At a quick glance from afar, you’d likely mistake lemongrass and spring onion for each other. But if you look closer, they’re actually pretty easy to differentiate. So in this article, I’ll be teaching you the major differences between these two similar-looking plants!
The main difference between lemongrass and spring onion are 1) appearance, 2) taste, 3) uses, and 4) origins. Both plants are perennial herbs that can also serve as ornamental plants.
Because they do share some similarities as well, some people think that they can serve as substitutes for each other in recipes. However, this isn’t the case—their flavor profiles are nothing alike. Learn more as you continue scrolling!
Lemongrass and spring onion plants appear different in terms of 1) leaves, 2) flowers, 3) stems, and 4) bulbs. Besides the roots, all parts of spring onion are edible while only the bulb of lemongrass is eaten. Also, lemongrass typically grows about 1 foot taller than spring onion.
If you grew up in a small town, then you probably aren’t all that familiar with lemongrass. If that’s the case, I know that it can be difficult to tell these two delicious herbs apart.
One thing you need to keep in mind, though, is that these plants come from entirely different genera and families. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) belongs to the Poaceae family, whereas spring onion (Allium spp.) comes from Amaryllidaceae.
Simply put, they’re bound to have distinct differences.
But by the end of this article, you’ll know just how easy it is to differentiate them. You will also learn what recipes they are best used for—and which parts to use!
Lemongrass has greenish-blue-gray flat leaves with sharp edges. In comparison, spring onion leaves are green, long, thin, cylindrical, and hollow.
With one look, they are pretty similar in color. However, the green leaves of lemongrass have hints of blue and gray which turn reddish-brown at the end of the growing season. Conversely, spring onions have a deeper green color.
Got yellowing leaves? Discover the causes and solutions in our article on yellow spring onions.
When you do try to check their leaves, be careful with your lemongrass. Although it doesn’t happen all that often, some of my friends—even I—have cut themselves while tending to lemongrass plants. This is because, despite being pliant, lemongrass blades are sharp.
You don’t have to worry about that with spring onion plants. Their leaves are cylindrical and soft, with no edges whatsoever. You’ll also notice once you trim spring onions that their leaves are completely hollow inside.
When their leaves are cut lemongrass gives off a strong lemony scent and spring onion has a slight piquant smell reminiscent of onion bulbs.
Both are quite long as well, but lemongrass leaves tend to grow over a foot or so longer, especially when grown with ideal conditions—which I’ll talk more about later.
Generally, lemongrass can grow long stalks of a compound flower, with colors varying from white to tan and brown. Meanwhile, spring onion has circular clusters of white, tan, red, pink, or purple flowers.
Contrary to popular belief, lemongrass can develop flowers—and quite a lot of them. However, this rarely happens when they’re grown as annuals in cooler areas.
When you live in southern states, however, and let them grow for a few years, you’ll realize that they look a lot like pampas grass. But they’re thinner and less full.
Lemongrass flowers have more muted tones which will match more vibrant flowering plants in your garden.
One such plant is actually the spring onion. I especially love their showy purple flowers as they make a good contrast with their green leaves. They are also pretty tasty.
Just keep in mind that flowering typically results in the deterioration of their leaves. So if you want to use spring onions for cooking, make sure to harvest as many as you need before they bloom!
The stem of lemongrass is thicker and firmer than the stems of spring onion. Both, however, are mainly green in color and grow taller than their leaves when in bloom.
Unlike the stem of spring onion plants, those lemongrass clumps are very fibrous. I would even go so far as to say that the outermost layers of their stem can be stringy and woody.
Lemongrass stem stalks are typically too hard to just eat as is as well, but I’ll talk more about how to prepare them in a bit.
Spring onion stems, on the other hand, are still quite soft. You can easily cut and chew them with your teeth, though older ones tend to be a little more leathery.
Besides all that, lemongrass can have leaves grow directly from their thinner stems that flower. The rest of their long leaves grow from the very stalk base above the soil.
Want to grow your own herbs? Read our article on indoor gardening!
In contrast, only a cluster of flowers will grow from the very top of each leafless spring onion stem.
A lemongrass has a more slender and paler bulbous base than a spring onion. Their bulbs are both edible, however, only the inner core of lemongrass bulbs is recommended. Conversely, the whole spring onion bulb and be readily eaten.
Just like their lower stem stalks, the bulbs of lemongrass buried in the ground are pretty hard, stiff, and meaty.
They are hard to cut through with just your teeth, especially if their outer layers aren’t peeled off beforehand.
Only 3–6 inches (10–15 cm) of the bulbous stalk base of lemongrass is considered edible. But the entire spring onion is edible.
Oppositely, you don’t really need to do much preparation on spring onion bulbs before cupping them up and adding them to the dish you’re cooking.
Spring onion bulbs can be more cylindrical or globular depending on when you harvest them. Later harvests will produce bigger and rounder bulbs. But lemongrass stays pretty slender regardless of when you harvest them.
Their bulbs differ in color too. Lemongrass bulbs are usually pale green to white, with some pale lavender patches by the bottom. The bulbs of spring onion can be white, yellow, reddish-purple—or a mix of all three.
Taste-wise, lemongrass bulbs have a strong flavor profile that’s a mix of lemon and ginger. Their leaves have a much milder flavor. Spring onion leaves have a mild onion flavor and their bulbs taste more potent.
Lemongrass has the lemony scent and flavor of lemon with the strong sourness or bitterness from the rind. It is commonly used for Asian cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Indonesian.
Since long ago, these cultures have used lemongrass to make teas, curries, stews, sauces, soups, and noodle dishes. It goes well with a wide variety of proteins too, from seafood to poultry.
But unless they are minced, thinly sliced, or turned into paste, they aren’t directly eaten. Otherwise, lemongrass is generally peeled and pounded, then taken out much like bay leaves.
Spring onion leaves are commonly used as a garnish for their light onion flavor. But some people pick up notes of bitterness from them.
Their bulb is typically used when no regular onions are available too. Meanwhile, their flowers can be used as either garnish or an ingredient.
You can add spring onions to sautées, stir-fries, soups, and salads. They make a great addition to egg, vegetable, meat, pasta, noodle, and rice dishes too. Personally, I like adding them to fried leftover rice and twice-baked cheesy bacon potatoes.
Herbs such as tarragon, parsley, fennel, and basil also complement the flavor of spring onion.
Comparing the Nutritional Values of Lemongrass and Spring Onion
Both lemongrass and spring onion are considered highly nutritious herbs. However, they differ in their specific nutrient content. Lemongrass is rich in carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamin B. Spring onion is high in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
Compared to lemongrass, 3.5 oz (100 g) of spring onion has more water and vitamins but less calories. But lemongrass has much more minerals in it, including but not limited to iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Please refer to the table below for more details regarding their nutritional values.
|Total Fat (g)||0.49||0.19|
|Dietary Fiber (g)||–||2.6|
|Total Sugars (g)||–||2.33|
|Vitamin C (mg)||2.6||18.8|
|Vitamin B1 or Thiamin (mg)||0.065||0.055|
|Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin (mg)||0.135||0.08|
|Vitamin B3 or Niacin (mg)||1.1||0.525|
|Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid (mg)||0.05||0.075|
|Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine (mg)||0.08||0.061|
|Vitamin B12 or Folate (µg)||75||64|
|Vitamin A (µg)||0||50|
|Vitamin D (µg)||0||0|
|Vitamin E (mg)||0||0.55|
Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any data regarding the dietary fiber and sugar content of lemongrass. What I’m sure of, however, is that they aren’t zero—so don’t believe those who say that.
Remember, lemongrass is highly fibrous so it’s impossible for it to have no dietary fiber in it whatsoever. Plus it naturally has a hint of sweetness to it.
If I were to guess, the missing data on these factors may be because people in America don’t typically eat it. They just plop it in dishes for flavoring and then fish it out before eating their meal.
3. Common Uses
Aside from cooking, common uses of lemongrass include herbal medicines, perfumes, pest repellents, soaps, and other cosmetics products. Spring onion, however, is generally only used for culinary arts.
Lemongrass is a very versatile plant that’s used in different industries—from health care to cosmetics. It has a long history behind such uses too!
For South and Southeast Asian cultures, lemongrass has long been believed to provide a multitude of health benefits, alleviating conditions such as:
- Stomach upset
Essential oils in lemongrass—mainly citral—are also highly fragrant. This is why it’s commonly added when manufacturing perfumes, incense sticks, potpourri soaps, hair products, and other products.
It also has antiseptic, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, making lemongrass a popular raw material for making cleaning solutions and insect repellents (both organic and chemical).
Nowadays, spring onion is rarely used for anything other than cooking even though they are known to have antioxidant properties. However, it was historically used for spiritual practices and medicinal applications in ancient cultures as well.
Ancient Egyptians, for instance, would include onions for worship and burial. They believed that the concentric rings in their bulbs symbolized eternal life.
The Greeks and Romans, in contrast, used such onions to improve their health—for balancing their blood and toning their muscles. Even early Americans used onions to treat asthma, colds, and coughs.
Even though they may be used to cook the same dishes, lemongrass cannot be used to replaced spring onion and vice versa. This is because they have distinctly differ in taste, smell, and texture.
Lemongrass and spring onion, form their names alone, obviously have drastically different flavor and fragrance profile.
So despite being able to complement eahcother in a variety of recipes, they can’t serve as an alternative for each other.
Common substitutes for lemongrass include different mixes of:
- Lemon verbena
- Llemon or lime zest
- Lemon preserve
- Citrus leaves
However, they can’t perfectly replicate the taste of lemongrass. When fresh lemongrass is unavailable lemongrass paste will do as well.
Spring onion can be substituted with other common crops from the Allium family, including:
- Ramps or wild leek
- White onion
- Yellow onion
- Red onion
- Garlic chives
Just keep in mind that garlic chives also faintly taste like garlic, not just onion.
Lemongrass has its origins in southern parts of Asia while spring onion is native to a wider region, in the northern parts of America, Europe, and Asia.
It’s actually very easy to guess where each of these flavorful herbs originated from if you consider their ideal growing conditions.
As a warm-season plant, lemongrass grows best in tropical conditions. It likes humidity, warmth, and plenty of sun. However, through the years, they have become more tolerant of cooler weather. They just won’t last long, generally only a year or so.
In the US, lemongrass is best grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 8–11. So if you live in warmer parts of Seattle, Virginia, Texas, and Florida—just to name a few—you have the perfect conditions for growing lemongrass at home!
Spring onion, on the other hand, is a cool season crop as it is native to the northern hemisphere. They can handle drier soil and lower humidity. But spring onion can thrive in forests, mountainous areas, and cultivated land too!
For best growth, plant spring onion if you live in regions within zones 4–9. This includes places like Washington, Maine, California, and North Carolina.
6 Similarities Between Lemongrass and Spring Onion
Lemongrass and spring onions are similar in terms of being 1) herbs, 2) perennials, 3) ornamentals, 4), repellents, 5) easy to propagate, and 6) dangerous for pets.
Check out the finer details about these similar factors below!
Both lemongrass and spring onion leaves are typically added to add brightness to various warm savory dishes, in different cuisines, because of their mild taste.
To ensure you have enough ready on hand, you can also freeze both of these for a few months.
But if you want to preserve their crisp texture, just store them in resealable plastic bags. Those should stay great for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
You can grow and harvest from your lemongrass and spring onion plants year-round, under ideal growing conditions.
Otherwise, you can grow either of them as annuals. Just remember that they are unlikely to flower and set seed in such conditions, especially lemongrass.
These plants aren’t just a feast for our taste buds, the showy unique flowers of lemongrass and spring onion are also quite the feast for the eyes.
So double as ornamental plants in lawns and gardens as well. In fact, they’ll look great right next to each other—regardless if they’re in containers, raised beds, or the ground.
Although lemongrass can deter many more pesky insects than spring onion, both are equally valuable live pest repellents for your garden and home.
Lemongrass and spring onions can be propagated by seed or division. Both methods are effective but division helps you multiply your mature plants at a much faster rate.
Even better? You could grow either one from grocery-bought herbs, especially if they still have roots attached to them. Let these herbs grow in water or soil!
Despite being only mildly toxic to pets such as dogs and cats. Ingesting either lemongrass or spring onion in large amounts can be pretty dangerous for our furry friends.
Eating these could cause symptoms such as vomiting and stomach upset for our precious pets.
Learn more about their risk in our article on plants toxic to cats.
Are lemongrass and green onion the same?
Lemongrass and green onions are completely different plants altogether. However, they do look similar in terms of height, length, and color from a distance. With closer inspection, one will notice the differences between the two.
Where can I buy fresh lemongrass?
Fresh lemongrass, which is more flavorful, can be easily found and bought from specialty Asian stores and supermarkets. Nowadays, however, dried, frozen, and freeze-dried lemongrass stalks can also be found in regular big-chain markets and local farmers’ markets as Asian cuisine continues to gain popularity in America.
Summary of Lemongrass vs Spring Onion
Lemongrass has flat blue-green leaves, flower spikes, tough stems, and pale slim bulbs. Spring onions, however, have hollow cylindrical green leaves, vibrant flower umbels, tall stems, and rounder bulbs.
Moreover, lemongrass tastes like a mix between lemon and ginger while spring onion has a light onion flavor. Unlike spring onion, however, lemongrass is widely used not only for cooking but also for medicine and cosmetics. Lastly, lemongrass is native to tropical areas and spring onion is native to temperate regions.
Both lemongrass and spring onion are herbaceous plants typically used for savory dishes, perennials that can be grown as annuals, ornamental plants for lawns and gardens, natural pest repellents as live plants, propagated by seed or division, and dangerous for pets such as dogs and cats.
- “Cymbopogon citratus” by n/a in NC State Extension
- “Allium” by n/a in NC State Extension
- “Lemongrass, Cymbopogon spp.” by Susan Mahr in the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- “Green Onions” by the Food and Drug Administration in UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety & Security
- “Grow herbs!” by n/a in the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
- “Lemongrass in the Garden” by Terra Linse and Dan Drost in Utah State University Extension
- “Onion: A Brief History” by David Trinklein in the University of Missouri
- “FoodData Central” by n/a in the U.S. Department of Agriculture