A walk through the medicinal garden at UGACR: Part II

The windy transition from the wet to dry season in Costa Rica can easily trigger a craving for a shiver-soothing cup of tea. But while your water is boiling, don’t go skipping off to the medicinal garden with little knowledge of what to brew.  Certain plants, although deceitfully uniform in appearance, may have different medicinal properties – and flavors – ones your taste buds hope you never confuse.

Take for instance, lemongrass, Cymbopogon citrates, and citronella, Cymbopogon nardus. Both nearly identical, long bladed, bright green grasses belong to the Poaceae family. Their oils can be used in perfumes and as repellents, but the similarities end there.

Lemon&Citronella
Here, Cymbopogon citrates (front, right) and Cymbopogon nardus (back, left) are pictured together. Visually identifying a plant, and differentiating it from another, can be tricky.

An infusion of revitalizing, light lemongrass tea can ease certain conditions including stomachaches, asthma or bronchitis, or cold and flu symptoms. Citronella leaves, on the other hand, produce essential oils that are most commonly used externally as an insect repellent, soap, or household disinfectant…that doesn’t quite sound like my cup of tea.

To be sure you’re picking the proper grass for your ailments, test your knowledge with a second sense. Crunch and smell a blade of grass from each of the “twin” bushels. Lemongrass will have a refreshing, lemon aroma, while citronella has a harsh, zesty scent.

Blog contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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