All About Lemongrass

How Vietnamese people use lemongrass in cuisine and traditional medicine

Widely recognized in Western cuisine, the holy trinity of Italian food comprises onion, celery, and carrots. In contrast, the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam, celebrate the vibrant triptych of lemongrass, chili, and ginger.

Lemongrass pencil drawing from Icones plantarum or figures.

Lemongrass - Icones plantarum or figures, courtesy of Icones plantarum or figures.

Lemongrass in Vietnamese Cuisine

Known as sả in Vietnamese, takrai in Thai, serai in Malay, or tanglad in Tagalog, lemongrass has been the not-so-secret weapon behind the passionate Southeast Asian cuisines celebrated for its multi-flavor profiles and rich blend of local herbs.

With an elegant green-yellow-white resemblance to scallions but possessing a sturdier presence of tall grass, lemongrass imparts a captivating, subtly uplifting note to your soups. Its citrusy essence, with subtle Siamese coconut water in its palette, plays a pivotal role in enhancing the intricate and hearty flavors of charming Vietnamese dishes like Gà Xào Sả Ớt / Tàu Hủ Sả Ớt (Lemongrass Chili Sauteed Chicken or Silky Tofu), Nghêu Hấp Bia (Lemongrass Beer-steamed Clams), or Bún Bò Huế, etc.

Workers sorting and selecting freshly harvested lemongrass
Java lemongrass used for essential oil extraction

Left: Commune Phú Thạnh, District Tân Phú Đông
Right: Sả Đỏ / Java lemongrass ready to be pressed for essential oil

Lemongrass in Vietnamese Traditional Medicine

Besides food, we’d employ lemongrass as the best natural mosquito repellent, whether in essential oil form or bundled stalks placed in the corners of living spaces. We put them in hot and cold teas and often pair them with lime and ginger. We’d prepare nước xông, a trusted personal sauna remedy, by boiling lemongrass and other herbs in a medicinal pot of water, then wrapping ourselves snugly in a heavy blanket—a surefire defense against flu and cold. Sweat it out! - they said.

Lemongrass cultivation throughout Việt Nam

Workers sorting and selecting freshly harvested lemongrass

Lemongrass harvest in Tân Phú Đông district, courtesy of Tiền Giang local TV News.

Lemongrass is planted in the spring from January to March in northern provinces and autumn from August to September every year at the start of the rainy season in southern provinces.

Lemongrass cultivation in Vietnam was an essential oil extraction endeavor during French colonial times. In 1957, the government revived and expanded these efforts, making lemongrass cultivation widespread. Different regional lemongrass species bring about variations in taste and usage.This hardy perennial plant thrives in the tropical and subtropical regions of southern Việt Nam. But it also adapts well to cooler climates, allowing lemongrass to be cultivated in highland areas. Regions like M’Đrắk, Ea Kar, Buôn Đôn, and Ea Súp in Đắk Lắk have successfully grown lemongrass. Additionally, ethnic minority communities, like Sán Chỉ tribe in Nà Mon, Cao Bằng, and Tày tribe in Ya Tmốt, Đắk Lắk specialize in cultivating Citronella Lemongrass, known as Sả Đỏ/Sả Java, which has a spicier flavor profile. This variety is ideal for extracting essential oils and serves as a natural insect repellent due to its citrus scent when crushed.

In Tiền Giang, Southern Việt Nam, the thriving Sả Chanh (Cymbopogon Citratus) not only sparks an agricultural trend but also significantly enhances the lives of Tân Phú Đông farmers. Climate change in the past decade has adversely affected rice cultivation due to inconsistent seasons and salinization risks in water sources. Lemongrass has emerged as a sustainable solution, boasting high yields and profitability in the Mekong River's cù lao (islet region). This herb paves the way for poverty reduction, increased farming family stability, and aids the goal of achieving premier agricultural district status by 2025.

How to use Vân Vân's Delta Lemongrass

Van Van Delta Lemongrass in a small bowl displayed on a vibrant background

Vân Vân's Delta Lemongrass. Photo: Amanda Phạm.

Our lemongrass comes from the Tân Phú Đông district of Tiền Giang in the Mekong Delta, hence the name Delta Lemongrass. Through a cold dehydrating process, the lemongrass keeps much of its floral aroma and flavors.

In addition, we keep the lemongrass in the sliced form, which is how Vietnamese people often cook with it. This form brings versatility because you're able to chop it finer or grind into powder form.

To taste the delightful aroma of Delta Lemongrass, we recommend rehydrating for 1-2 minutes before cooking. It makes a great gà xào sả ớt (Lemongrass Chili Sauteed Chicken) or bò kho (Vietnamese beef stew). Not only good in savory dishes, lemongrass also makes a delicious jelly or even simple syrup. Find our recipes below if you have Delta Lemongrass in the pantry and not sure what to make with it!

What to Cook with Lemongrass