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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Litsea essential oil (also known as may chang) is a relatively new addition to modern day aromatherapy.

Use of Litsea in Chinese Medicine

Litsea (Litsea cubeba) is a small, tropical tree of the Lauraceae plant family and is native to the Far East; the root and stem of litsea have been used in traditional Chinese Medicine to treat indigestion, headaches, muscular aches and pains and dysmenorrhoea  

Description of Litsea

The litsea tree has aromatic flowers and leaves, reminiscent of lemon grass; litsea also has pepper-shaped fruits, the derivation for its Latin name cubeba.  It is cultivated in Taiwan and China; the Chinese are the main essential oil producers of litsea and use a large quantity of the oil themselves.

The essential oil of litsea is pale yellow in color and has a strong fragrance of lemon;  it is often compared to lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) essential oils.  However, litsea does not possess the same aromatic properties as lemon grass and lemon verbena essential oils.
Use of Litsea Essential Oil  in Aromatherapy

Litsea essential oil  is used in aromatherapy to treat many skin-related conditions such as dermatitis, spots and acne; it is also used in the treatment of stress, high blood pressure and post natal depression.  Litsea is antiseptic, deodorant, sedative, digestive, anti-inflammatory and calming.

Alternative Names for Litsea Essential Oil

Litsea essential oil is also known by its Latin name, Litsea cubeba, or by the synonyms of may chang, exotic verbena or tropical verbena.  The use of the “verbena” synonym is confusing;  litsea is not related to lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) despite the “verbena” synonym use.  Litsea is actually of the same botanical family as cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) and laurel (Laurus nobilis).

Cautions for Using Litsea Essential Oil

Litsea essential oil is non-toxic and, in general, a non-irritant; however litsea essential oil may cause a reaction if you have sensitive skin.  Litsea essential oil should not be used with children under the age of 10 years or by those who suffer allergic skin conditions such as eczema; litsea essential oil is high in the powerful chemical component of aldehydes.  Seek professional advice from an aromatherapist if you are unfamiliar in the use of essential oils.


– Harding, Jennie 2005 Aromatherapy Massage for You UK: Duncan Baird Publishers
– Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Litsea 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.

CopyrightSharonFalsetto2010 All Rights Reserved
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Litsea is used in aromatherapy, photo credit : Lichieh Pan, wikimedia commons