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Citronella essential oil is most commonly known for its use as an insect repellent; however, citronella oil also has other properties and uses in aromatherapy.

Traditional use of Citronella

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) is used in Chinese medicine to treat rheumatic pain; in many cultures, the leaves of citronella have been used for both aromatic and medicinal properties including the treatment of fevers, menstrual difficulties, digestive problems, intestinal parasites and also in use as an insect repellent.

Where Citronella is Grown

Citronella is a member of the Poaceae plant family, alternatively known as the Graminaceae plant family; it is native to Sri Lanka, where it is cultivated in large quantities at the southern end of the country.  Citronella is also found growing in Zimbabwe; for essential oil purposes, citronella is cultivated widely in Java, Africa, Vietnam, Central America and Argentina.  Most citronella essential oil is cultivated from the Java or Maha Pengiri citronella species (Cymbopogon winterianus).

Botanical Profile of Citronella

Citronella is a tall, perennial grass that is aromatic; today's citronella species has derived from wild growing “managrass” of Sri Lanka.  Citronella essential oil is steam distilled from fresh, partly-dried or dried grass; it has a fresh, powerful, lemon-citrus fragrance.  It is said that the Java citronella species can yield twice as much as the Sri Lanka citronella species.

Citronella Oil in Aromatherapy

Citronella essential oil is a cicatrisant, capable of healing and forming scar tissue; it is antiseptic, bactericidal, diuretic, a tonic, insecticide, deodorant and emmenagogue.  In aromatherapy, the essential oil of citronella is used as an insect repellent, to treat colds and flu, headaches, excessive perspiration, migraine and neuralgia.

Other Uses of Citronella

Citronella is commonly used in insect repellent preparations to combat against ants, fleas and moths both in the home and in the garden; it is also used widely in soaps, perfumes, detergents and other household products.  The Sri Lanka species of citronella is used in many major food products and alcoholic drinks; the Java species of citronella is used to isolate natural geraniol and citronellol.

Citronella is used to adulterate more expensive oils too; the Java species of citronella is considered to be of a better quality when used in perfumery work.  Before it was common to use chemical sprays, the Ceylon species of citronella was combined with Virginian red cedarwood oil in commercial insect repellents.

Cautions for Using Citronella Oil

Although citronella essential oil is considered to be a non-irritant and non-toxic, it may cause dermatitis in some cases; the use of citronella should be avoided during pregnancy.  As is the advice when using any essential oils, a qualified aromatherapist should be consulted if unfamiliar with the use of essential oils and aromatherapy.


– Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
– Price, Shirley, 2000, Aromatherapy Workbook UK: Thorsons

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Citronella Essential Oil

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

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