Archive | April 2017

Citronella Grass ~ a Plant Profile

Synopsis: An ambitious discussion of the essential oil of Citronella, uses, growth, description, organoleptic qualities and uses of the essential oil.


Cymbopogon nardus and other species

By Jeanne Rose ~ April 2017

Cymbopogon martinii var. sofia is Gingergrass and (Cymbopogon nardus is Citronella grass

 Introduction ~ The grasses, family Poaceae, have several members that are well-known as supplying an essential oil. These are Citronella, Lemongrass, Palmarosa and Vetivert. We will discuss these individually in the blog posts beginning with Citronella.

 Essential Oil Profile ~ Name of Oil: Citronella grass. Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus) ~ both used for Citronella oil and in many reports called ‘Lemongrass’.

 Latin Binomial/Botanical Family: Gramineae (Poaceae).
Cymbopogon nardus is Citronella grass.
Cymbopogon citratus
West Indian Lemongrass;
Cymbopogon flexuosus is East Indian Lemongrass
Cymbopogon martini var. motia is Palmarosa grass, syn. Andropogon martini or Cymbopogon martinii.
Cymbopogon martinii var. sofia is Gingergrass
Cymbopogon nardus is Citronella grass.

Please note that the names for the grasses can be very confusing, it is best to learn the names and attach each name to each distinctive odor.

 Naming: ‘Cymba’ suggests a boat shape, and ‘pogon’ means bearded and describes the shape of the bracts which enclose the racemes; and ‘nardus’ is an Assyrian word for a fragrant substance for unguents.

The Eden Botanicals site states, “In the 19th century, a man named Winter (supposedly an important distiller of Ceylon) recognized the taxonomic differences between several varieties of Cymbopogon nardus and raised a separate population of the variety Maha Pengiri now called C. winterianus. Upon its extensive cultivation for oil in Indonesia, it acquired the commercial name, Java Citronella.”

 Citronella GRASS is a genus of the Gramineae (Poaceae) family of grasses. Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus) are like Lemongrass but grows to 2 m and has red/magenta base stems. These species are used to produce Citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent in insect sprays and candles, and in aromatherapy. The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps. Besides oil production, Citronella grass is also used in tea and as a flavoring although the grassy end itself is not palatable as an herbal tea.

 Countries of Origin: It is grown in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Indonesia and Java.  The species C. winterianus Jowitt is believed to have originated from Cymbopogon nardus, type Maha Pengiri, referred to as Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) commercial citronella. C. winterianus was named after Winter, who raised it as a separate species in the 19th century, subsequently introduced in Indonesia to become commercially known as Javanese citronella, eventually making it to India for commercial cultivation in 1959——

 Eden Botanicals Harvest Location:    The organically grown Citronella grass, C. winterianus, is organically grown in India and the leaves are steam-distilled.

The wild crafted Citronella from Nepal is distilled from the perennial grass, Cymbopogon winterianus – also known as the Java type – that is considered superior for use in perfumery because of its fresh, sweet, lemony aroma. Cymbopogon nardus (known as the Ceylon type) is commonly used for aromatherapeutic applications for which it is well suited; please see our Citronella from Sri Lanka. This differentiation is due to the variance in their chemical compositions, mainly in their geraniol content (higher % in the Ceylon type) and citronellal content (higher % in the Java type), and accounts for the difference in their aromas.

 Endangered or Not ~ This plant is considered an invasive species.

General description of plant, habitat & growth: Invasive. (Cymbopogon nardus and C. winterianus) are like Lemongrass but grows to 2 m and has red/magenta base stems.

            Growth: This is an invasive species that renders pastureland useless as cattle will starve even in its abundance. Citronella is usually planted in home gardens to ward off insects such as whitefly adults. Its cultivation enables growing some vegetables (e.g. tomatoes and broccoli) without applying pesticides. Intercropping should include physical barriers, for citronella roots can take over the field.

Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods & yield:  Perennial grass, very aromatic, SD, or CO2 extracted. Up to 5% yield depending on type of extraction.                             

Odor Description ~ Herbaceous, citrus and vegetative – a very eponymous scent. The wild-grown from Nepal has a sweet, fresh, and lemony, with a soft grassy/green undertone; and a somewhat woody dryout.

Chemical Components: Citronellal, geraniol, citronellol and worth mentioning is another species of citronella grass (Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt) which also stems from India, but is today grown throughout the tropics; its main constituents are citronellal (35%), geraniol (25%) and citronellol (10%) plus minor amounts of geranyl acetate (5%). The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps.

 History and Interesting Facts: Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus and Cymbopogon winterianus) are used to produce citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent in insect sprays and candles, and in aromatherapy. The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps. Cannot be eaten because of its unpalatable nature.



Properties: CITRONELLA grass has usage in traditional medication for antispasmodic, rubefacient, stimulant, insect repellant carminative, and diaphoretic. It also widely used in the perfume industry and soap manufacturing cosmetics, flavoring industry and health purpose. In dilution, can be used to deodorize and sanitize kitchen surfaces (5 drops to 1 oz. of fixed oil or vinegar rubbed on a chopping block).

“Studies have shown the C. nardus, Citronella EO is a promising source of active molecules with antifungal properties. The biological assays reported in this investigation show that the EO inhibits ATCC and clinical strains of Candida species, including those with resistance to drugs employed in medical practice. Additional to this simple inhibitory activity, the EO can inhibit and control the main virulence factors attributed to the Candida species used in this study, such as the formation and proliferation of hyphae of C. albicans and, more importantly, the eradication of mature biofilms. Moreover, the EO exhibits better antifungal action than citronellal, probably due to some synergistic effect among the EO components. — Essential Oil of Cymbopogon nardus (L.) Rendle: A Strategy to Combat Fungal Infections Caused by Candida Species, International Journal of Molecular Science Received: 30 June 2016; Accepted: 28 July 2016; Published: 9 August 2016”

How Used: These two species are used to produce Citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent especially mosquitoes as well as in insect sprays and candles. Besides oil production, Citronella grass is also used for culinary purposes, as a flavoring.

DIFFUSE/DIFFUSION: Citronella grass can be diffused if diluted or blended with an EO that has high alcohol such as Lavender. Put the diffuser on a timer as it can overpower the room – so 5 minutes on and 30 minutes off.

EXTERNAL USES: This species is used to produce Citronella oil, which is used in soaps, as an insect repellent in insect sprays and candles, and in aromatherapy. The principal chemical constituents of citronella, geraniol and citronellol, are antiseptics, hence their use in household disinfectants and soaps.

 SKIN CARE FORMULA: EO has antioxidant properties as well as being a wonderful addition to a skin care line in blends for oily skin and hair.

BLENDING: Citronella grass blends well with Lavender, citrus scents, Geranium or Ginger. It also blends well with Eucalyptus Pine, Sage, Spearmint, and Ylang-Ylang.


Energetics-Emotional Use: This is an intense scent that might make you remember hot nights on the porch with bugs whizzing around or it can be calming in small doses.

Internal Usage in humans: Not recommended.

KEY USE OF CITRONELLA ~Most people consider Citronella best for use as a bug repellent but there are other essential oils better for this; in small doses at high dilution it makes a good inhalant for sleeping.

 TOXICITY : Use EO in dilution ~ 1 part to 10 or more; it poses a risk to dogs and children.

 HYDROSOL: I am not yet personally acquainted with a proper Citronella hydrosol.

 HERBAL USES: If you grow Citronella grass, you can use it herbally as an infusion in a wash for oily skin, it can help normalize the sebaceous glands; this same infusion can be added to hair rinses (especially with Rosemary herb) to give the hair a lustrous sheen.

 SAFETY PRECAUTIONS for Citronella Grass: When used externally in moderation it is non-toxic and non-irritating. Do not diffuse or use for children.



Citronella Tomato Tale: Tomato tales – a tale with Citronella
By Jeanne Rose – 2010

            I have a long history using essential oils, sometimes excessively but more and more often quite frugally. They are such concentrated bundles of plant power that only a wee bit, a drop maybe two, is needed to complete your healing protocol.   So, it was 10 pm and I was in bed trying to have a nice sleep.

There are always essential oils around my bedside and on the tables. Sometimes I use them, and sometimes I don’t. But this one night I had gone to bed with my mind racing over the events of the day as well as the events that would take my attention the next day.

I was laying on my back in my comfy bed. It is always made up with freshly ironed linen sheets  and this one had the most elegant initials on the top edge, and the fold that was tucked up near my chin. The monogram is a very large ornate French laid white work style with initials of “H R Hand swirls of flowers in French knots around the monogram and all sewn on with good heavy weight thread on the finely made linen cloth. The sheets are heavy and yet crisp and delicately soothing on my skin — a lovely addition to the bed and on the body; the scent in the sheets was clean with a soft mustiness and floral note intertwined with a rich sandalwood scent lightly enveloping the entire bed area. I love heavily laced pillowcases and these were cool and white with a fine delicate fragrance that can only come with time on the bed and equal time hanging in the sun and resting. These are the best to sleep on. There is a hand, a rough gentleness to linen sheets and cases. They are warm when it is cold but cool when it is warm. They don’t glide on the skin but rest there giving you comfort and sleepy feelings.

But I could not sleep. So, in the darkness, I reached out to the bottles and found the Citronella bottle by its size, opened the bottle and proceeded to sprinkle a few drops on the top sheet. You know that Citronella is both an insect repellent but also promotes relaxation and reduces stress. But reaching out in the dark was a Big mistake! There was no orifice reducer to the bottle and so about ¼ ounce of EO spilled out and all over me and the top of the bed.

First I thought that I could hide from the scent by folding the sheet a different way to keep the heavy scent from my nostrils. No! Then I thought by folding the sheet way down that would work. No, that did not work. The Citronella odor was heavy and so strong and loud enough to wake the next-door neighbors.

But I was tired and did not want to get up but began to be sick to my stomach from the odor. I was forced out of bed and changed out of my bed clothes into new ones but that did not help either. By now I was so overwhelmed with Citronella odor that I could not breathe. I lay down again but began to retch. Then it hit, the scent, so strong on me and my body, in my bedroom, that I ran to the toilet and threw up.

Ultimately, I had to not only change my bed clothes and wash the upper part of my body but change my sheets as well – and thus an hour or so after I decided a drop of Citronella would help me to sleep, I finally got into a somewhat scent-free bed and with guts a ‘rumbling, finally fell asleep.

What is the moral of this tale? “Turn on the light when you wish to use the power of essential oils? Don’t use essential oils without an orifice reducer? Be moderate in your use of essential oils?” Whatever the moral, I have developed a rather abiding dislike of the scent of Citronella and from now on I will stick to having a cup of tea before bed.

Moderation is the word when using essential oils. And understand that sensitivity to a scent can happen at any time. —JeanneRose 2000

Precautions: General Precautions for Essential Oils.

As with all essential oils, do not use undiluted, do not use directly in eyes or on mucus membranes. Do not take internally unless advised by a qualified and expert practitioner. Keep away from children.

Patch Test:  If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil).                   Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and some personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©The Food and Drug Administration have not evaluated this information.

Science Abstracts: Optimization and Kinetics of Essential Oil Extraction from Citronella Grass by Ohmic Heated Hydro Distillation International Journal of Chemical Engineering and Applications, Vol. 3, No. 3, June 2012

Braz. J. Chem. Eng. vol.28, no.2 São Paulo Apr./June 2011. …Extraction of citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) essential oil using supercritical CO2: experimental data and mathematical modeling by F. SilvaI; F. C. MouraI; M. F. MendesII, *; F. L. P. PessoaI

IUFRJ, Departamento de Engenharia Química, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brazil
IIUFRRJ, Departamento de Engenharia Química, Seropédica – RJ, Brazil. Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Phone: + (55) (21)3787-3742, Fax: + (55) (21) 3787-3750, Cidade Universitária, Instituto de Tecnologia, Departamento de Engenharia Química, BR 465, Km 7, CEP 23890-000, Seropédica – Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brazil. E-mail:


Citronella essential oil has more than eighty components, of which the most important ones are citronellal, geranial and limonene. They are present at high concentrations in the oil and are responsible for the repellent properties of the oil. The oil was extracted using supercritical carbon dioxide due to the high selectivity of the solvent. The operational conditions studied varied from 313.15 to 353.15 K for the temperature and the applied pressures were 6.2, 10.0, 15.0 and 180.0 MPa. Better values of efficiency of the extracted oil were obtained at higher pressure conditions. At constant temperature, the amount of extracted oil increased when the pressure increased, but the opposite occurred when the temperature increased at constant pressure. The composition of the essential oil was complex, although there were several main components in the oil and some waxes were presented in the extracted oils above 10.0 MPa. The results were modeled using a mathematical model in a predictive way, reproducing the extraction curves over the maximum time of the process.

Keywords: Citronella oil; Geraniol; Empirical model; Extraction modes.


Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Published by Krieger.
Journal of Essential Oil Research,
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book. 3rd edition 2008, reprinted with corrections 2014.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations.
Sonali Sinha, Manivannan Jothiramajayam, Manosij Ghosh, Anita Mukherjee Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 68, June 2014, Pages 71–77, Evaluation of toxicity of essential oils palmarosa, citronella, Citronella grass and ……vetiver in human lymphocytes ~ Optimization and Kinetics of Essential Oil Extraction from …..Citronella Grass by Ohmic Heated Hydro Distillation



 ~ JR ~