The wonders of lemon grass

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Fresh lemon grass can be used to add flavour to hot drinks. (Net photo)

Lemon grass is rich in antioxidants that make it essential in the fight against free radicals linked to most cancers

Lemon grass has been used as a fragrance in soaps, but far beyond this role the plant also has nutritional benefits. At a household level, the leaves from the plant require limited processing. They can be cut, dried and pounded before being applied to tea as a spice.

“Lemon grass relieves digestive problems such as blotting, abdominal pain, muscle pain among others,’’ says Kibagabaga Hospital nutritionist Isaac Bikorimana. To achieve this, a concentration can be prepared with hot water.

However, it is also possible to extract oil from raw leaves of lemon grass. The fresh leaves are distilled to produce a slightly volatile ester used for aromatherapy. As people inhale the aroma from the hot water, they experience soothing effects.

“It is the inhalation of steam from such solutions that provides relief against flue, and effects such as the heart burn,” he adds.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Lemon grass oil is a source of essential vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate and vitamin C. Several studies also suggest that essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, zinc and iron are present in large amounts.

Studies published in the Journal of Medicinal food show that a combination of these ingredients provides anti-inflammatory resilience to the body.

In fact other findings suggest that when combined with extracts from ginger, these anti-inflammatory properties are enhanced.

Audrey Mutabazi, a food consultant based in Kigali, explains that individuals living with bowel disease can find relief through the use of a mixture of lemon grass and other herbs.

“Much as these nutrients exist in trace amounts, their effects can never be underestimated and as such vital for people living with bowel disease or associated disorders,” says Mutabazi.

Fighting carcinogens

Unlike most foods in this category, lemon grass is rich in antioxidants that make it essential in the fight against free radicals linked to most cancers.

“Being rich in vitamins especially A makes lemon grass, a vital element in the fight against many cancers,’’ adds Mutabazi.

Supplementing such views are recent studies conducted on lemon grass benefits. On cancer, research found that a substance in lemon grass called citral created a ‘suicide’ effect in cancer cells; essentially inspiring them to eliminate themselves.

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Tea made from lemon grass has a soothing effect. (Solomon Asaba)

Interestingly, it is this citral that gives lemongrass its distinctive lemon taste and was found to eradicate cancerous cells. However, in its presence, all the leaving healthy cells remain unharmed.

Used in insect repellants

Besides its nutritional value, lemon grass has been found to be effective in repelling insects.

A study published in the journal of cosmetics found that extracts from lemon grass repelled ants and were also effective on insect bites.

Nicolas Hitimana, the managing director of Ikirezi Natural Products, a company in Kigali that makes healthcare products from herbs such as lemon grass, explains that lemon grass is very useful as a mosquito repellant.

“We have two new products made from lemon grass which are very effective on mosquitoes. These are the geranium roll-on and the geranium spray. The roll-on may be applied to the skin while the spray can be used indoors to repel mosquitoes,” he explains.

Hitimana also adds that lemon grass is very useful in improving the skin.

“It has natural constituents that are highly effective. In facial treatments, lemon grass oil can be applied at night on the skin during facial make ups,” he adds.

Botanically know as cymbopogon, there are many species of lemon grass. Some of them grow to about 2m with magenta-coloured base stems. Most of these species are used for the production of citronella oil, which is used in soaps, in insect sprays and candles and aromatherapy. Lemon grass is now common in Africa and other parts of the world but its origin is assumed to be some where in Asia.

In Rwanda, most families grow lemon grass in their backyards, but products processed from the plant can be found on most supermarket shelves.