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28 January 2022 / Laura Garvin Gomez

Citronella Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits

Citronella oil is a highly effective insect repellent and can be beneficial for hair.

Citronella plant in the sun.
With refreshing citrus notes and a distinctive grassy aroma, citronella oil is a pioneer in repelling insects and uplifting the body.

The properties of citronella are surprisingly versatile, making the oil a hidden gem in the world of aromatherapy for several years.

Often compared to its neighbouring cousin lemongrass, citronella’s zesty and floral qualities make it a powerful oil to carry in the summer – both for its refreshing scent as well as its infamous protection against pests, particularly mosquitos.

Citronella has also recently grown in popularity for its status as an effective disinfectant, creating chemical-free cleaning solutions for the home.

What is citronella essential oil?

Citronella oil is distilled from a concentration of stems and leaves taken from the Cymbopogon plant, a grass plant originating from Sri Lanka.

There are over thirty species of Cymbopogon grown throughout the world, including lemongrass, which contains similar properties to citronella.

However, there are just two main species used to make variations of citronella essential oils: Cymbopagan nardus, which gives us the Ceylon oil type, and Cymbopagan winterianus, which gives us the Java oil type.

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.

The health benefits of Citronella Essential Oil

Citronella has many benefits that are growing in popularity; however, its properties expand far beyond the expected. Citronella has been known to:

  • Repel pests – especially mosquitoes
  • Encourage behaviours in dogs
  • Fight bacteria
  • Manage pain
  • Reduce stress
  • Nourish hair

    Citronella stem on wooden table.

    Can citronella repel pests?

    The  considers citronella essential oil a biopesticide, classing it as a non-toxic mode of action against potentially harmful insects. Citronella oil has been known to repel the Aedes aegypti species of mosquitoes, which can spread dengue fever and the Zika virus.

    Diffusing or topically applying citronella oil and their bites for up to three hours – particularly when combined with the compound vanillin, found in vanilla beans.

    While topical application of citronella (using a carrier oil) will have to be conducted more often than with commercial mosquito repellents, the oil is a great natural alternative.

    Using a diffuser or burning citronella candles are both popular choices for repelling pests across your indoor environment, however diffusing the pure oil is the best way to repel pests as candles will typically have a weaker scent.

    Insect repellent infographic.

    Training dogs using citronella oil

    Citronella oil can help to keep homes hygienic by keeping dogs off furniture.

    Dogs have a strong aversion to the scent, so spraying furniture or linen with a heavy 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.

    Insect repellent infographic.

    Using citronella essential oil against parasites and bacteria.

    Numerous studies have investigated the possible anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties of citronella oil - with several concluding that it can indeed be effective in weakening and destroying certain parasites. In fact, one of the oldest uses of citronella grass was in the treatment of intestinal worms.

    A showed that geraniol, a compound found within citronella,  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.

    showed that citronella oil can help fight the candida fungus that causes symptoms of thrush, while a declared the oil useful in mouthwashes to help kill and deter harmful bacteria.

    Citronella's strong antimicrobial properties mean that it may also have a higher rate of effectiveness than some commercial anti-bacterial ingredients.

    Because it is a natural remedy, citronella is also shown to have lower cytotoxicity than these commercial alternatives. This means that it does not contain any harmful risk to growing cells.

    In spite of these effective properties, citronella oil should never be ingested and should always be spat out after use in the mouth.

    Insect repellent infographic.

    How can citronella oil help manage pain?

    Geraniol is an anti-inflammatory compound, which means that citronella oil can be very effective in treating swollen muscles, stubborn coughs, or inflamed skin.

    It is also an anticonvulsant, and so can help to relax the muscles of the body to soothe and reduce feelings of pain. Diluted citronella can also be applied to the abdomen to alleviate menstrual cramps.

    Adding a few drops of citronella essential oil to your favourite carrier oil can help target these areas of discomfort as well as improve the look and feel of the skin.

    Citronella oil can be used as 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.

    Recent studies have also shown that citronella may be effective in preventing headlice.

    How to use Citronella Essential Oil

    Aromatherapy

    Spreading the scent of citronella around your home using a diffuser or oil burners is an effective choice for preventing pests in indoor spaces, as well as freshening up the atmosphere of your home.

    Combine 5-7 drops of the oil with water and add to an oil burner or diffuser for a fragrant, lemony, and lightly floral aroma.

    Alternatively, you can simply hold a bottle of citronella essential oil to your nose and inhale.

    Add a few drops to a tissue or cotton ball for on-the-go aromatherapy and stress relief.

    Massage

    Citronella essential oil’s naturally powerful anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic qualities make it a great choice for soothing, restorative muscle massage that can be conducted at home.

    Dilute 5 drops to 10ml of carrier oil (such as sweet almond or jojoba oil) and massage evenly into the skin.

    We always advise performing a patch test before using applying citronella essential oil on the skin.

    Bath 

    Add 6-8 drops to warm bathwater for a refreshing and stress-relieving experience for the mind and body.

    Citronella’s encouragement of both sympathetic and parasympathetic brain activity makes it a great addition to add to the bath in moments of anxiety of worry.

    Skincare 

    Add a couple of drops of citronella essential oil to a carrier oil (such as sweet almond or jojoba oil) or your chosen lotion and spread evenly, or on to affected areas.

    Applying diluted citronella oil onto the skin is also a good preventative measure against mosquito bites and can even help reduce the discomfort and appearance of existing ones.

    We always advise performing a patch test before using citronella essential oil on the skin.

    Soap & Candles 

    Suitable for soap making and candle making. We recommend following a tested recipe.

    Citronella candles are a softer alternative to pest repelling within your home.

    Looking for creative ways to use your citronella essential oil? Discover a number of fun candle and soap recipes in our Make at Home blog section.

    History of Citronella Essential Oil

    Originating from the French word meaning “lemon balm”, Citronella has been utilised for centuries in China, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka for its refreshing scent and robust list of benefits.

    Its uses would span far beyond the medicinal, however, with some Asian cultures utilising the grass’ fragrant aroma as a flavouring agent in several culinary applications.

    References to citronella can even be found in various documents of antiquity, including the Old Testament and Sanskrit writings.

      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

      Product Name

      100% Pure Citronella Essential Oil
      Botanical Name Cymbopogon Nardus
      Scent Type Citrus
      Benefits & Uses Insect Repellent, Cleaning Agent, Anti-Inflammatory
      Suitable for Diffusers? Yes, this citronella essential oil is perfect for diffusers.
      Suitable for Candles and Soaps? Yes, this citronella essential oil is perfect for candle and soap making.
      Extraction Method Steam Distillation
      Bottle Type Tamper proof and UV resistant

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