Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), a type of grass with a strong aroma of lemon, is used in many cuisines. It has a calming effect on your brain since it has compounds that mimic GABA, a natural nerve-relaxing chemical. This is how lemongrass could also help you sleep better. It also helps your liver by increasing the amount of an enzyme called glutathione-S-transferase, which neutralizes toxic chemicals produced during the process of detoxification. That apart, it balances the cholesterol levels in the body.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is what it sounds like – a type of grass with a strong aroma of lemon. It is native to Sri Lanka and the Southern part of India, but it is now grown in tropical regions all over the world.
The unique flavor of lemongrass is due to a chemical called citral which makes up 65–85% of lemongrass essential oil. Apart from citral, the leaves contain nerol, geraniol, citronellal, terpinolene, geranyl acetate, myrecene, terpinol methylheptenone, chlorogenic acid, isoorientin, swertiajaponin, luteolin, isoorientin 2’-O-rhamnoside, quercetin, kaempferol, and apiginin.
Traditionally, lemongrass has been used to soothe digestive troubles like stomach cramps or bloating. But that’s not its only claim to fame. Here’s a look at other health benefits of lemongrass.
Why It’s So Great
1. Helps with Sleep
For some, it’s quite easy to sleep after a busy day. For most, however, with many things to plan and worry about, sleep is a struggle. Lemongrass essential oil is known to help the second type of people. Here’s how it works.
To fall asleep, your body needs to stop responding to external stimuli (like light or sound, say). Your brain is in this with you. It releases a brain chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which flips on special switches called GABAA receptors on the nerve cells. The chain of events that follow has a single aim: to keep the nerve cell from firing an action potential or, simply put, transmitting the signal, or responding to the stimuli. Some lemongrass chemicals behave like GABA molecules and help you fall asleep.
This principle of lemongrass tea makes it good for calming your mind as well. So when you’re feeling flustered or restless, take a break and brew yourself a cup of hot lemongrass tea.
2. Maintains Liver Health
Lemongrass is a common ingredient in detox drinks since it’s a friend to your liver. To understand how it works, you need to know how your liver carries on the process of detoxification.
The liver helps remove toxins that you ingest (through food, water, drugs, and even air) in a two-phase process. But in the process of detoxification (after phase 1), it is attacked by reactive molecules called free radicals. The damage, however, is controlled when natural antioxidants like glutathione are in good supply. It neutralizes the free radicals. In addition, in the second phase of detoxification, glutathione binds with the toxins isolated during phase 1 to render them harmless. The process is controlled by an enzyme called glutathione S-transferase. Lack of this enzyme or glutathione can mean accumulation of toxins in the liver.
Citral in lemongrass helps increase the action of glutathione S-transferase, improving the detox efficiency of the second phase. Which means, the liver can quickly shed off its toxic load.
3. Helps Balance Cholesterol Levels
Despite popular propaganda, cholesterol is not all bad for your body. Among other benefits, it is also required to make vitamin D and a number of critical hormones. It’s when the balance between the two main types of cholesterol – HDL and LDL – goes awry that health problems ensue. Lemongrass could help your body’s innate cholesterol-balancing mechanism by lowering the more harmful LDL levels.
The mechanism of action is not crystal clear, but it is possible that some lemongrass chemicals increase the uptake of cholesterol from the intestine so that it can be converted to bile acids. The chemicals also help excrete more bile acids.
Moreover, a healthy liver means healthy cholesterol levels. This is because the HDLs sweep off the LDLs to the liver for disposal. When the liver doesn’t have enough antioxidant support, this process too becomes inefficient, and the cholesterol balance suffers. Since lemongrass helps in liver detoxification, it could indirectly help in fixing the cholesterol imbalance too.
Most people’s first brush with lemongrass happens via a bowl of Thai curry, but that’s not all this citrusy herb can jazz up. The flavor goes well with salads, soups, stews, curries, stir fries, marinades, spice rubs, juices, and teas.
The most flavorful part of the herb is in the 5 inches near the bottom of the stalk. Peel away the tough layers outside and use the tender part inside. Finely mince it to add to stir fries or curries. The longer you cook lemongrass, the stronger its flavor. So depending on how strong you want your dish to smell of lemongrass, you could add it right at the beginning or at the end. To make a cup of tea, crush the stalk and add it to boiling water. Let it steep for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and sieve out the stalks.
The essential oil is popular in aromatherapy for depression and anxiety. It is also used for peaceful sleep.
There’s no upper limit on how much lemongrass you should have in a day. There are no known side effects. So it depends on your palate. That said, researchers advise men with heart problems against having lemongrass regularly since it can modulate the blood pressure to some extent and interact with BP medicines. Also, don’t use the essential oil without supervision.