COMMON NAMES: Abafado, Andropogon Citratus, Bai Mak Nao, Bhustrina, Citronella Grass, Citral, Esakune, Fever Grass, Guatemala Lemongrass, Lemon Grass, Pinene, Piperitone, Poaceae, Serai, Takrai, Zitronengras
Cymbopogon densiflorus is a perennial grass that can grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall, and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. The grass blades are rounded at the base, evenly taper to a fine point, and emanate from a strong central stalk. The grass blades range in color from forest green to olive green, the flowers are slender and range in color from olive green to brownish green. Cymbopogon densiflorus likes warm climates and thrives in subtropical and temperate areas, especially in Africa and southern Asia (Schultes et al. 2001).
This tropical grass originated in central and western Africa, specifically in Malawi, the Congo and Gabon. However, since the 18th century it has been successfully transplanted throughout South America, Central America and other tropical climates around the world. Because of the hardy nature of this grass and its robust growth, it can currently be found on almost every continent (Schultes et al. 2001).
TRADITIONAL USES: Very little research has been conducted on this plant. What little there is has been documented has originated from ethnographic studies conducted with indigenous peoples in Central Africa. Studies conducted in the early and mid 1970’s by Da Cunha and Koketsu, confirmed suspicions that this species of lemongrass produces psychoactive alkaloids that have been known by indigenous peoples for centuries. However, modern science has yet to fully investigate this plant and its psychotropic compounds (De Smet 1996).
Entheogenic and ethnographic research conducted in 1918 by Newbould found that the Tanganyika tribe shaman and witch doctors use this plant to induce vivid dreams and foretell the future. The medicine men in the tribe are known to use this grass to produce elevated states of intoxication, in which they are able to visualize the ailments of patients and prescribe appropriate remedies (von Reis & Lipp 1982).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Traditionally the Tanganyika medicine man dry the grass blades and flowers and smoked them, sometimes mixing the dried herb with other magical healing plants such as tobacco and Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum). There are several historical blends that the Tanganyika use to induce vivid hallucinations and to predict the future. Medicine men make a smoking blend using 1 part dried lemongrass and 1 part dried tobacco leaf; a similar recipe that was used by the Tanganyika witch doctors adds 2 parts Kanna to the previous mixture to allow for divination of the future (De Smet 1996).
MEDICINAL USES: Narrative interviews with witch doctors and medicine men document many different medicinal uses for Lemongrass; it is used to relax patients with nervous anxiety, as a diuretic to expel evil spirits, as a decoction taken nasally to clear sinus blockages, and as a balm to ease arthritis pains. It is currently believed by herbalists and natural products advocates that there are high concentrations of antioxidants present in the flowers, and that they may possess anti-bacterial properties (Natural Standard 2008).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: The few reports that have surfaced about this plant’s magical powers mention euphoria, states of deep relaxation, vivid dreams, lucid dreams, and bouts of sleep walking; at higher doses or regular habitual use there are reports of delirium, nightmares, even prolonged sleep and extended lethargy. One ethnobotanist who took a potent leaf decoction reported “an almost continuous stream of vivid nightmares throughout the night” (Latz 1995 cited in Voogelbreinder 2009, 145).
De Smet, 1996. “Some Ethnopharmacological Notes on African Hallucinogens.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 50 (1996): 141–146.
Ithaka Harbor. 2006. Entry for Cymbopogon densiflorus (Steud.) Stapf [family POACEAE] Aluka.org.
Natural Standard. 2008. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon spp.) Naturalstandard.com.
Schultes, Richard E; Hofmann, Albert; Ratsch, Christian. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.M
Schultes, R.E., 1984. Psychoactive plants in need of chemical and pharmacological study. Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences.
von Reis, S., and F. Lipp. New Plant Sources for Drugs and Foods from the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.