Combava essential oil is most often encountered in its “petitgrain”1 form: steam distilled from the leaves and twigs of the evergreen, fruit bearing tree called Citrus hystrix of the Rutaceae family.2 The leaves of this thorny, bushy plant are quite distinct with two lobes connecting by a tough, central vein. Originating from tropical Asia, this gem of a plant is most often grown and distilled for its leaf oil in Indonesia and to a limited extent in India, Thailand and Madagascar.
C. hystrix is from the ancient Greek meaning “porcupine” which translates into “spiny” and refers to the many thorns of the plant. Combava is from the French, but the plant goes by many other names: Kaffir3 Lime, Makrut Lime, Thai lime, Wild lime, leech-lime and Mauritius papeda.
Combava is highly integrated into the culture of the Indo-Maylay-Thai region. According to Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boite, the plant is indispensable in Southeast Asian cuisine and what helps give Thai green paste some of its flavor and sourness unique to fundamental Thai flavor.4 C. hystrix is considered a sacred, protective plant — note how its thorns may imprint a protective energy into the essences we use and be available to us when working on the emotional and etheric levels. The leaves and fruit are highly regarded as physical, spiritual and energetic cleansers: of note, the fruit is an important ingredient in “mandi berlimau,” a sacred bathing ceremony.
Combava, with its protective thorns, bumpy fruits and unique leaves has a certain “je ne sais quoi.” The aroma of this citrus leaf is distinctly unlike any other citrus and quite mysterious. Its cleansing but gentle nature helps “wipe the slate clean,” allowing a fresh space for silence, contemplation and possibilities.
Following are core applications for the essential oil: it is an excellent cleanser for the body, emotional, spiritual and energetic work. It is a worthy addition to “aches and pains” blends and respiratory support blends.
|Musculoskeletal & Circulatory||Arthritis, rheumatism, pain, inflammation, spastic tension|
|Skincare||Oily skin, acne|
|Nervous/Psyche/Emotion||Uplifting, clarity, hyperactivity, mental tension, stress|
|Energetics||Dispelling unwanted energy, space clearing|
Combava essential oil is saturated in the lovely aldehyde of Citronellal (anywhere from 58 to 82% according to Tissarand & Young) and supported by monoterpenols and monoterpenes.
Is Combava Petitgrain Essential Oil Safe?
Combava, like most petitgrain oils, is generally regarded as safe.
Blending with Combava Essential Oil:
Consider using restraint when blending with this essence as it is a bit bolder than other petitgrain essential oils. The high citronellal content contributes to its vibrant presence and staying power.
Combava leaf initially greets your palate with fresh, crisp, slightly sweet-green-acidic notes. It pulls your face muscles into a smile, leaving you no choice but to continue into its tart, leafy, rosy-geranium-aldehyde aromas. Refreshing molecules of limey-citronella and Murphy’s Oil Soap create the backbone of its aromatic profile with a zesty-tangerine spice at the end. Zing!
Combava petitgrain essential oil blends well with: Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus or C. flexuosus), Coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum), Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Black pepper (Piper nigrum), Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides), Ylang ylang Complete (Canaga odorata), Sandalwood (Santalum album), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens).
Creating Wellness Products with Combava
Space Clearing Synergy to Promote a Restful Environment
Consider incorporating the uplifting and clarifying energy of Combava petitgrain with calming, sedative oils to clear energy in the bedroom. Aromatherapy is paradoxical — “uplifting” does not cancel out “calming.” When you blend, consider how uplifting and clearing oils may help wash away debris and allow space for what may be needed—in this case restfulness and eventual slumber. You may choose to use this blend of essential oils directly in a diffuser. Regardless of your method of delivering these precious oils to your space, be sure to take the time to be with the aromas and notice your experiences with them.
What you need:
- 5 ml blending bottle (here’s an example)
- 2 ounce glass bottle with spray top
- 10 drops Combava petitgrain (Citrus hystrix) essential oil
- 3 drops Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) essential oil
- 6 drops Catnip (Nepeta cataria) essential oil
- 8 drops Ylang ylang complete (Canaga odorata) essential oil
- 2 drops Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) essential oil
- 40 ml distilled water
- 20 ml ethanol (e.g., vodka or rectified spirits)
How to make:
Gather the materials and set your intention. Combine the essential oils into the 5ml bottle, affix the cap and shake the oils to incorporate them. Set the blended oils aside for at least one day so the aromatics mingle. When you are ready to make the spritzer, set your intention again. Combine the alcohol, water and essential oils to the bottle. Affix the spray cap and label the bottle appropriately.
Shake before using. Use routinely for space clearing (e.g., spray and wipe doorways, window frames and the perimeter of a room) or nightly around and on bedding as a ritual before slumber. Always spot test before using, especially when using alcohol and essential oils on finished surfaces.
Skincare Blemish Gel:
Don’t reach for harsh ingredients to work with problem areas and blemish spots! Combava petitgrain is a wonderful cleansing and antibacterial agent that is gentle enough for the skin. Try this modified recipe from Amy Galper and Christina Daigneault’s beautiful book “Plant-Powered Beauty”.
What you need:
- Small glass or stainless steel bowl
- Stirring stick
- 1 (1-ounce) glass pump-top bottle or glass jar with lid
- 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel
- 1 tsp witch hazel hydrosol
- 5 drops Combava petitgrain (Citrus hystrix leaf) essential oil
- 5 drops Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)essential oil
- 10 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
- 5 drops Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil
- 5 drops Thyme CT linalool (Thymus vulgaris ct linalool) essential oil
How to make:
Combine the aloe and witch hazel into the bowl, stirring to combine. Next add the essential oil blend, stirring well to incorporate the oils through the medium. Transfer the gel to your container, cap tightly and label appropriately. Store the gel in the refrigerator for freshness.
How to use:
Cleanse your hands and the areas to be treated to remove dirt and oil. Using your fingertip, apply a small drop of the gel to problem areas. Let the gel naturally absorb into your skin, do not rub. Repeat as needed.
Working with the Leaves: Infusions
1) Water infusion. Looking for a simple way to bring calming joy to any day? Enjoy a simple tisane. Tear up a small handful (6 or so) of Combava leaflets, place them into a cup of near-boiling water and cover the cup for about 10 minutes. Keep the leaves in as you sip or discard as compost. These leaves aren’t always easy to find: I get mine from this amazing store located here in NYC. Scope out specialty gourmet food stores by you for fresh or dried “Kaffir Lime” leaves.
This tisane of fresh C. hystrix leafs brings me absolute joy! The aromatics are absolutely uplifting and after drinking it I feel joyful yet calm.
2) Oil Infusion. Riff off of ideas from Lior Lev Sercarz and Thai-inspired cooking by heat-infusing Combava leaves in a light tasting seed oil (e.g., grapeseed) then drizzle the infusion over salads, soups or chicken and fish dinners.
3) Alcohol infusion. I was recently at Gotham Bar and Grill speaking with one of the bartenders (about…what other than aromatics) and mentioned I was spending a lot of time with Combava and guess what? He brought out a house-infused vodka made with–what other than Combava leaves–used in specialty cocktails. The aroma was divine and unmistakable.
Be with the plants in their many forms, take their messages and let them guide you. I bid you much joy in smelling, blending, creating, sipping, dabbing and spraying!
1This post is about Combava leaf or “Petitgrain” — which means “little grains” and refers to when oil of petitgrain was distilled from the green, unripe fruit that was picked when it was the size of a cherry, or a “little grain.” The term “petitgrain” usually refers to Citrus aurantium var amara but “petitgrain” can be applied to all citrus trees when the oil is obtained from the leaf.
2Like many plants in the citrus family, the oil may also be obtained from the fruit; however, steam distillation is usually the preferred method over expression for Combava. The peel oil is comparatively rare to find versus the leaf oil.
3Here is a great example why using common names can be tricky and how language and meaning are different depending on culture and history: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Kaffir+lime+tainted+with+sour+taste+racism/9964313/story.html
4The Spice Companion by Lior Lev Sercarz. Pg. 154
5Research from Thailand on the efficacy of Citrus hystrix peel and leaf essential oils on common respiratory pathogens: http://www.scienceasia.org/2012.38.n2/scias38_212.pdf
Written by: Amy Anthony
(Aromatic Studies Instructor)
Amy Anthony B.A, is a certified Aromatherapist with a private practice in Manhattan, NY. Her focus is on customized aromatherapy and education: she consults with clients and teaches workshops at the NYIOA and around the NY metro area. Amy also enjoys formulating and devising delivery methods that encourage the safe, practical use of aromatherapy—like fizzing bath balls, shower bars and sleep mists.
Amy has been a gardener since the age of 5 and has continually found ways to connect with plants since moving to NYC in 1999. Her knowledge of plants brings a holistic, plant-based approach to her teaching and practice of aromatherapy. Amy is also a certified master composter, has volunteered at Saint George’s Common Table since 2012 and is a trained doula. More can be found about her aromatherapy practice at http://nycaroma.com.