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Citronella Essential Oil

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) is a grass plant native to the tropical regions of Asia. Using steam distillation, hydro-distillation, or ohmic heated hydro-distillation, citronella essential oil is extracted from the aerial parts of the plant.5 Once distilled, the oil is yellow in color and has a bold, lemony aroma.

Originally used as an ingredient in perfumes, the plant name comes from the French word, citronelle. It found its current English name, citronella, in the mid 1800’s.2 Just as its name evolved, so too did its usage. Studies have shown that citronella essential oil has antifungal properties, antibacterial activity, and may be a potential natural remedy for Pityriasis versicolor.3,11

However, the most common use of citronella today, is as a natural insect repellant. This use can be dated back to the early 20th century, when Indian Army men used the plant to keep mosquitoes at bay.2

Citronella Essential Oil Uses

While the word citronella conjures images of mosquito banishing candles, this essential oil can be used for a diverse range of activities. From aromatherapy to a natural, anti-bark collar, discover some innovative uses for this citrus-scented oil.

Aromatherapy
Citrus scents have been linked to stress relief and reduced feelings of anxiety.8 For aromatherapy use, add 1-2 drops of citronella essential oil, along with water, into a diffuser. Citronella’s aroma has been described as woody, with notes of citrus.

Massage
For an invigorating massage, add 2-4 drops of citronella essential oil to 2 Tbsp. of carrier oil such as coconut, olive or jojoba. Apply the combined oil to the skin until absorbed.

Natural Insect Repellant  
Citronella essential oil is often included as an ingredient in commercial bug sprays and lotions.To make your own insect repellant at home, add 30 drops of citronellail, 4 oz. of water and 2 oz. of witch hazel into a spray bottle. Mix well, and spray on to exposed skin. It’s recommended to test on a small patch of skin before spraying all over to avoid an allergic reaction. 

Household Cleaner
Another useful way to harness the antifungal properties of citronella is through a homemade household cleaner. For a simple cleaning solution, fill a spray bottle with 1 oz. liquid castile soap, 1 cup of water, 2 drops lemon essential oil and 8 drops of citronella essential oil. Gently shake to mix the solution. Spray on hard surfaces such as kitchen and bathroom countertops and wipe down with a damp cloth. Seal the container with a lid between uses, and store in a ool, dark space.

Benefits of Citronella Essential Oil

Citronella has an appealing aroma, but it is used for more than its citrus-scent alone. This essential oil has antifungal, antibacterial, anti-anxiety, and insect repelling properties. For a closer look at how citronella works, read the following scientifically documented benefits of citronella essential oil.

Repels Insects
Citronella has become a widely-used form of insect repellant, and can be applied as a spray, lotion, or burned as a candle to divert the attention of mosquitoes. The candles have been a success in field studies at reducing mosquito bites by approximately 50%. They are often used on patios, decks, or at camp grounds to ward off insects during summer months.2

Sprays and lotions containing citronella are typically applied in diluted form to avoid skin irritation. Both sprays and lotions offer a 2-hour window of protection from mosquitoes while outside, after which a second application will be needed.2

Anti-Anxiety Properties
Citronella has a robust citrus aroma, which is used frequently in herbal aromatherapy products. In a 2015 study, the oil was used as a part of an aromatherapy study. Participants who were exposed to the citronella scent were observed to have significant reductions in anxiety and improvements in overall mood.  Throughout the test, researchers noted that inhaling the aroma of the oil lowered blood pressure, breath rate, and heart rate of the study participants.4

Antifungal Properties
Citronella essential oil has antifungal properties, which help break down mold spores, and slow the decomposition of biodegradable matter, such as food. Research has shown that it is particularly potent against mycelium, which is the white, stringy mold that grows on expired bread and rotting vegetables.1

The Food and Drug Administration gives citronella essential oil the rating of GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) when used as a food additive.This provides a potential future use for the essential oil in food preservation, such as canning.

Note: While data is promising, further research is required before citronella essential oil can be considered an alternative to current food preservation methods. Do not consume commercially available citronella essential oil, or put it on food.

Pityriasis Versicolor Relief
Pityriasis versicolor is a superficial, fungal infection which causes skin discolouration and scaly appearance.10 It’s caused by yeasts of the genus Malassezia spp., which can also aggravate dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis (scaly patches on the scalp), nail infections and folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles).10,11

A study published in 2013 followed 96 participants diagnosed with pityriasis versicolor who were given a shampoo and cream with a citronella essential oil concentration of 1.25 μL/mL. Both the shampoo and cream were designed to target common symptoms of the condition, which can appear either on the scalp or throughout the body. The volunteers used the products twice daily for 40 days, and saw a success rate of 60%.10

Antibacterial Properties
Citronella has been known to possess antibacterial properties since 1996, when a study tested its abilities against various types of bacteria, including 2 strains of E. Coli. The results showed that citronella was effective against 15 out of the 22 bacteria used in the test.5

citronella essential oil uses and benefits

Side Effects of Citronella Essential Oil

Citronella essential oil is generally considered safe for inhalation and diluted, topical use. High concentrations of citronella essential oil can cause skin irritation, always dilute the oil with a carrier oil before topical application. Always read and follow the instructions on the label.

Consult a health care provider before using citronella essential oil on children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. Citronella essential oil is highly concentrated and can be toxic if ingested. Do not consume citronella essential oil unless under the strict supervision of a health care provider.

Where to Buy Citronella Essential Oil

Previously, high quality essential oils could only be bought at specialty health stores, or through expensive multi-level marketing companies. Now, due to advancements in technology, extremely high grade essential oils can be purchased over the internet at very reasonable prices.

Scientific Research Referenced in this Article

  1. de Billerbeck V. G., Roques C. G., Bessière J. M., Fonvieille J. L. & Dargent R. (2001, January). Effects of Cymbopogon nardus (L.) W. Watson essential oil on the growth and morphogenesis of Aspergillus niger. Can J Microbiol. 47(1), 9-17 Retrieved February 1, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15049444
  2. Maia, M. F. & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellants: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malaria Journal. 10(1) doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11
  3. Capoci I. R. G., da Cunha M. M., Bonfim-Mendonca P. D., Ghiraldi-Lopes L. D., Baeza L. C., Kioshima E. S. & Svidzinski T. I. E. (2015 November-December). Antifungal activity of Cymbopogon nardus (L.) rendle (citronella) against microsporum canis from animals and home environment. Rev Inst Med Trop Sao Paulo 57(6), 509-511. doi:1590/S0036-46652015000600008
  4. Sayowan W., Siripornpanich V., Piriyapunyaporn T., Hongratanaworakit T., Kotchabhakdi N. & Ruangrungsi N. (2012, March-April) The harmonizing effects of citronella oil on mood states and brain activities. Journal of Health Research. 26(2). Retrieved February 5, 2017 from http://www.jhealthres.org/upload/journal/28/26(2)_p69-75_winai.pdf
  5. Pattnaik S, Subramanyam VR, & Kole C. (1996). Antibacterial and antifungal activity of ten essential oils in vitro. Microbios. 86(349), 237-46. Retrieved February 6, 2017 from http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=3245986
  6. Hamzah M. H., Man H. C., Abidin Z. Z. & Jamaludin H. (2014) Comparison of citronella oil extraction methods from Cymbopogon nardus grass by ohmic-heated hydro-distillation, hydro-distillation, and steam distillation. BioResources. 9(1). Retrieved February 5, 2017 from http://ojs.cnr.ncsu.edu/index.php/BioRes/article/view/BioRes_09_1_256_Hamzah_Citronella_Oil_Extraction_Methods – View reference
  7. Butje, A., Repede, E., & Shattell, M. (2008). Healing scents: An overview of clinical aromatherapy for emotional distress. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 46(10), 46-52. Retrieved February 5, 2017 from https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/M_Shattell_HealingScents_2008.pdf
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014, December). Food Additive Status List. Retrieved February 5, 2017 from https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm091048.htm
  9. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2016, April). Substances generally recognized as safe. Code of Federal Regulations 21(6). Retrieved February 6, 2017 from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=582.20
  10. Carmo E. S., Pereira Fde O., Cavalcante N.M., Gayoso C. W. & Lima Ede O. (2013 May-Jun). Treatment of pityriasis versicolor with topical application of essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus (DC) Stapf – therapeutic pilot study. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, 88(3). DOI 1590/abd1806-4841.20131800
  11. Gaitanis, G., Magiatis, P., Hantschke, M., Bassukas, I. D., & Velegraki, A. (2012). The Malassezia Genus in Skin and Systemic Diseases. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 25(1), 106-141. doi:1128/cmr.00021-11