Lemongrass, noted for its use in Thai cooking, is both a delicious citrusy herb and a remarkable natural healer. In traditional medicine, lemongrass has long been used around the world to treat fever, flu, and headaches as well as aid digestion.
Lemongrass for headache and migraine relief
One of the most common medicinal uses of lemongrass traditionally has been for headache relief.
Now it’s been proven to be at least as effective as aspirin — only safer. A five year study of plants used in traditional medicine recently reported in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine that lemongrass shows similar activity to aspirin in treating headaches and migraines.
According to Dr. Darren Grice from the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University in Australia where the study took place, “Headaches and migraines cause abnormal activities in our bodies, such as altering our serotonin levels and interfering with the normal function of our blood platelets.”
Dangerous blood clots caused by this abnormal clumping of platelets can starve the brain of oxygen and lead to strokes. Eugenol, a compound found in lemongrass, was found to help prevent this excess clumping of blood platelets.
Just prior to migraines, high levels of serotonin causes blood vessels in the brain to contract, lowering the pain threshold. Then during the migraine itself, serotonin levels drop, causing blood vessels to expand — frequently leading to the throbbing pain migraine sufferers experience. Eugenol helps normalize the release of serotonin and may be effective in helping prevent migraines in the first place.
Lemongrass as a health and digestive aid
Drinking lemongrass tea or eating foods prepared with the herb promotes digestion and provides relief from flatulence. It also helps the body eliminate toxic substances including cleansing of the kidney, pancreas, liver and bladder.
Lemongrass has natural antimicrobial properties, helping the body fight off bacterial, fungal and viral infections. As an antipyretic, lemongrass helps reduce fevers from colds and flu. That’s how lemongrass also became known as fever grass.
One common home remedy from India mixes a few fresh strands of lemongrass with two or three cloves, a cinnamon stick, and turmeric powder which is boiled in milk, drained, and drunk to provide cough and cold relief after it cools. Thailand’s popular Tom Yum Kung soup is a delicious dish also thought to help fight cold and flu thanks to its use lemongrass as a central ingredient.
As an antifungal, the essential oil from lemongrass can help treat athlete’s foot. Rubbing it on the skin is also thought to increase blood flow to the area and is used to improve circulation (for this reason it has even been recommended as a treatment for sciatica, lower back pain, and arthritis).
Another common reason to rub it on is for a natural insect repellent. You probably are already familiar with this use of the herb’s oil by its common name, citronella.
Lemongrass even fights cancer
New research has found even more impressive benefits from the plant. Perhaps most exciting to date is a report from researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel who discovered during in vitro testing that the compound citral found in lemongrass actually causes cancer cells to self destruct — without harming healthy cells — at a concentration equivalent to a cup of lemongrass tea.
The results have been promising enough that even many conventional doctors now recommend cancer patients drink several mugs of hot lemongrass tea on days they receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Now there’s a step in the right direction.
Lemongrass can be found in most well stocked grocery stores either fresh or frozen. Indian or other Asian markets are another good place to look. Or, simply grow your own. While lemongrass is a perennial which thrives in tropical climates, it can be grown as an annual in cooler climates.
Rashid, S. Native lemon grass fights headaches like aspirin. Griffith News. 2010 Mar 2.
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Sommer, A. Fresh lemon grass fields in Israel become mecca for cancer patients. ISRAEL21c. 2006 Apr 2.
Sue Chao, et al. Inhibition of methicillin-resistant Stapphulococcus aureus (MRSA) by essential oils. Flavour and Fragrance Journal.
Inouye S, et al. Combined effect of heat, essential oils and salt on fungicidal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes in a foot bath. Nippon Ishinkin Gakkai Zasshi. 2007;48(1):27-36.