Food, Medicine and Advancing Health: Lemongrass
Richard Palmquist, DVM, AHVMF Research Chair
At AHVMF we are very excited about improving research into natural medicine for animals. We are born into a world of vast resources. One of our major challenges becomes learning about these resources so we can better manage our lives and the lives of those that depend upon us. In primitive times, we had an intimate relationship with plants. We lived together. In modern times several layers of separation developed that makes us less aware, and less informed about our botanical resources and their relationships with healthy diet and life practices.
If you want an introduction to food medicine, simply look at indigenous diets. It is no accident that the cultural flavor profiles emerging in specific areas turn out to reflect healthy use of plant resources. Life is a cooperative effort. All parts work together, and while some see only competition, factually Life uses every niche for some interesting function. Plants and people are no exception to that rule.
If we eat correctly, we feel better. Our body has what it needs to perform and is not burdened by unnecessary toxins, excesses or deficiencies. Food is pleasant. It is also medicine. Local cuisine is particularly effective evidence of that statement.
As an example, Thai food is rich in chili, cilantro, garlic, ginger, lime and lemongrass. Each of these food items has powerful medicinal activities. Together they work together to nourish and promote health. Let's look at the last one - Lemongrass (Cymbopogon fleuosus).
Lemongrass is a prolific plant that grows easily in many warmer areas. I grow it in my back yard in Southern California. Merely brushing up against the grass elicits its powerful, calming scent. It's not too hard to imagine living in earlier times, without adequate hygiene opportunities, and having an intelligent person simply rubbing the plant on skin after noticing its scent. Once that was done, an innovator may have noted they received fewer insect bites and felt more relaxed and calm. Heck, they might have even attracted a more discriminating mate leading to superior genetic resources. Who knows. Or, perhaps ancient people were adept at observation and noticed animals rubbing on the grass. Maybe we learned from "lower" animals and got smart enough to mimic those self selection life strategies without evidence based medicine? They learned because it worked.
Once attracted to the plant by its scent, trying to include leaves in bedding or food would not be much of a step. The stuff tastes good. You want to eat it. Today, thanks to scientific advances, we know the plant finds immediate usefulness in its ability to repel insects like ticks, fleas and mosquitoes. A highly effective, commercial natural flea product exists (Evolv, www.wondercide.com) based on this effect. Lightly spraying animals before they embark on hikes helps keep ticks away and reduces harassment by flies and mosquitoes.
According to Young, the oil of lemon grass contains powerful active agents including geranial, geraniol, neral, and trans-beta-caryopyllene. This oil has a very high antioxidant effect scoring 17,765 on the ORAC scale (2006). Including it in dishes that have high fat (like coconut milk) increase the secretion of the oil out of our skin and furthers its effects as we sweat to cool in such warm climates. The coconut oil, which is a low weight fatty acid further promotes the antifungal and antibacterial effects of the lemongrass. Good tastes go together and this is useful considering that the plant grows in higher humidity areas where fungal infections are more challenging.
Medically speaking, lemongrass has traditional uses in digestive issues, connective and soft tissue repairs and maintenance, dilating blood vessels and decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation and assisting in relaxation and sleep. People report it can assist in headaches, lymph drainage, sore throat, topical fungal infections, bladder infections, varicose veins and sprains, strains and bone injuries. Shelton discusses its use in animals in her book (2012).
Since this oil and the herb are very safe people can begin experimenting with it as food and medicine. That is how it all begins. One person observes something, they try it and record the results and then tell those they care about. That is the foundation of "scientific medicine." Eventually some scientist comes along and does some studies. If there is enough profit potential, one day an experimental trial may ensure, but we can eat well now, long before evidence based medicine understands. If we start with food, if we live better, then disease becomes less of a problem. That is a good thing, too, as we come together to build the healing communities of tomorrow.
Young DG. 2003. Essential Oils: Integrative Medical Guide. Essential Science Publishing, pp. 120-121.
Shelton M. 2012. ADR: The Animal Desk Reference. www.AnimalDeskReference.com, pp117-18.