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Herbs & Botanicals

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Cymbopogon (xiang mao)

What is cymbopogon? What is it used for?

Known is many circles as lemon grass, cymbopogon is a perennial herb used primarily as an ornamental herb and in Asian cooking. The word cymbopogon comes from the Greek words "kumbe" and "pogon" because the leaves are boat-shaped in appearance, but the herb gets its more common name due to its lemony flavor.

More than 50 species of cymbopogon are known to exist, including a variation called citronella, from which citronella oil is obtained. The plant can reach a height of six feet, and is cultivated worldwide.

While it is a staple food in many cultures, cymbopogon is also grown and harvested for its medicinal properties. The active ingredients in cymbopogon include a variety of alkaloids, sterols, terpenes and essential oils. According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, cymbopogon has acrid and warm properties. It is typically used to treat a range of conditions, including headaches, stomachaches, respiratory problems, colds, fevers, and rheumatic pains. Scientific studies have shown that it can increase respiration and relieve muscle spasms. Other cultures use cymbopogon for different purposes. In Central America and South America, for example, healers use it to treat irregular menstruation, diarrhea, and digestive problems. In Africa, it has been employed as a type of body wash.

How much cymbopogon should I take?

The typical dose of cymbopogon is between 10 and 15 grams, decocted in water for oral administration. It can be used in teas, beverages, herbal medicines, soups, and other dishes. Some practitioners recommend a cymbopogon extract, which can be ingested a few drops at a time. Cymbopogon can also be applied to the skin as part of a poultice or paste.

What forms of cymbopogon are available?

Fresh cymbopogon can be found at some supermarkets and specialty stores. Dried cymbopogon can be found at herbal shops, Asian markets and from other sources. Some suppliers also sell powders and pills comprised of cymbopogon and other herbs.

What can happen if I take too much cymbopogon? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Taking large amounts of cymbopogon for extended periods of time can cause headaches and upset stomach. It should also not be applied directly to the skin in cases of skin hives, rash, itchy skin or swollen skin. In addition, cymbopogon has been given a class 2B rating by the American Herbal Products Association, meaning that it should not be used by pregnant women. As always, make sure to consult a licensed health care provider before taking cymbopogon or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998.
  • Mabberley D J. The Plant Book: A Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants, 2nd edition. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds). American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 40.
  • Simon JE, Chadwick AF, Craker LE. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1984.
  • Watson L, Dallwitz MJ. The Grass Genera of the World, 2nd edition. Wallingford, United Kingdom: CAB International, 1987.

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