Citronella oil: the health, household and aromatherapy benefits of citronella essential oil

An introduction to citronella

While most people immediately think of insect repellants when they think of citronella oil, this citrus-scented essential oil, which is distilled from the leaves of the Cymbopogon nardus grass, is actually good for much more than keeping the bugs away.

As well as citronella's mosquito-repelling properties, it is also a useful skin care oil, and is an ingredient in some suncreams and deoderants.

Citronella oil also has health benefits.

The citronella plant is mostly grown south of the equator; it is a tall grass that grows in clumps of gray-green leaves.

The plant itself looks very coarse and is not something most people would want as the focal point of a summer garden, but even the scent of the grass is enough to keep insects away.


A citronella plant in a garden. This image is in the public domain.
A citronella plant in a garden. This image is in the public domain.

Citronella mosquitoes and other insects

Citronella essential oil is an excellent insect repellant. Although it's normally used to repel mosquitoes, it is also helpful in getting rid of moths, flies, fleas, and ants.

Do not be fooled by the citronella-scented plants many greenhouses will sell, as these will not repel bugs. Instead, unless you live in a warm enough climate to grow citronella, buy a bottle of the essential oil.

In the home and on the patio, use citronella oil in an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer as a general insect repellant. More specifically, you can put a few drops of citronella oil on a cotton ball or a rag, which you can then place in a spot that may attract bugs, such as the kitchen windowsill and the floor of the pantry.

Citronella oil can also be used as a personal insect and mosquito repellant when applied directly to the skin; generally, this oil isn't sensitising, but do test it on a small patch of skin before using it undiluted.

General health benefits of citronella essential oil

Citronella oil can be used on skin wounds to prevent infection and to help with the development of scar tissue.

Use a few drops of citronella essential oil on a bandage to help a wound heal more quickly and to prevent tetanus and other harmful infections. Besides helping with the healing process, citronella oil will smell much better than typical disinfectants.

Taken internally, citronella can also help with digestive complaints and weight loss.

Citronella essential oil is a tonic, which means that it will help tone the muscles of the stomach and intestines, aiding in the overall digestive process.

This oil will also ramp up the functioning of the bladder, acting as a diuretic, and therefore helping to cleanse the body of toxic buildup and fat deposits.

1907 photograph of a citronella oil plantation in Java.
1907 photograph of a citronella oil plantation in Java.

Citronella oil skin care

Citronella oil is also an excellent complexion aid.

If you're struggling with acne or just excessive oil on the skin, use citronella oil in a solution of several essential oils such as chamomile, tea-tree oil or lavender essential oil, or use it directly on the skin.

You can also buy skin care products, especially aromatherapy products or organic ones, which contain the essential oil, without mixing it yourself.

After testing your skin for sensitivity to citronella oil, put a few drops on a cotton ball and apply them directly to problem areas after washing the face each day.

Citronella oil will help tone the skin, and it will tighten the pores.

Citronella oil is also commonly used in sun creams and insect repellants made from natural and non-chemical products, including for babies. It is often mixed with lemongrass oil, cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, and basil oil in such creams and lotions.

Citronella oil and menstrual complaints

Citronella essential oil has emmenagogue properties, which means that it can induce mentruastion and regulate monthy mentrual cycles.

It can be used to help women who have irregular cycles to come back to a normal monthly cycle.

Because of this, it should not be used in high concentrations on pregnant women, though they may benefit from the calming, focusing effects of small quantities citronella oil used simply for aromatherapy.

Citronella aromatherapy

The fresh, citrus scent of citronella oil can lift the mood and help relieve the symptoms of colds and the flu.

Use in in an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporiser to relieve chest congestion and the headaches that come with respiratory diseases. It can also be used in a diffuser with peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil, both of which are also good for chesty problems.

The smell of citronella essential oil will also help to relief the congestion of thoughts that comes with illness, creating instead a sense of calm and balance.

Citronella essential oil can help increase circulation, which means that it has a warming effect on the body.

This means that citronella oil can make an excellent light aromatherapy massage oil for the relief of joint soreness and muscle tension. Simply combine a few drops of citronella essential oil with a base oil, and rub it into the skin using plenty of friction.

Citronella oil will work just as well as many other essential oils at relieving muscle soreness and tension, and it may smell less heavy and flowery than these other oils.

Aromatherapy products containing  citronella often also include other floral essential oils.

Household uses of citronella oil

Used in a spray bottle, citronella oil can disinfect surfaces around the home.

It's also a fungicidal, so it can be an excellent alternative to commercial cleaners meant for bathroom showers and other places that tend to grow fungi and moulds.

On top of this, citronella oil will both kill the bacteria that cause bad odors and will cover over rank smells with its own refreshing scent.

Because of these properties, citronella essential oil can be a great natural deodorant and is, in fact, often used as an ingredient in commercial underarm deodorants.

As citronella is much cheaper than many essential oils, using it around the house is economically possible.

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