Lemongrass: Cymbopogon citratus

by Jade Shutes

Cymbopogon citratus  (DC. ex Nees) Stapf  syn. Andropogon citratus DC. ex Nees


West Indian Lemongrass: Cymbopogon citratus  (DC. ex Nees) Stapf  syn. Andropogon citratus DC. ex Nees
East Indian Lemongrass: Cymbopogon flexuosus (Nees ex Steud) J.F. Watson

Common names:  Lemongrass, West Indian lemongrass (C. citratus), East Indian Lemongrass (C. flexuosus), Citronella, Sanskrit: Bhu-trna (earth grass)
Botanical Family:    Poaceae syn. Gramineae


The genus Cymbopogon belongs to the grass family, Poaceae (syn. Gramineae). The Poaceae family has about 700 genera and 11,000 species: widely distributed in all regions of the world. Cymbopogon is a genus comprising about 180 species, subspecies, varieties, and subvarities. (Bertea and Maffei, 2010) Cymbopogon species found within the aromatherapy industry include: C. citratus (lemongrass), C. martinii var. motia and sofia (palmarosa and ginger -grass respectively), C. flexuosus (lemongrass), C. winterianus (Java citronella), C. nardus (Ceylon citronella), and C. nardus x C. jwarancusa (jamrosa).

There are two main types of Lemongrass: East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus (Nees ex Steud.) J.F. Watson) which is considered to have its origins in southern India and West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus (DC ex Nees) Stapf) which is thought to have its origin in Malaysia and is mainly cultivated in Central and South America and parts of Africa, South East Asia and the Indian Ocean Islands. Both species produce an essential oil rich in citral.

Cymbopogon plants are tall (up to and above 1 m) perennial plants, with narrow and long leaves that are mostly characterized by the presence of silica thorns aligned on the leaf edges. Leaves bear glandular hairs, usually each with a basal cell that is wider than the distal cell. (Bertea and Maffei, 2010)


History and Myth

The name Cymbopogon is derived from the Greek words ‘kymbe’ (boat) and ‘pogon’ (beard), referring to the flower spike arrangement.  (Shah, et al, 2011) Cymbopogon citratus (the grass) has been used by the Brazilian Quilombolas tribe to decrease blood pressure and to calm individuals (anxiolytic). (Rodriques and Carlini 2004) C. citratus has been traditionally used to treat gastrointestinal discomforts. (Devi et al. 2011) Lemongrass has been used in medicine in India for more than 2000 years. It has been used for its carminative and anti-spasmodic activity. A tea made with lemongrass is useful for fevers.

In Guatemala, a tea from the leaves is used for flatulence, fever, and gripe by the Carib population. (Jayasinha, 1999) Lemongrass is widely used in Asian cuisine for its citrus flavor.  The tea from its leaves has been widely used as an antiseptic, febrifuge, antidyspeptic, carminative, tranquilizer and stomachic. (Selvi et al. 2011) Lemongrass oil is widely used in perfumery, cosmetics, soaps, detergents, confectionary and in the synthesis of vitamin A. (Ganjewala, 2008)  The essential oils of the grasses of species of Cymbopogon have an industrial profile; they are used in beverages, foodstuffs, fragrances, household products, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and in tobacco. (Akhila, 2010)

Regulatory Information (for Cymbopogon citratus)

EINECS No.: 289-752-0
CAS Registry No: 89998-14-1
Chem. Name: “Lemon Grass Oil; Indian Verbena Oil; Indian Melissa Oil”.
GRAS: 182.20

Extraction Information

Country of Origin:    Nepal, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Philippines, South Africa
Part of Plant used:    Grass
Extraction method:    Distillation
Oil yield:        0.25-0.6%
Color of Oil:        Clear, light yellow

Blending Information

Odor Description:    Lemony, strong
Blending Factor:    1
Notes:            Top, top to mid
Blends well with:     Cypress, Cedarwood, Ginger, Litsea cubeba

Safety Information

  • A skin irritant when used undiluted on the skin. Avoid undiluted application!
  • Citral produces sensitization reactions when applied alone, however, when it is applied within the whole plant matrix (in this case, Lemongrass e/o) it does not produce sensitization reactions due to the presence of other components which ‘quench’ the citral. (Opdyke D. L. J., 1976)
  • Citral induced sensitisation reactions in guinea-pigs on patch testing at concentrations above 0.5%, and this effect was reduced by the co-presence of an equal quantity of limonene. East Indian Lemongrass oil was not sensitizing at the equivalent of 4% dilution although the quenching effect may not be solely due to limonene but other components in the oil may also play a role, perhaps a synergistic one. (Tisserand, 2003)

NOTE: Lemongrass is rich in irritating aldehydes and should always be diluted down prior to use.  I had a friend who cleaned her house with lemongrass without using gloves for her hands and she experienced quite severe dermatitis that took a few weeks to heal.

Chemical Composition

Chemical Feature:  Rich in the aldehydes (up to 80%: citral) and monoterpenes

Chemical composition of Cymbopogon citratus

Chemical FamilySpecific Components
Monoterpenesmyrcene (10.2-18%), limonene (0.4%)
Aldehydesgeranial (45.2%), neral (32.4%), citronellal (0.2%)
Alcoholsa-terpineol (0.9%), citronellol (0.3%), geraniol (5.5-40%)
Estersgeranyl acetate (1.2%)
Trace components(Akhila, 2010)camphene, camphor, α-camphorene, Δ-3-carene,caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, 1,8-cineole, citronellal, citronellol, n-decyldehyde, α,β-dihydropseudoionone, dipentene, β-elemene, elemol, farnesal, farnesol, fenchone, furfural,iso-pulegol, iso-valeraldehyde, limonene, linalyl acetate, menthol, menthone, methyl heptenol, ocimene, α-oxobisabolene, β-phellandrene, α-pinene, β-pinene, terpineol, terpinolene, 2-undecanone, neral, nerolic acid, and geranic acid
NOTE: citral is a mixture of two stereoisomeric monoterpene aldehydes: trans-isomer geranial (40-62%) and cis-isomer neral (25-38%)* (Devi, et al. 2011 and Shah, et al. 2011)  *Percentages reflect those found in C. citratus.Chemistry of Cymbopogon citratusobtained from: Koffi, et al. 2009The West Indian lemongrass oil (C. citratus) differs from the East Indian type (C. flexuosus) by the occurance of substantial quantities of myrcene (12-15%).

Research notes:

  • Lemongrass (C. citratus) as well as its active component, citral, exhibited high antibacterial activity against Haemophilus influenzae, penicillin-susceptible and resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus by gaseous contact. The authors concluded that the antimicrobial action of essential oils by gaseous contact is most efficient when exposed at high vapour concentration for a short time period. (Inouye, et al. 2001)
  • Cymbopogon citratus showed strong antimycotic (syn. antifungal) activity against Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus niger growth in vitro. (Bansod and Rai, 2008)
  • Citral is able to produce spasmolytic activity in isolated rabbit illeum. (Devi, et al. 2011)
  • Cymbopogon citratus and citral produced anticonvulsant activity (may present as a potential for the development of new antiepileptic drugs). (de Almeida, et al. 2011)
  • The essential oil of C. citratus induces hypotension, possibly by reduction in vascular resistance caused by inhibition of the Ca2+ influx, and bradycardia probably due to an activation of cardiac muscarinic receptors. (Moreira, et al. 2010)
  • Lemongrass possessed the strongest antiviral activity of the essential oils used in the study. At a concentration of 0.1% lemongrass showed the stronger antiviral activity than tea tree. The study concluded that lemongrass essential oil may be the most effective essential oil against HSV-1 infection. The topical use of essential oils, especially lemongrass, for the treatment of recurrent HSV-1 infections may be useful for recurrent ocular and dermal infection with HSV-1. (HSV-1 = Herpes simplex virus type-1) (Minami, et al. 2003)
  • This study showed that Lemongrass and citral exhibited action against all Candida spp., especially C. albicans. C. krusei was more resistant. Lemongrass (C. citratus) and citral demonstrated very good effectiveness and broad spectrum activity against Candida species. The study demonstrated that lemongrass oil instead of citral can be used in pharmaceutical preparations for its antifungal activity.  (de Silva, et al. 2008)
  • Lemongrass mixed in salt and warm water can be effective in treating Trichophyton mentagrophytes (Tinea pedis).  (Inouye, et al. 2007)
  • Citral presented sedative as well as motor relaxant effects. (do Vale, et al. 2002)
  • As a vaporizer, the essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus works as an effective panacea against bacteria, flu and colds. In hot weather, this is the best oil to cool down the body temperature and to revive the mind and soul. It can improve digestion, nausea and menstruation problems and ailments like headaches, muscle cramps, spasms and rheumatism. (Shah, et al. 2011)
  • Lemongrass, lemongrass oil and citronella oil preparations are used almost exclusively in combinations for disorders and discomforts of the gastrointestinal tract, muscle pain and neuralgia, colds, various nervous disturbances, and for conditions of exhaustion. (German Commission E)
  • Lemongrass is sour, cooling and astringent. Therefore, it combats heat and tightens tissues of the body. It acts particularly on the connective tissue, where structural and immune functions meet. Lemongrass acts on the lymphatic capillaries and vessels draining away fro the skin so it is useful in edema and lymphatic congestion. (Wood 2008)
  • While the alpha-citral (geranial) and beta-citral (neral) components individually elicit antibacterial action on gram-negative and gram-positive organisms, the third component, myrcene, did not show observable antibacterial activity on its own. However, myrcene provided enhanced activities when mixed with either of the other two main components identified. (Onawunmi, 1984)
  • The peripheral analgesic effect of myrcene was confirmed by testing a standard commercial preparation on the hyperalgesia induced by prostaglandin in the rat paw test and upon the contortions induced by intraperitoneal injections of iloprost in mice. In contrast to the central analgesic effect of morphine, myrcene did not cause tolerance on repeated injection in rats. (Lorenzetti et al. 1991)

Therapeutic Actions:

Antibacterial (Inouye, et al. 2001 and Selvi, et al. 2011), Antifungal/antimycotic (Bansod and Rai 2008, Selvi, et al. 2011, Inouye et al. 2007 and da Silva et al. 2008), Anxiolytic (Blanco, et al. 2009), Anticonvulsant (de Almeida, et al. 2011 and Quintans-Junior et al. 2010), Hypotensive (Moreira, et al. 2010), Antiviral (Minami, et al. 2003), Analgesic (Viana et al. 2000), Strengthens connective tissue (Gumbel, 1983), Insect Repellant (Ansari M A and Razdan, 1996)

Core Aromatic Applications

General properties:  an excellent household cleaner (always use hand gloves when cleaning with lemongrass), can be added to castile soap to clean wood floors, bathrooms, dishes, counters, add to jojoba and clean wood tables, good airborne to reduce microbes and bacteria in the air, can be used with borax for laundry

Digestive system:  Candida albicans, oral thrush (could be used in a mouth rinse 2.5% – 5% dilution in aloe vera gel/juice)

Lymph/Immune system:  stimulates the lymphatic system, lymph drainage (Gumbel, 1993)

Musculoskeletal system:  muscular aches and pains, tired and sore muscles, sprains, bruises, weakness of connective tissue, pain in joints, rheumatism, muscle cramps, muscle spasms, after-care of sports accidents, sprains, bruises (Gumbel, 1993)

Nervous system:  nervous exhaustion, anxiety

Reproductive system: dysmenorrhea (Wood, 2008)

Respiratory system: antiseptic, sinus congestion, lowered immune response for respiratory illness, respiratory infection, flu, colds

Skin: acne, oily skin, boils, athletes foot, Herpes simplex, has a special tightening effect on the elastin fibers in the corium and in the subcutis (Gumbel, 1993), applicable to breast treatment (tightening) (Gumbel, 1993), Ringworm (Wood, 2008)

Psyche and Emotion: fatigue, grieving process, strengthening during weak emotional period, transition, release work

Ayurveda:  Lemongrass is used to stimulate agni without aggravating pitta. Relieves gas and cramps by regulating samana and apana vayu. It is drying to avalambaka kapha and helps to expectorate excess phlegm. Clearing to hot lung infections with yellow mucus. Lemongrass has an affinity for rasa and raktadhatu helping with painful menses due to inflammation or spasm in uterus from high pitta and vata. (Pole, 2006)  **Note: Use the herb in a tea or tincture or other ayurvedic preparation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: In Chinese medicine, lemongrass is indicated to dispel wind and free network vessels, warm center and relieve pain. Used for common cold with headache, diarrhea, wind-cold impediment pain, cold pain in stomach duct and abdomen, knocks and falls. (Zhou et al. 2010)

RECIPES for using Cymbopogon citratus

Salt scrub for general congestion/lethargy

  • 2 cups sea salt
  • 14 drops Ginger e/o (Zingiber officinale)
  • 5 drops Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • 10 drops Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)

Approximately 1 cup jojoba or other oil, add more for desired texture. Mix all ingredients together.  Store in glass jar.

Tinea Pedis

  • Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii)        6 drops
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)      4 drops
  • Thyme ct. geraniol (Thymus vulgaris)    5 drops

Add drops to foot bath with 1/2 to 1 cup sea salt.  Soak feet for  10-15 minutes.

Relief of Osteoarthritic Pain (Buckle, 2003)

  • 5% Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • 5% dilution in cool to warm compress.

Breast massage oil

  • 5 drops Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • 4 drops Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
  • 5 drops Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin)

Place drops into 1 ounce amber glass bottle. Add 50% jojoba and 50% calendula herbal oil. Shake well.  Ready to use.

Mosquito Repellant

  • 2 ounce spritzer bottle
  • 10 drops Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • 5 drops Peppermint  (Mentha x piperita)
  • 14 drops Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
  • 5 drops Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Place essential oil drops in bottle then fill with water.  Can add dispersing agent such as dispersa or solubol.  Shake before each use. Spritz on clothing, hair, arms, legs, etc. Avoid eyes and face.

Soothing to the Nervous System

  • 7 drops Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)
  • 5 drops Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • 10 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Can add into 1 ounce of jojoba oil for massage or place drops in diffusor/spritzer or inhaler tube.

Additional Notes:

NEW CHEMOTYPE: A few years ago a novel chemotype for Cymbopogon citratus was developed and released by Gurpreet Singh of Earthy Flavorance. This chemotype is called: Lemongrass ct. Rhodinol. Rhodinol is a combination of citronellol and geraniol. Earthy Flavorance calls it: Lemongrass Sargam stating it is a Geraniol/Citronellol [collectively called Rhodinol] rich lemongrass, which has about 35 to 45% geraniol, and 28-33 % citronellol. This has been highly appreciated in America. Earthy Flavorance was responsible for release of 2 varieties of lemongrass from their fields, which out yielded any other variety, and had a different and more pleasant “fresh lime” note, rather than the typical.  (http://earthyflavorance.blogspot.com/2010/09/new-varieties-of-lemongrass-farmers.html) **NOTE: I have been unable to find any other data on this specific essential oil other then that put out by Earthy Flavorance.


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