28 January 2022 / Caitlin Devlin
Citronella Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits
Citronella oil is a highly effective insect repellent and can be beneficial for hair.
Citronella essential oil is distilled from a concentration of steams and leaves taken from the Cymbopogon plant, a grass plant originating from Sir Lanka.
There are over thirty species of Cymbopogon grown throughout the world, however there are just two main species used to make essential oils: Cymbopagan nardus, which gives us Ceylon oil, and Cymbopagan winterianus, which gives us Java oil. Java oil has a higher percentage of geraniol, the most powerful constituent of citronella oil, and so is typically more expensive, but other than some variation in scent the two oils are effectively the same. Citronella has been used for centuries in China, Indonesia, and Sir Lanka, mainly to treat cuts and swellings, relieve menstrual cramps, and destroy intestinal parasites, and all these practices are still in use today.
Citronella essential oil can fight parasites and bacteria.
One of the oldest uses of citronella grass was in the treatment of intestinal worms. A study in 2003 showed that geraniol is anthelmintic, meaning that it destroys parasites without causing damage to the host. When diluted with a carrier vegetable oil and rubbed on the abdomen, the anthelmintic properties of geraniol will stun or kill parasites. A 2016 study showed that citronella oil can help fight the candida fungus that causes symptoms of thrush, and it has also been shown that citronella oil can be used in mouthwashes to help kill harmful bacteria.
Citronella's strong antimicrobial properties mean that it has a higher effectiveness than many commercial anti-bacterial ingredients, but as a natural remedy it also has a lower cytotoxicity. This means that it does not contain any harmful risk to growing cells. However, citronella oil should never be ingested and should be spat out after use in the mouth.
It helps us manage stress and pain.
Geranoil is also an anti-inflammatory, which means that citronella oil can be very effective in treating swollen muscles or inflamed skin. It is also an anticonvulsant and so can relax muscles in the abdomen to help soothe menstrual cramps. Citronella oil has proven useful against mental tension as well – a 2001 study found that citronella oil seems to activate both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous activity, helping to regulate both our ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ responses. This has a positive effect on anxiety levels.
It’s useful against pests and pets.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency considers citronella a biopesticide, classing it as a non-toxic mode of action against potentially harmful insects. Citronella oil repels the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can spread dengue fever and the Zika virus. This can be done by using a diffuser or burning citronella candles, however diffusing the pure oil is the best way to repel pests as candles will typically have a weaker scent.
Citronella oil also helps to keep homes hygienic by keeping dogs off furniture. Dogs have an aversion to the scent, and so spraying furniture or linen with a dilution of the oil is a good training tool. Citronella has such a strong effect on dogs that some pet owners use citronella collars as an alternative to electric anti-bark collars, however punishment collars of any kind are not recommended by the RSPCA. Citronella oil should not be used on furniture accessible to cats as it can be toxic to them.
It’s a natural shampoo and conditioner.
Citronella oil helps to regulate the production of sebum, a natural, waxy oil often found on the scalp. When sebum builds up excessively, hair can appear greasy, and so washing hair with a dilution of citronella oil is a good way to reduce this greasiness. Some people have found that citronella is also useful in detangling wet hair, and leaves hair shinier, although this can differ between hair types.
Citronella oil is an extremely versatile household product, and can contribute greatly to the cleanliness and hygiene levels of the home. Its relaxing and soothing effects are well evidenced, and the protection it offers against parasites and bacteria is a welcome bonus.
Shop our citronella essential oil here.