The Health Benefits of Lemongrass


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), sometimes called lemon grass or citronella, is a tall grass-like ingredient commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking. The lower stalks and bulbs of the plant have a fresh, clean, lemony scent that is sometimes also added to teas, marinades, curries, and broths.

In addition to its use as a flavoring agent, lemongrass and lemongrass essential oil are also used for medicinal purposes, some of which are supported by scientific evidence.

Lemongrass Benefits

Lemongrass can help with a variety of common ailments, like anxiety, common colds, fever, inflammation, and insomnia. When taken orally, lemongrass is often used to calm stomach discomfort and other gastrointestinal issues, including cramps and vomiting. Lemongrass tea is known to treat stomach ailments, indigestion, and gastric ulcers by protecting the stomach lining.

When used medicinally, lemongrass may be taken by mouth, rubbed on the skin, or inhaled as an aromatherapy treatment. Applied to the skin, lemongrass or lemongrass oil is used to treat a headache and musculoskeletal pain. As an aromatherapy treatment, lemongrass oil extract may be inhaled to treat muscle pain, infections, colds, or flu symptoms.

Lemongrass may also be consumed to treat:

  • Anxiety
  • Cancer prevention
  • Common cold
  • Cough
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Fever
  • Hypertension
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Rheumatism
  • Sleeplessness

While animal studies and very limited lab studies have supported some of these lemongrass uses, human evidence is lacking to support these wide-ranging medicinal benefits.

There are a few studies, however, that support certain limited lemongrass benefits. Preliminary research has suggested that lemongrass oil added to a hair tonic may be able to reduce dandruff. More studies are needed to confirm this benefit.

Lemongrass Essential Oil Benefits

Lemongrass essential oil has been studied for its many benefits beyond what can be gained from consuming the plant matter. Lemongrass essential oil contains a significant amount of various bioactive compounds, such as citral, isoneral, isogeranial, geraniol, geranyl acetate, citronellal, citronellol, germacrene-D, and elemol. These compounds have antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anticancer, and antioxidant properties.

As well, research shows that lemongrass essential oil can be applied as a therapeutic agent for treating inflammatory skin conditions and reduces dandruff due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties s can also inhibit the growth of the fungi associated with causing dandruff.

Lemongrass Nutrition

One tablespoon of fresh lemongrass provides about five calories, most of which come from carbohydrates (fiber) and protein, according to USDA data. Lemongrass is a source of fiber, carbohydrates, and vitamins A, B, and C that strengthens the body's immune system, repair tissue damage, and promote cell division, respectively. It also contains magnesium, necessary for protein synthesis, glycolysis, and muscle activity, selenium for cognitive function and fertility, phosphorus for DNA/RNA and cell membrane synthesis, and zinc, useful for wound healing, growth, and development.

Minerals in lemongrass include calcium (3 mg), potassium (34 mg), manganese (0.2 mg), magnesium (2.9 mg), and iron (0.4 mg). Lemongrass also provides certain vitamins (in very small amounts), including vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and niacin. However, consuming lemongrass won't have a significant impact on your daily vitamin needs.

Keep in mind that lemongrass flavored oil provides significantly more calories because it is usually a combination of a cooking oil (like canola oil) and lemongrass extract. For example, one popular brand of lemongrass flavored spray on oil provides 40 calories per serving (1 teaspoon) and 4.5 grams of fat.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Lemongrass is getting easier to find in grocery stores, although in some areas of the country you may need to go to a specialty Asian market to find it. When choosing lemongrass, look for firm green stalks with healthy looking bulbs attached. Some stores may sell lemongrass with much of the tops removed. For most uses, this is fine. Most recipes require that you use the bottom of the stalk or the bulb.

To use lemongrass in teas, soups, broth, or other liquids, crush the bottom area of the stalks to release the aromatic oil. Then, immerse the pieces in the liquid so that aromatic oils are released. Remove the stalks before eating or drinking the beverage.

In other recipes, you may need to chop or mince the bulb or lower area of the stalks before adding to a curry, salad, marinade, or stir-fry.

Example Recipes

Try using one of these recipes that include lemongrass:

Possible Side Effects

Lemongrass is likely safe for most people when consumed in typical amounts found in food. However, there may be some concerns when using it for medicinal purposes.

Used topically, lemongrass may cause skin irritation. Additionally, consuming high amounts of lemongrass may cause dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, excess urination, and increased appetite.

Lemongrass essential oil in high amounts can damage liver and stomach mucous membranes, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and excessive intake of lemongrass tea may also affect kidney function.

The medical center also cautions that pregnant women should avoid lemongrass because certain ingredients in lemongrass caused birth defects in rats when consumed in large amounts. Additionally, people undergoing chemotherapy should avoid lemongrass because it may interfere with the actions of some chemotherapeutic agents.

Common Questions

  • Can I freeze lemongrass? Yes, lemongrass can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for two to three weeks or frozen for up to 6 months.
  • What is a suitable lemongrass substitute in recipes? The best (and easiest-to-find) substitute for lemongrass is lemon zest.
6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. DeFilipps RA, Krupnick GA. The medicinal plants of MyanmarPhytoKeys. 2018:(102):1-341. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.102.24380

  2. Nida Tabassum K. Therapeutic benefits of lemongrass and tea tree. Ann Civil Environ Eng. 2020;4(1):027-029. doi:10.29328/journal.acee.1001022

  3. Chaisripipat W, Lourith N, Kanlayavattanakul M. Anti-dandruff Hair Tonic Containing Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus) Oil. Forsch Komplementmed. 2015;22(4):226-229. doi:10.1159/000432407

  4. Mukarram M, Choudhary S, Khan MA, et al. Lemongrass essential oil components with antimicrobial and anticancer activities. Antioxidants. 2021;11(1):20. doi:10.3390/antiox11010020

  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lemon grass (citronella), raw. FoodData Central.

  6. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Lemongrass.

Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.