31 Jul 2015


By: Jorge Ventocilla 


Lemongrass, oil grass, or “hierba limón” (as it is called in Panama) grows easily with enough sunlight and water. Its scientific name is Cymbopogon citratus.  Although quite simple in appearance, it has a very good reputation as an everyday health ally. 

It can be seen in plains, gardens, and even flowerpots all over the city.  If you ask about it to someone familiar with its properties, you will hear only good things about it. 

Given its popularity, and because it can be found everywhere, you may think it is native to Panama. In fact, it comes from India and Sri Lanka; however, it is currently grown in many other countries. 

In some provinces it is called “paja de limón”, which could be translated as “lemon straw” and many people use it for tea in the morning and would have a cup or two, instead of coffee. 

Some time ago I asked some of my colleagues if they had any memories concerning lemongrass.  One of them told me that lemongrass tea with raspadura or panela (a cane sugar product similar to jaggery) made her remember about her grandfather and the afternoon stories he used to tell. Other colleague was talking about how lemongrass tea was the official drink of funerals at the countryside. Another colleague told me that, while he was growing up, he learned that lemongrass tea with cinnamon and milk was good for helping little ones sleep better.

It is grown in many different countries today and it has a different name in at least 39 different languages…and those are just the ones I could check on the Internet. In Costa Rica it is called “zacate limón”; in Colombia, it is called “limonaria”; “citronera” or “limonera” in Venezuela; “caña santa” or “hierba de calentura” in Cuba; “hierba luisa” in Perú.  Actually, Inka-Cola (the “national beverage of Perú), is made from lemongrass and it is quite a respected rival of Coca Cola in that country. 

According to a technical report, “medicinal plants are used in approximately 25 % of pharmaceutical drugs in industrialized countries, and in 80 % of remedies in developing countries”.  The Cymbopogon citratus is definitely part of these figures. 

Lemongrass is used in infusions, either by itself or mixed with other plants, for lowering blood pressure, and also as a remedy for fever and the flu.  Additionally, it is used as an antiasthma, antidiarrheal, antitussive, depressant, and antipyretic agent, and also for treating ovarian and urinary infections. It is also used for its anti-flatulence, expectorant and decongestant properties. Furthermore, it is regarded as a powerful antiseptic and insect repellent.


Photo: Scamperdale / CC BY-NC 2.0