Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) has been used to treat rheumatic pain in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine; 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 as use as an insect repellent.
Cultivation of Citronella
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).
Plant Characteristics of Citronella
Citronella is a tall, perennial grass which is aromatic; today’s citronella species has derived from wild growing ‘managrass’ of Sri Lanka. The essential oil of citronella 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.
Use of 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
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