By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
I’ll be honest. Whenever I hear someone repeat the old saw, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” I’m not sure whether to smile or shake my head.
On one hand, I’m a huge believer in always looking for the positive in life. On the other, the saying paints lemons in a negative light. And that couldn’t be further from the truth!
So I’m going to set the record straight—not only about lemons, but also lemongrass.
Benefits of Lemons
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about lemons that just makes me feel good. Maybe it’s their eye-catching color, their clean scent, or their refreshing citrus flavor. Or maybe I’m drawn to them because I instinctively know the vibes lemons give off are just what I need to stay healthy.
One thing is for sure—I love that lemons are loaded with immune-boosting, free-radical destroying vitamin C. This is a vitamin that, in my opinion, doesn’t get the full credit it deserves. Sure, it will help take the edge off a cold or the flu—that’s why a little tea with some raw honey and lemon is a go-to remedy for seasonal illness. But vitamin C is also an antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals and prevent inflammation, which helps protect the heart.
Lemons get even more health benefits from the flavonoids they contain. Flavonoids are a type of natural (and potent) antioxidant unique to plant foods. They’re also effective at stopping free radical activity, which means they can help reduce inflammation and the risk of inflammation-related illness.
Adding more lemons to your diet is easy. Lemonade is a traditional favorite, but I’d steer clear since most recipes contain added sugar. You’ll be better off just squeezing some fresh lemon juice into a glass of water. If you must have some sweetness, try diluting lemonade with filtered water so it’s only half-strength, then add more fresh lemon to your glass; you can also make your own lemonade and sweeten it with a very minimal amount of maple syrup.
Lemons are also great for enhancing the flavor of virtually any meal, particularly fish and poultry dishes. Lemon also mixes wonderfully with heart-healthy olive oil – drizzled over some veggies, the combo is amazing!
Finally, there’s zero waste with lemons. Instead of throwing the rinds in the trash, you can put them down the garbage disposal. It’s not exactly a quiet undertaking, but the oils that are released as the rinds get ground up help clean the disposal and get rid of unpleasant odors.
Lemongrass Benefits and Uses
Now let’s look at lemongrass. Despite having a similar scent and flavor, lemons and lemongrass are not actually related at all. Lemons are a tree fruit, while lemongrass is actually a tropical herb from Asia.
You’ll usually come across lemongrass as either an ingredient for cooking or as an essential oil. You can cook with lemongrass that’s fresh, ground, or powdered, and it’s used in many fish, beef, poultry, and curry recipes.
Health-wise, lemongrass has benefits similar to lemons. It’s been shown to help fight inflammation (one study identified lemongrass as a top six essential oil with anti-inflammatory properties), and lemongrass oil—like lemon oil—has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help fight infections. Lemongrass also supports healthy digestion, which has the dual benefit of supporting nutrient absorption and the removal of toxins.
One study suggested that lemongrass oil can have a relaxing effect, as well. It was in mice, though, so I’d like to see more research done, especially to see if lemongrass has potential as a sleep aid. Quality sleep is essential for keeping the body balanced and healthy—and we’re a sleep-deprived nation. If research can prove that lemongrass produces the same effect in humans, it could be a safe, effective alternative to the pharmaceutical solutions incessantly advertised on TV.
A few other uses for lemongrass include:
- Reduce stress. If you are stressed or can’t sleep, put a few drops of lemongrass essential oil in a diffuser and let its refreshing scent calm you. If you don’t have a diffuser or the essential oil, crush enough fresh lemongrass leaves that you can pick up their scent. Place them in your room for a relaxing evening.
- Make tea. I love lemongrass tea; the taste is refreshing and invigorating. You can make tea by steeping fresh lemongrass in boiling water, or purchase dried tea. If you buy tea, just be sure the brand you choose is 100 percent organic so you’re not getting any health-damaging pesticides and GMOs.
- Repel insects. Lemongrass makes a great insect repellent. (One species of lemongrass, citronella grass, is a common ingredient in candles and lotions that ward off mosquitoes.) Don’t apply lemongrass oil directly to your skin undiluted, though, because it can cause skin irritation. To be on the safe side, mix lemongrass oil with a carrier oil like jojoba oil or almond oil. Or, you could even use a little olive oil.
- Repel fleas, ticks, and lice. Like other insects, fleas, ticks and lice hate the scent of lemongrass. You can take advantage of this (and make your dog very happy) by spraying diluted lemongrass oil over his coat and bedding. Don’t try this with your cat, though, because it can be highly toxic to felines.
- Make massage oil. You can easily make massage oil by mixing three essential oils—lemongrass, sandalwood, and geranium—with almond oil.
There are so many other ways to use lemons and lemongrass for your health and happiness— I’ve really only scratched the surface here. But one thing should be obvious: there’s a lot more good about lemons (and lemongrass) than bad. So the next time you hear someone say “When life gives you lemons…” just smile, look on the bright side, and think how much healthier you’ll be.
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