By Harold McGee
Lemongrass is one of a small group of aromatic species in the grass family. Cymbopogon citratus accumulates the lemony terpene citral (a mixture of two compounds, neral and geranial), as well as flowery geraniol and linalool, in special oil cells in the middle of its leaves. It is a native of seasonally dry southern Asia, including the foothills of the Himalayas, and is important in the cooking of Southeast Asia. Lemongrass forms clumps of thick shoots; all parts are aromatic, but only the lower stalk is tender enough to be edible itself. The older outer leaves can be used to infuse a dish with their flavor, or be made into an herbal tea. In Thailand the tender stalk is a standard component of pounded spice pastes, and it’s also eaten fresh in salads.