Do you know what are the benefits of citronella? This aromatic and perennial grass is cultivated in many parts of the world and used in many sectors, from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.
Part of this is derived from its characteristic aroma, present in the large amount of essential oils. In addition, it has several medicinal properties that make it an important element in traditional medicine.
Because of these medicinal properties and benefits, Home Remedy has prepared this article dedicated to talking all about citronella, where you will find out which types, what it is used for and how to cultivate the herb at home.
Benefits of citronella
The plants popularly known as citronella have several medicinal benefits that make them powerful herbal medicines for various purposes. All properties are related to the presence of essential oils, which are found abundantly in the herb’s leaves.
The main one is citronella, which gave the plant its name, and which has several health benefits confirmed by science. Check out some of the main ones below.
1. Fighting mites
One of the not well-known properties of citronella is that it is acaricide. In other words, the essential oil, which is extracted from the leaves of herbs, has the effect of exterminating mites.
Mites are small animals that belong to the same family as ticks and spiders. They often parasitize other animals or hide in upholstery. Therefore, they can be vectors of several diseases and even trigger respiratory allergies in some people.
A study published in Parasitology Research in 2014 indicated that a solution made with citronella oil and water was more effective in killing these animals than industrialized acaricides. With the added benefit of being a homemade solution, cheap and without health risks. ( 1 )
2. Assists in the treatment of seizures
In traditional medicine in some regions of Brazil, citronella oil or tea is widely used in the treatment of epilepsy, a disease that causes seizures.
A study published in 2008 in the journal Phytomedicine confirmed that the use of essential oil helps reduce seizures, lack of motor coordination and even the response to touch, common symptoms in those who suffer from the problem.
Thus, the study confirmed that citronella essential oil has an anticonvulsant effect as it reduces brain excitation. ( 2 )
3. Insect repellent
One of the best known and most used benefits is the insect repellent action present in citronella. The plant is a viable and safe option for repelling insects that are vectors of diseases, such as several species of mosquitoes. ( 3 )
Because of this, citronella essential oil is present in most insecticides sold on the market, but it can also be used to prepare homemade repellents. ( 4 )
According to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), citronella is best suited for this purpose because it helps to control not only the infestation of insects, but other pests that can compromise crop production. At the same time it poses no risk to other animals and humans. ( 5 )
4. Treat inflammation naturally
Citronella has anti-inflammatory effects and can be used to reduce inflammation in necrosis and ulcers. This is because the essential oil present in the plant helps to reduce the action of substances that cause inflammation and also free radicals. ( 6 )
5. Fighting pains
A study published in 2019, in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology, also indicated that the essential oil of citronella is an antinociceptive. That is, it helps to increase pain tolerance and can also be used as a natural pain reliever.
Thus, citronella tea or essential oil can be used as a substitute for medications used to relieve pain , as it does not have negative side effects.(6)
6. Eliminates fungi
Citronella is also used in several sectors because of its antifungal action. In other words, the extract from the leaves of the plant helps to inhibit the proliferation of various types of fungi that affect crops or foods that are stored for a long time.
A study published in 2013 in Japan Agricultural Research Quarterly indicated that this effect is due to the composition of the essential oil that is extracted from the leaves of herbs, the main compounds being: linalool and citronellol.
Furthermore, when used in the form of steam, it prevents the proliferation of fungi in the environment. Thus, it is a cheaper and safer alternative to keep food free of fungi and insects. ( 7 )
7. Fight bacteria
Citronella essential oil also has antimicrobial and bactericidal action. It can be useful in the treatment of diseases that are caused by this type of organism.
This is mainly derived from the phytochemical compound called eugenol, found in small amounts in citronella essential oil and is considered a powerful natural antiseptic. ( 8 )
8. Eliminates free radicals
Another benefit of citronella, and one that is extremely important for health, is its antioxidant action . That is, it contains phytochemical components that work to combat the degradation of the body’s cells, protecting against various diseases and even cell aging.( 8 )
9. It is a natural tranquilizer
One of the popular uses of citronella in Brazil is as a natural tranquilizer . For this purpose, the most common method of consumption is through the infusion of leaves, which is quite indicated by traditional medicine in some states in northeastern Brazil for cases of anxiety, insomnia and stress.
Like all the other benefits that have already been described, citronella’s calming capacity is derived from the components present in the essential oil which is the main constituent of plant leaves. ( 9 )
In addition, citronella helps to decrease brain arousal. Decreasing anxiety and helping to improve sleep quality when ingested. ( 2 )
10. Helps burn body fat
Finally, citronella can be of great help for those who want to lose weight . A study published in 2015 in the scientific journal Nutrients, indicated that inhaling the steam of the plant’s essential oil stimulates the body to burn fat, in addition to reducing appetite.
These benefits were proven after studies carried out with rats in the laboratory. The group that received the citronella vapor treatment also had a small reduction in bad cholesterol. ( 10 ) However, any treatment performed with the aid of herbs or medications should only be an ally of healthy eating and exercise.
Types of citronella
Citronella is not the popular name for just one medicinal plant, but for two. They are Cymbopogon winterianus and Cymbopogon nardus . Both belong to the same family and have the same medicinal properties.
However, there are some features that help differentiate the two species. The first is taller, the grass can reach two meters in height and contains more beneficial essential oils in its leaves.
While the second type is shorter and is not easy to grow, as it only develops its medicinal properties in rich soils. Both are cultivated and used today around the world and have a similar composition. ( 11 )
How to correctly use the plant
Citronella is a very versatile plant and can be used in different ways, such as in the production of cosmetics and cleaning products and pesticides. This is due to its citrus scent and repellent and bactericidal properties.
Below you will find out how to prepare and use citronella in different ways, check it out.
How to make citronella tea
Citronella tea is widely used in Brazilian folk medicine because of its calming and anticonvulsant effects. In fact, it is common for people to consume citronella tea instead of lemongrass, as the plants have some similarities.
To make this tea you will need two fresh citronella leaves and a cup of water. Leaves should be fresh as they contain a higher concentration of essential oils.
First you must bring the water to a boil. When this happens, turn off and add the citronella leaves, letting the herb steep for ten minutes. Then just strain and drink it hot or cold.
How to make citronella oil
Citronella oil is the part that concentrates all the benefits of the herb, being it very rich in phytochemicals such as citronellol, linalool and eugenol, among several others that are found in smaller amounts.
Oil is not so simple to extract at home, as the best method is by steam. The process gives rise to a pure oil rich in substances beneficial to health. It cannot be prepared at home, as it needs specific equipment to collect the oil that comes out of the cooking steam. ( 4 )
How to make homemade citronella repellent
Unlike oil, which needs special equipment to be extracted, it is possible to prepare a homemade citronella repellent quickly and easily. Best of all, it is very effective and has few side effects, so it can be applied throughout the home.
That said, you can prepare insect repellent in two ways. The first is with fresh leaves, which must be left in a 70% alcohol solution for a week. During this time the citronella releases the necessary properties in the mixture.
After this time, the resulting liquid can be applied around the house, during cleaning or placed in room diffusers, helping to keep the house free of insects for a longer time, as the aroma is released little by little.
The second method of preparing homemade repellent is using the essential oil, which must be mixed with grain alcohol. After that, the repellent is ready to be used throughout the house. ( 4 )
The two herbs that are called citronella are a type of grass. They grow in small tufts and are perennial, that is, they stay alive for a long period of time, producing essential oils.
Both species usually have long green leaves, which have a strong citrus smell, as well as lemongrass , which belongs to the same species and is widely cultivated in Brazil, but has thin and delicate leaves.
As a plant native to Southeast Asia, citronella is better used to hot climates and plenty of sunlight, especially during the leaf growth phase. Likewise, it needs to be watered frequently during the driest periods of the year.
Thus, it can be found in Asian countries such as India, Taiwan and Sri Lanka, as well as in Africa and in parts of Central and South America, where it has become an essential part of folk medicine in various regions.
Currently, it is estimated that, per year, the production of citronella oil exceeds seven thousand barrels. It is mainly intended for the cosmetics industry, perfumes and also pesticides that are more natural and less harmful to health and the environment.
The plants can measure up to one meter, in the nardus type , or reach over two meters in height, as is the case with winterianus . The first type also tends to have smaller and thicker leaves than the second type. In the latter, the leaves are usually thinner and longer.
When macerating the leaves, it is possible to smell the aroma of essential oils, especially citronellol, which is citrus and helps to scare away mosquitoes and other insects. ( 11 )
How to plant at home
Citronella can be planted through seeds. However, the most common method of propagating the herb is through the structures named as tillers. That is, the lateral branches that develop as the plant grows and that give rise to another plant.
According to information from EMBRAPA, the ideal, especially when planting is done for commercial purposes, is that at least three side branches are planted. That way the chance that any of them will survive is greater. ( 12 )
The most common type to be found is the so-called Java citronella or Cymbopogon winterianus . It is easier to care for and delivers a higher quality essential oil. The nardus type is only cultivated in Sri Lanka, which has the ideal climate for growing.
If you want to grow more than one plant in the same space, you need to pay attention to some details. First: space, since, like any type of grass, citronella spreads out to the sides, through a structure called a tiller.
Therefore, it is important that the seedlings are spaced about 60 centimeters apart and are exposed to direct sunlight so that they can develop better. In addition, the best time to plant is during the summer, as the incidence of sunlight on the plants is greater.
Watering, in turn, should be done frequently in the driest months. Always leaving the soil moist but not soggy as it can rot the herb root.
Finally, the plant needs to be pruned a few times a year. This helps to prevent the appearance of leaves, which shorten the life of the herb and also helps to renew the leaves and, consequently, the essential oil present in them. ( 11 )
where to buy and price
Citronella is usually cultivated in several regions of Brazil, as it has adapted well to the country’s tropical climate. That’s why it is easily found in open markets, natural products houses or even in gardens and public flowerbeds.
In online stores you can find everything from seedlings to the extracted essential oil ready to be used. The seedlings, which are taken from the lateral branches of adult plants, are usually sold for an average of R$18 in garden stores.
The leaves are sold, on average, for R$40 an amount of 300 grams. The oil is also easily found throughout Brazil and is sold for different values. Thus, it is possible to find oils from R$13 to R$30 in essence and herbal products stores.
How to make homemade citronella candle?
The citronella candle is widely used to ward off insects, as the heat facilitates the release of the essential oil. However, it may not always be possible to find it easily. Therefore, a good option is to produce them at home and spending little. Check below the list of ingredients and how to prepare.
- Solid paraffin
- citronella essential oil
- Candle shapes or molds
- Pot and water for bain-marie
First, it is necessary to melt the paraffin in a bain-marie, until it forms a smooth and transparent liquid. As the pieces of material melt, it is important to stir constantly to prevent the paraffin from burning.
When everything is melted, add the essential oil and mix some more. The ideal measure is that the oil corresponds to one tenth of the amount of paraffin used to manufacture the candles.
Soon after, place the liquid in the molds chosen for the candles, place the wick and secure it well with a clothespin. Candles must be left to dry for at least a full day before being removed from the tins.
If you want to make colored candles you can add dye or crayon while melting the paraffin. ( 4 )
Care and contraindications
In small amounts citronella oil has no side effects, unless there is sensitivity or allergy to any of the phytochemical components present in it. Therefore, it is important to always pay attention to any possible reaction with the use or consumption, not only of citronella, but of all essential oils.
In large amounts citronella has toxic effects on the kidneys. Therefore, consumption must be done with care and always respecting the 30-day break time after each month of use. ( 6 )