Citronella - Cymbopogon nardus

Citronella - Cymbopogon nardus

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evergreen perennial herbaceous native to southern Asia; it forms dense, erect tufts, which reach 70-100 cm in height during the vegetative period; the leaves, ribbon-shaped, 60-70 cm long, are bright green, with a paper-like consistency, quite thick, hanging down; they are carried by erect, rigid stems, similar to small bamboos. Leaves and stems give off an intense, slightly citrus scent, which becomes very strong if you rub the leaves between your fingers. These plants are grown in most of Asia, as the oil they extract is used in oriental medicine, and is also highly valued worldwide as a mosquito repellent. The leaves can also be used in the kitchen, to flavor salads, teas and drinks. There are about a dozen species of cymbopogon, almost all with very aromatic leaves.


they are grown in a sunny, or partially shady place; these plants don't like cold, so they are generally grown as annuals, or kept in pots, so that they can be repaired during the coldest months of the year; often in autumn the head of leaves is cut near the ground, so as to keep it more compact the following year. Plants placed in places sheltered from the wind and sunny in general are ruined in a conspicuous way by the winter cold, but tend to re-branch back to the arrival of spring.


water regularly throughout the growing season, from March to October; the cymbopogon they can withstand short periods of drought, but most of the leaves often dry out.


are grown in a good rich, deep and very well drained soil; in any case, they do not seem to have any major problems in the common garden soil.


in autumn it is possible to divide the heads of leaves, leaving some roots well developed for each portion practiced; the new plants thus obtained are placed directly at home, or are made to spend the winter in a sheltered place, to plant them in the spring.

Pests and diseases

Generally they are not attacked by pests or diseases. It is a pretty healthy plant. However, it is good to avoid wetting the soil and leaves too much to avoid cryptogamic problems.
If the plant was attacked by insects, natural pyrethrum-based products can be used respecting the time of deficiency before using parts of them in the kitchen.

Introduction and description

Lemongrass is a plant belonging to the poaceae family. In the East it is very well known as an aromatic herb and (especially in India) it is the basis of almost all typical dishes. If you want to reproduce it to perfection it's impossible to replace. The leaves are used to flavor teas and herbal teas. The area near the roots is essential to add flavor to meat, fish and soups. The taste and aroma are very similar to those of lemon, but with sweet notes and totally devoid of acidity. In any case it is a perennial grass (where the climate allows it) with a bushy habit. The most widespread varieties are Cymbopogon citratus and Cymbopogon flexuosus. The first is from India and Sri Lanka. It has long glaucous leaves and is about 1 meter high. The second one is more widespread in Indochina and Malaysia. It is less prized from the aromatic point of view. It can grow up to 1.5 m in height and is very vigorous. It has elongated leaves of a beautiful dark green. It is capable of producing seeds. Both develop bulbous strains and tend to spread extremely easily if they are grown in the right climate. Currently it is widely cultivated in the area of ​​the Tropics in Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is a hardy plant and therefore it is not widespread in Europe and the United States. Lately attempts to produce it are becoming more insistent for the spread of oriental culinary traditions.


The ideal climate for citronella is tropical or subtropical. Ideal temperatures range from 10 ° to 33 ° C. To produce a good quantity of essential oil (and to be sufficiently aromatic) it also needs many hours of direct light.

Winter retreat

In almost all of Italy it is necessary to withdraw this plant. As we have said, it does not stand temperatures below 10 ° C. This means that it can live outside only in the far south of the peninsula. Elsewhere it is advisable to keep the plants in a container.
They must be picked up from mid-September to the north. In the South, the middle of October can also be expected. Unfortunately it is difficult to make them survive in the winter at home because there is often a lack of light. The only way to keep them from one year to the next is to move them to a heated greenhouse with good lighting. Throughout the cold season the plants will have to be irrigated with a certain regularity, even if not with the frequency of summer. Let's always adjust the terrain to avoid especially water excesses (which could cause plants to rot in plants with rather fleshy roots like these). As for the other grasses, it is possible to cut the leaves before leaving, leaving only about 30 cm of stem.


To grow vigorously it needs frequent, almost daily, irrigation. It is absolutely necessary to avoid water stagnation by creating a good draining layer on the bottom before being planted in the ground or in pots. In any case, avoid the saucer.
If we live in an area where rust is widespread, it is good to irrigate the specimens without wetting the leaves, perhaps using a drip plant. It is also essential to avoid watering with very cold water: the plant suffers particularly from changes in temperature and growth may be affected.


Lemongrass is a very adaptable plant in this respect. It lives well in both compact and sandy soils. It prefers a pH from acid to sub alkaline. It is important however that there is always a good system of excess water gutter. Generally speaking, we can say that essential oils concentrate when grown in an alkaline substrate and at moderate altitudes.
It could therefore be an excellent plant for island areas and particularly in the far south where mild winter temperatures meet rather poor soil.


In the open ground
In order for these plants to grow well it is essential to give them a very sunny exposure. It is therefore good to consider where to place them, especially if we decide to grow them in the open ground. In Italy it is certainly better to turn the specimens southwards.
Planting should be done in the spring, avoiding working on excessively wet ground. If we want to insert more than one plant let's remember that the ideal distance goes from 20 to 40 cm. In the first case we will quickly obtain an effect of fullness, but we will certainly have to intervene first with the division of the tufts.
The plants must be inserted quite deeply so that the entire root is covered and also a certain amount of the base of the head.
On the bottom of the hole it is good to create a drainage layer formed by at least five centimeters of gravel.
After inserting the plant, the soil should be compacted as much as possible to avoid air bubbles and future settling in case of heavy rain.
In pot
It is good to choose a medium-sized container. This is because being a very vigorous plant tends, if in the right conditions, to quickly occupy all the available space. It is also true, however, that with the arrival of the cold season it will be necessary, in almost all of our country, to move it to a sheltered area. It is therefore essential that the vase is not particularly bulky and heavy.
First of all, place a good draining layer made of gravel, earthenware or expanded clay on the bottom. We can then create a layer with a good pelleted flour manure. This will be separated from the roots of the plant by some abundant handful of soil. Once the specimen has been positioned at the right height (a little white of the bulb must be seen from the ground) the surface can be compacted.


To have beautiful plants it is necessary first of all to carry out a good fertilization of the bottom using an organic soil conditioner. Very good is the bovine or equine manure. An excellent alternative is ground lupins. The administration of good quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus, which is even more important, however, is indispensable for good growth and rooting, although it is necessary to distribute a fertilizer with a high potassium content. This significantly affects the production of aromatic oil.


The collection of the aerial part can be carried out at any time and is beneficial as it stimulates the growth of the plant.
Instead, bulbous tufts should be taken when they reach a good size. Usually one to two centimeters in diameter is sufficient. They can be withdrawn by carefully inserting a sharp blade and separating the parts (possibly with the help of a small pitchfork).


The simplest method to multiply this plant is undoubtedly the division of the head.
Take a ripe head and cut the leaves leaving it around 25 cm long.
You can then proceed by dividing each head and eliminating the outer leaves (brown) for each one. This operation will expose the new side radicles more. The operation should preferably be carried out at the beginning of the vegetative period. Seed reproduction is not recommended.


In addition to the culinary use of the roots, citronella is in great demand for the essential oil that is extracted from it and that finds many different uses. It is used in the cosmetic industry to perfume soaps and ointments. Very useful also for aromatherapy. In the pharmaceutical field it is valuable for its antiseptic, pain-relieving and stimulating properties. The oil is a very effective repellent against mosquitoes and insects. It is then inserted into candles and specific preparations for this purpose. Recently some universities have discovered and are experimenting with some of its anticancer properties. In particular, it appears to be capable of causing cancer cells to die.

Citronella: RECIPES

Aromatic base for oriental dishes (pasta, chicken, rice, soups)
- Some lemongras bulb
- Spring onion also using a little green part
- Garlic
- Fresh or powdered ginger
- Chili peppers (sweet or spicy according to our tastes)
- Salt
- Lemon or lime juice
- Sesame oil (or sunflower oil)
Clean all the ingredients well. Remove (if you want) the seeds from the peppers. Insert in a kitchen mixer and chop until a homogeneous base is obtained.
We can use it either as a sauce at the beginning of the preparations in the wok or adding it at the end of cooking.
Oriental Noodles
- sesame or sunflower oil
- onion
- lemongras, ginger, coriander, curry, garlic, chilli, cumin
- coconut milk
- vegetable broth
- noodles
Fry the onion and when it is soft and golden add the spices and finally the lemongras. Salt and pepper. Then add the coconut milk and the broth. Allow to shrink.
Put the noodles in a bowl with hot water until they have become soft. Then sauté in a pan with sesame oil and season with the previously prepared mixture and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.
Thames with lemongras
- 2 tufts of lemongras
- A piece of cinnamon
- Honey or sugar
- A sachet of tea
- Juice of half a lime
Clean the lemongras well and remove the base. Beat it to make it softer and cut it into small pieces. Put it in a cup with cinnamon, sugar and the tea bag. Pour hot water and wait for it to turn golden (about 5 minutes). Strain and add the lime juice.
In the absence of the fresh head, dry citronella can also be used, but the taste will be less intense.