many newbies are unsure of is when to start harvesting lemongrass.
To help clear things up for you, here are tell-tale signs you should look out for to determine if your lemongrass is ready for picking.
What we like about growing lemongrass is the fact that once established, it’s possible to harvest leaves and stalks at any time during the plant’s growing season.
If you’re from a cooler region where these are grown as annuals, time your harvest around the end of the growing season, preferably before the first frost sets in.
For a constant supply of fresh lemon grass throughout the year, you may want to grow them in pots indoors.
In case you’re unaware, you harvest both the stalks and the leaves.
When the leaves are a foot tall, and the stalks are about half an inch in diameter, you will know your lemongrass is ready to harvest.
Lemongrass leaves are green in color and can cause paper cuts if you’re not careful.
That said, where all the distinct lemony flavor is stored is in the stalks, the white and fatter part of the plant from the leaves to its base.
The Days to Maturity
As mentioned, it will take lemongrass plants up to 100 days to grow from seeds. That’s why it is advisable to start them indoors or grow them from seedlings.
Just making the seeds and root can take three weeks, so make sure to keep that in mind.
Keep track of everything to have a better grasp of how quickly your lemongrass plants are growing.
What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Lemongrass?
Aside from its culinary and medicinal properties, lemongrass is well-loved because it is a natural pest deterrent. It also rarely gets insect infestations and disease problems.
For these reasons alone, a lot of gardeners wish they could have lemongrass in their gardens all year round.
Is it possible? What will happen if you leave them in the ground, untouched, for too long?
If you don’t prune your lemongrass plants regularly, they will continue to grow and become overcrowded.
As you can imagine, this event can make the plant develop rot.
Also, not harvesting before the first frost date could mean allowing your plants to die down because of freezing temperatures.
If you’re lucky enough to be from a region categorized under USDA Zones 8b and 9, you can grow lemongrass plants as perennials.
This means you can leave them in the ground all year, as long as you overwinter them or prepare them for very low to freezing temperatures.
Left to grow freely, this tropical herb can reach a tall height of three to five feet.
If you aren’t that lucky, you can grow lemongrass indoors instead. You can plant them in separate pots or a giant one.
Make sure you place the pots near a sunny window or set up artificial lights if you decide to do this.
How To Harvest Lemongrass
After waiting months for your lemongrass plants to grow, you can now enjoy the fruits (or stalks?) of your labor.
Here are the steps to harvesting lemongrass:
Step 1: Inspect the plant.
Check your lemongrass plants to make sure the base of the stalks is half an inch thick before harvesting.
This part of the stem will look like scallions and is the part used for cooking.
Aside from thickness, you will want to check that the stems are not bruised or wilted and firm.
Step 2: Prepare for harvest.
As mentioned, the lemongrass leaves can be sharp enough to cut your skin. Therefore, it’s recommended that you wear gardening gloves during harvest.
You will also need to use a sharp pair of pruning shears or gardening knives.
Step 3: Start harvesting.
Using your gardening scissors, cut the stem off at the base. Make sure to leave about 2/3 of the stems for future harvests.
The cut stems will regrow over time, and you can harvest them again when they are half an inch in diameter.
If you don’t have cutting tools on hand, you can try pulling the stems out instead.
To do this, simply grab the stalk and pull it from its base and out of the soil while twisting it.
Even if you pull out parts of the plant’s roots with the stem, it will regrow if you only harvest a third of the stalks.
Step 4: Propagate.
If you’d like to add more lemongrass plants to your garden, you can grow new ones from the stalks you harvested.
To do this, start by cutting down the leaves to about an inch from the base. Then, put it in a container with fresh water.
Place the container in a spot near a sunny window, and remember to change the water every day.
Wait a few days, and you will see new roots sprouting from the stalk. After about two weeks, plant it in a pot or outdoors in the garden if you see healthy root growth.
Should You Wash Lemongrass After Harvesting?
So, what do you do with lemongrass after harvesting? First and foremost, rinse the entire thing under running water to get rid of dirt.
Then, you will want to separate the leaves from the stalk.
You can use the leaves to make broth or tea, or you can just discard them since most of the flavor is in the stalk anyway.
If you don’t want to throw them away, boil them for about five minutes to extract the flavor and fragrance.
It is also a good idea to pound them with a mallet to get to the aromatic oils before boiling them.
The bottom six to 12 inches of the stalk has a woody exterior that isn’t edible, so you’ll need to peel that off manually.
You will then find a tender, white core that you can now use for cooking.
Some use this part much like a scallion—finely chopped and added raw to soups or salads.
Others prefer cooking it like garlic, adding a lemony twist to stir-fries, curry pastes, and marinades.
Can You Eat Lemongrass Immediately After Harvesting?
After washing lemongrass and separating the leaves from the stalk, what then?
As mentioned, you will have no shortage of uses for your freshly harvested lemongrass.
Here’s how you can use it for cooking:
- Lemongrass Tea or Lemon Juice Substitute
The leaves aren’t as flavorful as the stalk, but it doesn’t mean you will have no use for them.
You can steep either fresh or dried leaves for five minutes and add sugar or honey to sweeten it up.
It will taste heavenly regardless if you drink it hot or cold.
If you’re making cream sauces and are worried about it curdling, you can use lemongrass instead of lemon juice.
- Lemongrass Salad Garnish
Another way to use lemongrass is to add it to salads. All you have to do is mince the tender, white core of the stalk.
- Lemongrass Seasoning
For sauces and broths, you can use both the leaves and the stalks to give them a mild citrusy flavor.
You can use them the way you use bay leaf, making sure you remove them before serving.
There’s a good chance you will have more lemongrass than you’d need for your household. In that case, it would help to know how to store them for future use.
For short-term storage, you can place the stems upright in a glass with fresh water. Stored this way, you will need to use them within a week.
Again, remember to replace the water daily to prevent the lemongrass from going bad.
If you want it to last longer than a week, wrap the lemongrass tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and put it in the fridge. It should stay fresh for about two weeks.
- Freezing Lemongrass
Freezing the stalks whole or in smaller pieces will extend their storage life to six months. Use a freezer bag and label it with the date.
- Drying Lemongrass
To dry lemongrass stalks, cut them into tiny pieces immediately after harvesting. Then, lay them out on a paper towel and place them under the sun to dry.
After sun-drying, you can transfer the dried lemongrass stalks to a jar and put the container in a cool, dark place.
Done this way, they will be good for cooking for up to 12 months.
If you don’t have time to wait for them to sun-dry, you can hasten the process by drying them in the oven for an hour.
Leave the oven door slightly open so as not to burn the lemongrass.
That said, they may lose some of their flavors, so sun-drying is still the recommended method.
Lemongrass is an easy-to-grow herb that smells amazing, tastes mildly refreshing, and is a good insect repellant.
What’s more, you can turn it into a tea drink to help with sore throats, colds, headaches, and stress.
The best part of growing them is that you can do so in pots or directly in-ground. Personally, we prefer growing lemongrass in pots so that we can bring them inside when it gets freezing.
Besides, they can be toxic to dogs and cats, so we feel that growing them in pots is much safer.
If you do decide to plant them in your garden, you might want to do so alongside other herbs like basil, thyme, cilantro, and mint to protect them from pests.