- Additional Plants: lemongrass
- Farm Business Management: value added
Within the USVI, traditional West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) has been grown for medical usage and as a beverage. With the introduction of East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuous) over the past 20 years for culinary usage, farmers have cultivated this strand for sales to restaurants and the hotel industry. Most of the farmers sell their lemongrass retail with an occasional small-scale wholesale to grocery stores. Lemongrass is able to grow with marginal input and long-term production even through harsh weather conditions. Lemongrass was one crop that survived two major hurricanes in 2017.
In many cases, the sale of fresh lemongrass is less than what has been cultivated and many times is left drying in the field. Many farmers used dried lemongrass for mulch around other crops. The major issues with growing lemongrass is not the cultivation factor, but the limited market fresh lemongrass. With the development of essential oil as a value-added product, farmers will be able to sustain the economic viability of the crop and farm operations. One of the first steps in deciding on cultivating a crop is to choose the best of the breed. The one unknown factor is the selection of strands of lemongrass is which one produces the greatest quantity of essence oil.
Currently there is no data that demonstrates the difference in the quantity of production of lemongrass oil using direct steam distillation. The objective of this research will be to address the yield of lemongrass oil through direct steam distillation of fresh West Indian and East Indian lemongrass. This will allow farmers to select which lemongrass strand would be best to cultivate to develop essential oil in order to add value to their lemongrass crop.
The essential oils industry has been on the rise and estimated at $2.6 billion, with an annual growth rate of 7.5 percent. Currently, India produces 80 percent of lemongrass oil with the majority being sent to the United States.
Project objectives from proposal:
The research project will be conducted on two farm sites: One in St. Thomas and the other in St. Croix. We will be establishing testing plots 20 by 40 feet on each farm site. Twenty slips of each strand will be planted in a 10 by 20 plot area.
Monitoring will be conducted for growth pattern of each strand and pest and diseases during the growing season. Plants will be harvested in the first growing cycle, which will take place 4 to 6 months after transplanting seedlings.
The method of extraction of oil will be direct steam distillation of the fresh lemongrass of both the stalk and leaf. There are several extraction methods that have been developed and used globally for the extraction of essential oils. For the purpose of this research, the direct steam distillation method was adopted. East farmer will construct a steam distiller for extraction. Data will be collected on heat usage, water usage and ice used during extraction. The most significant data to be collected will be the amount of oil produced by each of the strands.