Sunday, October 2, 2011

Splendor in the Grass

excerpted from

Lemongrass is perhaps best known as a staple in Thai cooking, often paired with coconut or ginger in curries, soups, and salads. But when used as a key ingredient in spa treatments, the results are equally delicious.

Lemongrass is deeply calming to the nervous system and as such can help treat stress, tension, anxiety, insomnia, and even depression, all of which are common reasons why people go to spas,” says Karina Stewart, co-founder of Kamalaya.

The light citrus flavor and scent of lemongrass are pleasing to the palate, which also makes it a widely used aromatic herb. Also known as citronella, lemongrass is frequently used as a natural pesticide and insect repellant. In fact, 80 percent of local Thai people plant lemongrass trees in their houses to act as mosquito repellent and also to use for cooking, says Wanna Homsanoe, spa manager of Chiva-Som (Hua Hin, Thailand).

But its health benefits extend beyond keeping mosquitoes at bay and making a tasty chicken soup. “Lemongrass is believed to help with stress-related disorders due to its action as a sedative for the central nervous system,” says Stewart. “It is known for its calming effect, which relieves insomnia and stress.”
In addition to being a centuries-old treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, lemongrass is also used in Ayurvedic medicine to relieve cough and nasal congestion. In modern times, scientists are studying its potential as a cancer treatment. “Researchers have found that lemongrass causes programmed cell death in cancer cells,” says Stewart. “The active molecule is citral, which gives it its fresh lemon scent and repels insects, and as little as 1,000 mg—the amount of citral found in one cup of tea—represses cancer cells and helps battle depression.”

Lemongrass also acts as a site-specific pain reliever, which makes it an effective treatment for sore muscles and joints and an ideal ingredient in body scrubs, wraps, and massages. “We use lemongrass for spa treatments to soothe and calm the skin,” says Homsanoe, adding that Chiva-Som serves lemongrass tea in the spa and throughout the resort. “It’s good for bone pain, back pain, and shin pain, and it prevents kidney disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.”

Lemongrass works well with benzoin, geranium, lavender, tangerine, and ylang ylang, Homsanoe says, because these ingredients help relieve tension, headaches, insomnia, and stress-related conditions.  As an antiseptic, lemongrass gently cleanses the skin. Meanwhile the essential oil tones and firms sagging skin, making it ideal for facial treatments. “Our customers use our lemongrass products to remove the toxins that contribute to cellulite and open blocked pores to fight acne,” says Szilvia Hickman, senior vice president of Szép Elét. It also has useful après-sport sensibilities. It fights fungal infections—like athlete’s foot—and alleviates excessive perspiration.

While skincare experts say there’s no particular ingredient that doesn’t work well in a lemongrass-themed treatment, there are some contraindications to keep in mind. Pregnant women may want to avoid lemongrass, as it may induce miscarriage. It can also cause irritation in those with hyper-sensitive skin. Additionally, lemongrass oil must be properly diluted when used on the skin and should not be used on sunburns or open wounds. “It is a good idea to ask about a history of allergic reactions to essential oils like lemongrass,” says Stewart. “Avoid sun exposure for three to four hours after use of the essential oil to prevent irritation if hypersensitive.”
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