Palmarosa essential oil is obtained by distilling the fresh, wilted, flowering aerial parts of Cymbopogon martinii var. martinii (a.k.a. Cymbopogon martinii var. motia) where the essence is most abundant in its inflorescence. Native to the Indian sub-continent it is wild harvested in many parts of India or readily cultivated for its cash crop and return-on-investment: it is one of the most abundant natural sources of geraniol (possibly > 90% of the essential oil depending on climate, elevation, time of harvest, etc.). Thanks to the popularity of this aromatic plant it has been imported to and cultivated in several other countries (e.g., Nepal, Java, Madagascar and Brazil to name a few) for its essential oil due to its importance in the flavor, fragrance and cosmetic industries for hundreds of years (namely for geraniol).
Beware of nomenclature and botanical varieties as the close relative of Palmarosa—Gingergrass—is also named Cymbopogon martinii var. sofia. This being one of many examples as to why smelling an essential oil and being familiar with Latin binomials behooves any aromatherapist. Other Poaceae friends are Lemongrass (Cymbopogan citratus, Cymbopogon flexuosus), Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides).
Palmarosa is a tall, perennial grass that may grow up to 2.5 m. With shallow and fibrous roots, this adaptable plant may grow in many locations but does not tolerate severe drought nor water-logged soil—like Goldilocks its “just right” conditions are hot, humid and sunny places. Its flowers (a.k.a., inflorescence), which contains more essence than any other part of the plant, may grow up to 80 cm. The epithet “motia,” meaning “pearl,” may be a reference to its milky-white inflorescence.
Let’s get back to the cash-crop nature of Palmarosa where it was and still may be used as a relatively inexpensive substitute or adulterant for rose and geranium. The essential oil was historically referred to as “Indian” or “Turkish” Geranium oil when it was heavily imported to the west (i.e., Constantinople) to adulterate Turkish Rose oil. “Rosy” essential oils are mainly procured from 3 plants; Rosa damascena, Pelargonium graveolens and Cymbopogon martinii var. motia. Palmarosa is a durable plant that tolerates many soil types and conditions over the more fickle Rose and Geranium, making it more reliable and cost effective from an agronomy perspective. This may shed light as to why Palmarosa is used to “fake out” the other two essential oils.
Palmarosa’s settling energy gives us an opportunity to sit in satisfaction with ourselves. It has the ability to draw our awareness inward, get in-touch with self-acceptance and help us “wear our own skin.” The essence of Palmarosa softens things (e.g., hard thoughts, hard skin); links the gut-brain to big brain, equalizing both. With its affinity for circulation and flow (including digestive stimulation), effects of the essential oil may be realized through the entire body just as blood courses through every artery, vein and capillary of our being. The sensation of Palmarosa is slow-flowing, like a person you enjoy being around because of their stable, even-keeled energy.
Palmarosa essential oil has an affinity for the skin, cardiovascular and immune systems and is overall modulating on the nervous system. Following are notable therapeutic actions and indications where the essential oil may be worked with:
- Emotions/Nervous: calming yet uplifting; restorative (similar to lavender in my opinion), softens emotional rigidity, working with states of tension, stress, exhaustion, debility, burn-out, depression
- Skin: skin regenerative/tissue healing, softening quality and emollient, cooling, notable antifungal, effective insect repellent, sebum balancing, astringent.
- Circulatory: restorative (heart), stress related heart disorders.
- Immune: rich in monoterpenols it is anti-infectious and antimicrobial (notable anti-fungal with an affinity for the digestive tract)
Chemistry Highlights: Palmarosa essential oil is abundant in monoterpenols (notably geraniol) supported by esters such as geranyl acetate.
Is Palmarosa Essential Oil Safe? Palmarosa is classified as non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. However, it contains geraniol in abundance, a component classified by the EU as a potential sensitizer.
Blending with Palmarosa Essential Oil
Palmarosa essential oil saturates the air with a sweet, floral-rosy backbone with hints of citrus and green-grass. Surrounded by this slightly musty cloud of thick perfume, rose geranium comes to mind but Palmarosa may be a bit more demure. There are hints of smoky dirt, molasses and lilac which get along nicely with soft and soapy notes which bring to mind Victorian roses and English gardens on a warm, sunny day.
Palmarosa essential oil blends well with: Rose (Rosa × damascena), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Nagarmotha (Cyperus scariosus), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and other species), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), several of the woods (Cedrus atlantica, Santalum album, Aniba rosaeodora) and several of the aforementioned members of the Poaceae family.
Creating Wellness Products with Palmarosa
Self-Care Body Lotion
Simultaneously support your mood and skin’s health with this reparative blend of essential oils. Many of these oils are known to support regeneration and working through traumas of both physical and emotional natures. I find creams and lotions are a lovely way to support skin health while also being a joy to apply. Isn’t self-care even better when it is enjoyable and not seen as a chore or something to put on a “to-do” list?
- 10 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
- 10 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- 5 drops Carrot seed (Daucus carota)
- 5 drops Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
- 1 drop Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus)
To make: Combine the essential oils into a 2 ounce glass jar with a screw top. Cap the jar and let the oils mingle at least 24 hours as Cistus and Carrot seed need time to settle from an aromatic stand point. When ready, add an unscented base* to the jar, using a metal or glass stirring rod to incorporate the essential oils into the base. Affix the lid to the jar and label it with a name you enjoy, ingredients and the date.
*Note: there are several ready-made lotion and cream bases out there, here is one to consider. The dilution rate for this recipe is 3%, feel free to use less or more essential oils to suit your needs.
To use: Use daily. Apply a generous amount to your skin with clean hands, enjoying the aroma and repeating a special affirmation or word you feel brings joy, empowerment or anything that feels right to you.
Shoo-Away Insect Repellant
Smell amazing while wearing an “aromatic shield” to keep bugs at-bay. Palmarosa is a known and trusted mosquito repellant, though many people are more familiar with its cousin, Citronella. You may not as readily find Gingergrass as other essential oils. If this is the case, swap that out for the more readily available Cymbopogon nardus. Note: this spray was used at a recent community garden meeting by many members with much efficacy.
- 20 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
- 18 drops Spike lavender (Lavandula spicata)
- 10 drops Gingergrass (Cymbopogon martinii var sofia)
- 10 drops Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- 5 drops Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)
To make: Combine the essential oils into a 2 ounce bottle with a spray top (glass is preferred). Cap the bottle and let the oils mingle overnight. Once the essential oils have “mingled,” add 1 ounce of distilled water and 1 ounce of ethanol to the bottle. Affix the spray top and label the bottle with a name you enjoy, ingredients and the date.
To use: Shake before using. Spray skin and clothing liberally, rubbing the “aromatic shield” into the skin. Reapply every 1-2 hours or as needed. Use as desired.
Surrounding Yourself with Love (Stock Bottle)
Evoke the power of stillness, self-acceptance and love with this deep, floral synergy of essential oils. I find Palmarosa encourages mental states of calm, akin to still versus turbulent waters of a large lake. Combine that energy with joyful florals and the relaxed backbone of Patchouli and see what happens…
- 35 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
- 35 drops Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara)
- 25 drops Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
- 20 drops Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)
- 6 drops Rose (Rosa damascena)
- Add 1-2 ml of the blend to a nebulizing diffuser; diffuse 5 to 10 minutes a day for 14 days to fill your space with vapors of self-care or, add 10-15 drops to a water diffuser, diffusing on a timer for 14 days.
- Add 25 drops to an aromatic inhaler and use daily to encourage a state of radiant calm.
- Put 10 to 12 drops in a roller-ball applicator filled with a fixed oil of your choice and apply to your pulse points as desired.
- As this is a stock bottle, consider adding a few drops to a bath soak or even to your shampoo or conditioner! So many possibilities!
Thank you for spending time with Palmarosa and me.
Holmes, P. (2016). Aromatica A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. London: Singing Dragon.
Mojay, G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
Smitha G.R., V. S. (2015). Variations in essential oil yield, geraniol and geranyl acetate contentsin palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii, Roxb. Wats. var. motia)influenced by inflorescence development. Industrial Crops and Products 66 (2015), 150-160.
Smitha Gingade, P. M. (2014). Cultivation of Palmarosa. Boriavi: ICAR – Directorate of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research.