What is Lemongrass Essential Oil?
Lemongrass essential oil is a pale or bright yellow substance with a thin consistency and a strong, fresh, lemony, and earthy scent.
It is extracted through the process of steam distillation from the dried or fresh leaves of the Cymbopogon genus plants, which are tall perennial herbs from the Poaceae grass family, that thrives in tropical and subtropical regions.
Steam distillation produces essential oil plus hydrosols or aromatic waters, which are often used against inflammatory diseases and microbial infections.
Volatile oils obtained from lemongrass are used in traditional medicine as remedy for the treatment of various diseases.
Lemongrass Essential oil blends well with tea tree, basil, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, ylang ylang, vetiver, thyme, black pepper, helichrysum, sandalwood, clary sage, coriander, cedarwood, palmarosa, cypress, fennel, ginger, turmeric, grapefruit, jasmine, lemon, orange, marjoram, oregano, patchouli and rosemary essential oils.
Origin of Lemongrass
Lemongrass herb originated in Asia and Australia. It was one of those many herbs which used to travel along the spice route from Asia to Europe.
The name lemongrass is derived from the typical lemon-like odor of the essential oil present in the shoot.
It is a perennial tropical grass with thin-long leaves, and is one of the main medicinal and aromatic plants cultivated in Algeria.
Also, it is cultivated mostly for its essential oil, in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, South America, and Africa.
Other common names for lemongrass plant are:
- West Indian lemongrass or lemongrass (English),
- Hierba limon, hierva Luisa, citronela or zacate de limón (Spanish),
- Citronelle or verveine des indes (French) and
- Xiang mao (Chinese), among others.
About Cymbopogon Species
Nowadays, due to its numerous benefits, there is a large international demand for the essential oils of Cymbopogon species.
The genus Cymbopogon (Poaceae family) is the most important from the point of view of their essential oils.
The genus comprises of about 140 species of which most are aromatic, and yield an essential oil upon the steam distillation of their aerial parts.
Some most important species of this genus are:
- Cymbopogon flexuosus Stapf. (East Indian lemongrass)
- Cymbopogon citratus DC Stapf. (West Indian lemongrass)
- Cymbopogon nardus (L)
- Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt (citronella)
- Cymbopogon martinii Roxb. (palmarosa)
- C. nardus x C. jwarancusa (jamarosa hybrid )
Essential oils from Cymbopogon species of diverse origin have been studied extensively, both previously and currently. Reason why, essential oils from these species are widely used in flavours, fragrances, cosmetics, soaps, detergents and perfumery owing to their typical lemon and rose-like aroma.
Cymbopogon essential oils and constituents, have been known to possess impressive antibacterial, antifungal, antiyeast, insecticidal and insect repellent activities for a long time.
However, the biological and pharmacological significance of these essential oils has been rapidly expanded in the past two decades. Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, allelopathic, free radical scavanging, and other useful biological activities, have now been demonstrated.
Cymbopogon essential oils and constituents offer outstanding biological activities and therefore may be used in the treatment of several diseases, including cancers, and in applications of industrial importance particularly food packaging.
Chemical Compounds of Lemongrass Essential Oil
The essential oils of Cymbopogon species mainly consist of the monoterpene fractions.
Several reports published earlier have revealed the presence of citral (a mixture of geranial and neral), geraniol, citronellol, citronellal, linalool, elemol, 1,8-cineole, limonene, geraniol, β-caryophyllene, methyl heptenone, geranyl acetate and geranyl.
Format in the essential oils of different species with marked variations have been reported.
Also, the essential oil components are greatly influenced by genetic, environmental and geographical conditions.
The essential oils in Cymbopogon species are biosynthesized in the rapidly growing leaves and stored in specific oil cells in the parenchymal tissues.
However, in general, the main active principles of lemongrass oil are myrcene, citronellal, geranyl acetate, nerol, geraniol, neral, terpineol, methyl heptenone, dipentene, limonene, citral and other (>200) compounds.
Properties of Lemongrass Essential Oil
Biological research has shown that the various chemical compounds in lemongrass essential oil possess antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, and mosquito repellent properties.
Also, it possess antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiseptic, antioxidant, antiviral, antidepressant, antipyretic, astringent, carminative, deodorant, diuretic, febrifuge, sedative, nervine, digestive, appetite suppressing, tonic, detoxifying and pesticidal properties.
In Asia and Africa, lemongrass essential oil is used as antiseptic, antitussive, anti-rheumatic and to treat diabetes, backache, sprains, and hemoptysis.
Uses Of Lemongrass Essential Oil
Lemongrass essential oil has a considerable commercial importance because it is used in the manufacture of fragrances, perfumery, cosmetics, detergents and pharmaceuticals.
In addition, lemongrass oil is widely used in culinary flavoring. It is used in most major categories of food including: alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages; frozen dairy desserts; candy baked foods; gelatins and puddings; meat and meat product; and fat and oils.
Also, it is used to improve the flavor of some fishes, wines, sauces, chicken and rice preparations, as well as unique flavoring for Green tea.
Besides, it is used for the isolation of citral for vitamin A and many other aroma chemicals. Lemongrass oil has a very pleasant aroma of natural citral, and can be used in citrus perfumes as such.
Lemongrass oil was a traditional source of citral. This oil was used as a raw material for the manufacture of ionones and methyl ionones.
No limit is specified in the use of lemongrass oil in flavors and fragrances. However, citral has certain restrictions as per IFRA guidelines.
Citral, one of the major component of essential oils in lemongrass, is commonly used in soaps, perfumes, detergents, cosmetics, and candles. Most soaps and aftershaves with a fresh lime fragrance use citral as an ingredient.
The essential oil of lemongrass is a popular ingredient in aromatherapy as well.
Therapeutic Uses of Lemongrass Essential Oil
The herb (or its essential oil) may be applied externally to help treat acne, athlete’s foot, lower back pain, sciatica, sprains, tendinitis, neuralgia, and rheumatism.
To treat circulatory disorders, some authorities recommend rubbing a few drops of lemongrass oil on the skin of affected areas. It is believed to work by improving blood flow.
Lemongrass and its oil is traditionally used for treating fever, stomach complains, headaches, diabetes, rheumatism, hypertension, wounds and bone fractures, among others.
Other common uses for Lemongrass Essential Oil
- Relaxes and tones muscles
- Soothes muscle pain
- Alleviates pain associated with joints such as rheumatism, arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc.
- Enhances concentration
- Soothes back and neck pain caused by stress
- Deodorizes environments
- Natural cleaner and disinfectant for home
- Improves the health of the skin and hair
- Insects repellent
- Calms states of stress, depression and anxiety
- Treatment for fungi
- Improves circulation and reduces cholesterol
- Strengthens the immune system
- Menstrual cramp relief
- Improves and protects the digestive system
- Relieves migraines and headaches
- Disinfects wounds
- Reduces fever
- Alleviates inflammation
- Natural antioxidant
- Fights colds and flu
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Benefits of Lemongrass Essential Oil
Like essential oils, monoterpene, constituent of the essential oil have displayed useful bioactivities. For instance, citral, a major constituent in essential oils of many Cymbopogon species has shown strong antimicrobial properties against plant and human pathogens and insecticidal properties.
Similarly, limonene and borneol present in the lemongrass essential oil of C. flexuosus have immunostimulatory, analgesic and anaesthetic properties, respectively.
Some other constituents such as geraniol, geranyl acetate, α-bisabolol and isointermedeol have also been correlated with different types of bioactivities.
On the other hand, Isointermedeol, a major component in lemongrass C. flexuosus essential oil, possesses anticancer properties.
The number of reports describing the bioactivities of Cymbopogon essential oils is growing. Most of the bioactivities shown by Cymbopogon essential oils are exposed in the following sections.
Rapidly developing resistance of pathogenic microorganisms against currently available drugs/treatment is a major concern in recent years.
Essential oils of Cymbopogon species have strong antimicrobial properties and thus could produce alternative therapeutics to current antibiotic drugs.
The antimicrobial properties of C. flexuosus, C. citratus, C. martinii, C. winterianus, C. nardus, and C. parkeri, have been well documented.
Most of the studies have determined the antimicrobial activity of the essential oil and its constituents in terms of minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC), which is required for 50% inhibition of the growth of microorganisms.
From these studies it has become clear that essential oils of Cymbopogon species have outstanding anti-fungal effects and significant antibacterial activities.
According to a 2005 study by Dr. Sue Chao, lemongrass oil is one of the top six essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, loss of function in the joints. The rheumatoid arthritis is very common among the age groups of 30-60.
To do a research on the effect of lemongrass oil on rheumatoid arthritis, a total of 30 participants who were suffering from rheumatoid arthritis were chosen.
They were given lemongrass oil to apply for about 30 days, in which, the pain scale was noted for every 2 to 3 days.
The result showed a mild changes in the pain levels of the patient. Further application would significantly show a greater decrease in the pain levels of the patient.
This study was conducted to create awareness about the effect of lemongrass oil on rheumatoid arthritis, a disease more common in old people.
It is important keep in mind that the effect of lemongrass oil on rheumatoid arthritis was noted after 30 days of application. The pain scale showed a significant decrease in the pain levels.
The pain levels had decreased gradually. Any application of oil, will not give the result immediately.
Similarly, the lemongrass oil showed a very gradual decrease in the pain levels of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
In terms of pain scale, on an average, the pain scale before the treatment was at 8 and after the treatment, it got gradually decreased to 5. In terms of percentage, the pain levels got decreased from 80% to 50% approximately.
The urinary metabolites of citral, the main constituent of lemongrass oil (up to 80%), was studied in male rats.
Urine was collected for 24 hours after a single oral citral dose of 500mg/kg. The elimination in the urine was found to be rapid, with approximately 50% of the dose excreted within 24 hours.
Citral was rapidly metabolized and excreted as metabolites. The metabolites were a biliary glucuronide and several acids.
Yeast and filamentous fungi strains. The in vitro antifungal activity of lemongrass essential oil was evaluated against eight yeast and seven filamentous fungi strains: eight pathogenic Candida strains comprising Candida albicans, C. parapsilosis, and C. tropicalis; five pathogenic Aspergillus strains (A. niger, A. terreus, A. flavus, and A. fumigatus); one Penicillium sp. strain; and one Mucor sp. strain.
The isolates, were obtained from patients with mucocutaneous and superficial fungal infections.
Results of the present study indicate that lemongrass essential oil has a noteworthy potential for the development of drugs for the treatment of fungal infections and skin inflammation, that should be explored in future studies.
The essential oil from C. citratus has been found to be useful in treatment of oral and vaginal candidiasis, with citral exhibiting powerful inhibitory effects on growth of the yeast.
Other yeasts significantly affected include Candida oleophila, Hansenula anomala, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, S. uvarum, Schizosaccharomyces pombe and Metschnikowia fructicola.
Lemongrass oil from Cymbopogon citratus, has also shown significant inhibitory activities against a number of filamentous fungi. Namely Alternaria alternata, Aspergillus niger, Fusarium oxysporum and Penicillium roquefortii.
Lemongrass essential oil has shown antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) in vitro. A concentration of 0.1% lemongrass oil, completely inhibited viral replication when there was direct interaction with the virions at 4Cº for 24 hours.
Aqueous extracts of Lemongrass oil (Cymbopogon citratus), reduced cardiac rate and did not alter contractile force in isolated hearts of male rats.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon goeringii) volatile oil, inhibited the contraction and prolonged the functional refractory period in isolated guinea pig papillary muscles and atrium, suggesting the anti-arrhythmic actions of this species.
On the other hand, lemongrass essential oil also demonstrated vasorelaxation on isolated, perfused, mesenteric artery preparation, and appears to be mediated by nitric oxide-independent and non-postanoid mechanisms.
Cymbopogon citratus oil, showed some hypotensive effects that were dose related when given intravenously to rats. It also showed some weak diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects when given orally to the rats.
The most defined work on anticancer activity of Cymbopogon essential oil has been recently carried out. The two reports provided deeper insight in to anticancer principle of the essential oil and its mechanisms of action.
Kumar et al. have investigated the anticancer activity of C. flexuosus (CFO) essential oil and its major constituent, isointermedeol (ISO) in human leukemia HL-60 cells.
This study revealed that C. flexuosus essential oil and isointermedeol (ISO) induce apoptosis in human leukemia HL-60 cells and anticancer activity.
All the results suggest lemongrass oil and citral emulsion could be considered as potent candidates for anticancer agents.
Antiproliferative and anti-inflammatory activities
The antiproliferative effect of Lemongrass essential oil (C. citratus) against Trypanosoma cruzi, was demonstrated to be due to citral. Citral also showed significant trypanocidal activity against the parasite.
In addition, the pharmaceutical potential of lemongrass essential oil has been demonstrated in rodents by a well-designed study, in which citral, a major component of this essential oil, was combined with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, naproxen, and administered orally to laboratory rats.
Compared to naproxen alone, the naproxencitral combination produced similar anti-inflammatory action but with minimal gastric side effects.
Antioxidants are substances with the ability to scavenge free radicals, and the essential oils of Cymbopogon species have shown this ability on that.
Research suggests that lemongrass essential oil has antimicrobial activity, antioxidant activity and DNA damage protectively, which could be helpful in preventing various human pathogenic organisms and oxidative stress induced disease.
The connection between lemongrass oil and cholesterol was investigated by researchers from the Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Wisconsin, who published their findings in the medical journal Lipids in 1989.
They conducted a clinical trial involving 22 people with high cholesterol levels, who took 140-mg capsules of Lemon Grass oil daily. While cholesterol levels were only slightly affected in some of the participants, cholesterol was lowered from 310 to 294 on average. Besides Other people in the study experienced a significant decrease in blood fats.
The latter group, characterized as responders, experienced a 25-point drop in cholesterol after one month, and this positive trend continued over the course of the short study.
After three months, cholesterol levels among the responders had decreased by a significant 38 points. Once the responders stopped taking Lemon Grass, their cholesterol returned to previous levels.
It should be noted that this study did not involve a placebo group, which is usually used to help measure the effects of the agent being studied (in this case, Lemon Grass oil).
Gingivitis and periodontitis
A 2011 study, found that lemongrass oil may help fight oxidative stress, which may cause gingivitis and periodontitis. Using lemongrass oil-infused mouthwash showed significant antioxidant activity in all three concentration levels.
Other biological activities of Lemongrass Essential Oil
Essential oils of Cymbopogon species have some other less studied bioactivities. Lemongrass essential oil from Cymbopogon citratus is reported to possess additional properties such as antinociceptive, anxiolytic-type, and neurobehavioral activity.
Aqueous extracts of C. citratus leaves have shown hypoglycaemic and hypolipidaemic effects in rats suggesting its possible therapeutic role in Type 2 diabetic mellitus.
Administration of aqueous extracts of leaves (125-500 mg/kg body weight) in normal male Wistar rates for 42 days resulted in a significant decline in fasting plasma glucose, increase in plasma HDL-c level and no change in plasma triglycerides level.
Recently, Wright et al. have reported that lemon juice and Lemongrass (C. citratus) infusion is safe and highly effective in the treatment of oral thrush in HIV/AIDS patients, in comparison to group using gentian violet aqueous solution (0.5%).
This randomized controlled trial, validated the efficacy of lemon juice and lemongrass for the treatment of oral candidiasis in an HIV population in South Africa.
Warnings and Precautions when using Lemongrass Essential Oil
Lemongrass oil is generally safe as long as it is used in prudent doses and properly blended with a carrier oil, since undiluted, can burn and irritate the skin.
Because lemongrass essential oil contains high citral amount, which could irritate sensitive skin, it is advisable to perform a patch test before applying topically, to avoid unwanted effects.
The use of lemongrass oil is not recommended for children, pregnant women or nursing moms.
Those with diabetes, liver or kidney disease and other health conditions should also consult their physician before using lemongrass essential oil.
Rashes, skin irritation, discomfort and a burning sensation are some topical side effects experienced by people with sensitivity to lemongrass essential oil.
Using the oil may also alter your blood glucose, so people with diabetes should seek medical advice before consuming this oil.
Where to buy Lemongrass Essential Oil?
Generally, good quality oils, that is, 100% pure, therapeutic grade and not mixed with other substances, can be found in specialized natural herb stores.
If you can not reach a trusted naturist or herbalist shop near you, here are some online products recommendations:
Scent Characteristics: Fresh, grassy-citrus, earthy scent.
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Tips for a better performance and duration of your oils:
- Store them in a dark glass bottle, never plastic, not even when blended with a carrier oil.
- Keep them in cool, dark places, away from sources of heat and light.
- Maintain the container that holds it tightly closed, since they are very volatile and also, their properties would be lost or modified.