Facts about Citronella

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Citronella Quick Facts
Name: Citronella
Scientific Name: Cymbopogon nardus
Origin Southeast Asia and grown commercially in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Indonesia and Java
Health benefits Support for intestinal worms, stomach pain, rheumatism, digestive problems, fever and intestinal problems, treat colds, flu and headaches, leprosy and epilepsy
Cymbopogon nardus, commonly known as citronella grass, is a species of perennial aromatic plant from the Poaceae / Gramineae (Grass family). The plant is native to Southeast Asia and grown commercially in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Indonesia and Java. It is widely naturalized in tropical Asia and grown as an ornamental in South Florida and southern California. Its native status in Africa is disputed. It is the source of an essential oil known as citronella oil, which is widely used for its natural insect-repelling properties. Some of the popular common names of the plants are Ceylon citronella, citronella, citronella grass, giant turpentine grass, nard grass, new citronella grass, reuse terpentyngras, citronelle, ceyloncitronell, citronellgras, citronela de Java, zacate limón, nardus, Geranium grass, Mana grass, Nardus grass, Tambookie grass and lemon grass. The plant cannot be eaten because of its unpalatable nature, and is an invasive species that renders pastureland useless, since cattle will starve even in its abundance.

Citronella Facts

Name Citronella
Scientific Name Cymbopogon nardus
Native Native to southeast Asia and grown commercially in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Indonesia and Java. It is widely naturalized in tropical Asia and grown as an ornamental in South Florida and southern California. Its native status in Africa is disputed.
Common Names Ceylon citronella, citronella, citronella grass, giant turpentine grass, nard grass, new citronella grass, reuse terpentyngras, citronelle, ceyloncitronell, citronellgras, citronela de Java, zacate limón, nardus, Geranium grass, Mana grass, Nardus grass, Tambookie grass, lemon grass
Name in Other Languages Afrikaans: Sitronella, Reuseterpentyngras, Tamboekiegras
Albanian: Citronella
Amharic: Citronella-ˌsitrəˈnelə (ሲትሮኔላ)
Arabic: Alsitrunila (السترونيلا)             
Armenian: Kitronela (կիտրոնելա), citronella
Azerbaijani: Sitronella, citronella
Basque: Citronella
Belarusian: Citraniella (цітранелла)
Bengali: Nibāraṇakārī sā iṭrōnēlā (নিবারণকারী সাইট্রোনেলা)
Bosnian: Citronele
Brazil: Ceilao lenabatu, citronela do
Bulgarian: Citronella (цитронела), цитронела
Burmese: Citronella (sitrəˈnelə),    (hsap-pra sa.pa:ling), Kaingbyu-mi, Myet-hmwe, Sa.pa:ling,  Sa.pa:ling hsi-mhwé:, Sabalin-hmwe, Singu-myet, hcaparr lain se mwhaayy (စပါးလင်ဆီမွှေး)
Catalan: Citronella
Cebuano: Sama sa citronella
Chichewa: Citronella
Chinese: Xiāng máo (香茅), Ya xiang mao (亚 香茅), Xiang mao (香茅), Yà xiāng máo (亞香茅)
Congo Democratic Republic: False citronella
Corsican: Citronella
Croatian: Citronele
Czech: Citronella
Danish: Citronella, Lenabatugræs
Dutch: Citronella, Citroenmelisse
English: Citronella, Ceylon citronella, Citronella grass, Geranium grass, Mana grass, Nard grass, Nardus grass, Tambookie grass, Giant turpentine grass, New citronella grass, lemon grass
Esperanto: Citronelo, cimbopogono
Estonian: Tsitronella, citronella
Filipino: Citronella
Finnish: Citronella, Jäkkisitrusheinä
French: Citronelle, citronnelle de Ceylan, citronnelle de Sri Lanka
Frisian: Citronella
Galician: Citronela
Georgian: Tsit’ronela (ციტრონელა), citronella
German: Citronella, Ceyloncitronell, Citronellgras, Nardusgras, dichtblattriges Zitronellagras
Greek: Aromatódis chlói (αρωματώδης χλόη), aromatódis chlói (αρωματώδης χλόη),  Kitronella (Κιτρονέλλα),  Lemonochorto (Λεμονόχορτο)
Gujarati: Siṭrōnēlā (સિટ્રોનેલા), citronella
Haitian Creole: Sitwonèl
Hausa: Citronella
Hawaiian: Akala
Hebrew: Citronella, ציטרונלה
Hindi: Sitronela (सिट्रोनेला), naid grass
Hmong: Citronella
Hungarian: Citromfüvet, citronella
Icelandic: Sítrónu, Citronella
Igbo: Citronella
Indonesian: Serai, serai wangi
Irish: Citronella
Italian: Citronella, Citronella di Ceylon
Japanese: Shitoronera (シトロネラ), Kou suigaya (コ ウスイガヤ   ),     Seiron shitironera (セ イロンシトロネラ),  Shitoronera (シトロネラ),  Shitoronera gurasu (シトロネラグラ ス)
Javanese: Citronella, Seré
Kannada: Siṭronellā (ಸಿಟ್ರೊನೆಲ್ಲಾ), Kamāci hullu (ಕಮಾಚಿ ಹುಲ್ಲು)
Kazakh: Citronella (цитронелла), tsitronellı (цитронеллы)
Kenya: Blue citronella grass
Khmer: Citronella
Kinyarwanda: Citronella
Korean: Siteulo nella (시트로 넬라)
Kurdish: Citronella
Kyrgyz: Citronella
Lao: Sitrəˈnelə (citronella), hua sikhai (ຫົວສີໄຄ)
Latin: Citronella
Latvian: Citronella
Lithuanian: Citronella, kvapiųjų citrinžolių
Luxembourgish: Citronella
Macedonian: Citronela (цитронела), citronella
Malagasy: Citronella
Malay: Citronella, Serai wangi
Malayalam: Siṭrēānella (സിട്രോനെല്ല), sarvādhipanāṁ (സര്വാധിപനാം)
Maltese: Citronella
Mali: Tiberimt, tiekala-ba
Maori: Citronella
Marathi: Sitronela (सिट्रोनेला), citronella
Mongolian: Citronella (цитронелла)     
Myanmar (Burmese): Citronella
Nepali: Sitronela (सिट्रोनेला), citronella
Netherlands: Citroenmelisse
Nigeria: Tsaure
Niuean: Kamapui
Norwegian: Citronella
Oriya: ସାଇଟ୍ରୋନେଲା |
Pashto: Citronella
Persian: سیترونلا
Polish: Citronella, Cytronella, Palczatka szczetna
Portuguese: Citronella, Citronela de Ceilan, Citronela do Ceilão, Lenabatu, citronela-de-java, Capim-de-cheiro, Capim-santo
Punjabi: Siṭarōnēlā (ਸਿਟਰੋਨੇਲਾ)
Romanian: Lămâiță        
Russian: Tsitronelly (цитронеллы), Кафа (ајурведској медицини), Citronella (Цитронелла), Pomerantsevaya trava (Померанцевая трава)
Samoan: Citronella
Scots Gaelic: Citronella
Senegal: Beignefala
Serbian: Citronella (цитронела)
Sesotho: Citronella
Shona: Citronella
Sindhi: سائيٽرونلا
Sinhala: Pæn̆giri (පැඟිරි)            
Somali: Citronella
Southern Africa: Reuse terpentyngras
Slovak: Citronella
Slovenian: Citronela
Spanish: Citronella, Zacate limón
SriLanka: Lenabatu citronella
Sundanese: Citronella, sitronella
Swahili: Citronella
Swedish: Citronella, Citronellagräs
Taiwan: Citronella grass
Tajik: Citronella-ˌsitrəˈnelə
Tamil: Ciṭrōṉellā (சிட்ரோனெல்லா)
Tatar: цитронелла
Telugu: Krimisanhārika tailamu (క్రిమిసంహారిక తైలము)
Thai: Takhịr̂h̄xm (ตะไคร้หอม), dtôn-jà-krái-má-kòot (ต้นจะไคร้มะขูด  ),  Ta khrai hom (ตะไคร้ หอม)
Turkish: Esans çıkarılan bir Güney Asya out
Turkmen: Sitronella
Ukrainian: Citronela (цитронела), tsytronelly (цитронелли)
Urdu: Citronella
Uyghur: Citronella
Uzbek: Sitronella, citronella
Vietnamese: Cây sả, Cu Sa
Welsh: Citronella, sitronela
Xhosa: Citronella
Yiddish: Sitronella (סיטראָנעללאַ)
Yoruba: Citronella
Zulu: Icronella, citronella, isiQunga
Plant Growth Habit Tall tufted, aromatic, evergreen, clump-forming, long-lived perennial grass
Growing Climates Grassland and open woodland, moist, lowland tropics
Soil Tolerant of a wide range of well-drained soils, moderately rich, moist soil will produce the best growth
Plant Size 6ft tall (1.8m) and 4ft wide (1.2m) in the right conditions
Culm Culms tufted, robust, up to 2.5 m tall, 1-2 cm in diameter
Leaf They also have narrow, tall lance-shaped, blade-looking foliage. It can grow up to 60-70 centimeters long.
Flower Flower cluster is narrow, 15-30 cm long with racemes (unbranched inflorescence) 8-10 mm long, often rather covered with long soft hairs; spikelets without stalks, flat or concave on the back with winged keels (resembling the keel of a boat), awn (bristle-like structure) 5-6 cm long.
Flavor Lemony scent
Propagation By Seed
Plant Parts Used Whole part of plant, leaves
  • Essential oil may cause skin irritation.
  • Children, in particular, might be sensitive to pesticides.
  • Citronella can result in skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals when applied topically.
  • It might also result in skin allergies in some individuals with frequent or prolonged exposure. 
  • People might cough or have throat irritation after ingesting citronella.
  • Not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  • Citronella Essential Oil must be well diluted with a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation.

Plant Description

Citronella is a tall tufted, aromatic, evergreen, clump-forming, long-lived perennial grass that normally grows about 6 ft. (1.8m) tall and 4 ft. (1.2m) wide in the right conditions. The plant is occasionally cultivated in tropical areas for its essential oil, which is used as food flavoring. In cooler climates, citronella plants are grown as annuals and brought indoors over winter. It’s closely related to lemon grass. The plant is found growing in grassland, open woodland, moist and lowland tropics. It is tolerant of a wide range of well-drained soils, moderately rich, moist soil will produce the best growth. Culms are tufted, robust, up to 1.5 m tall, 1-2 cm in diameter.


Citronella’s mid-green leaf blades grow from a crown and can be up to 1m long. They are narrow, tall lance-shaped and blade-looking. The base of the leaf, known as a pseudo-stem, is a reddish color. Like all grasses, it does produce flower stems and seed heads, but they are not the main attraction.

Citronella looks like, and is closely related to, lemongrass, but they are not interchangeable! Lemongrass does not have any red at the base of its stems—they are green.


Panicle (flower cluster) is narrow, 15-30 cm long with racemes (unbranched inflorescence) 8-10 mm long, often rather covered with long soft hairs; spikelets without stalks, flat or concave on the back with winged keels (resembling the keel of a boat), awn (bristle-like structure) 5-6 cm long.

Different uses of Citronella

1. Insect Repellent

With a strong reputation for repelling biting insects, Citronella essential oil consists of volatile oils that irritate mosquitoes in particular. Whilst there is much controversy about the effectiveness of Citronella and its protection from bites, there is certainly research to back it up. In 2011, an analysis of 11 studies on the capabilities of Citronella oil, researchers found that when combined with vanillin, the oil did certainly provide protection for up to three hours. Additionally, research was published in “The Israel Medical Association Journal” which showed how Citronella can be effective in helping to prevent head lice too.

If you are using this oil as an insect repellent, it is vital that it is diluted at around a 2% dilution to avoid skin irritation. If Citronella is being used alone to repel insects, research indicates that it needs to be reapplied every 30 minutes to 1 hour to remain bite free. Some researchers recommend mixing Citronella with other bug battling essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, neem and lemongrass.

2. Antibacterial/Antiseptic

Citronella oil is rich in the compound methyl isoeugenol which imparts powerful antibacterial and antiseptic qualities to this essential oil. With an invigorating, fresh lemony scent, Citronella is also an excellent addition to natural house cleaning products. It will disinfect kitchen surfaces, bathrooms, floors, and all whilst leaving a lovely chemical free aroma in the room – this makes it a perfect air freshener too, whilst keeping the home free of airborne pathogens.

3. Anxiety/Stress

Citronella has a naturally uplifting and happy smell, with research showing that it can be both uplifting and relaxing. It appears to work on both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, providing natural stress relief. The essential oil can also be used (well diluted), for dogs – not only to keep fleas and ticks at bay, it can help to reduce separation anxiety and constant barking.

4. Anti-inflammatory/Pain Relief

Whilst inflammation is a valid healing response by the body, persistent low level inflammation can lead to a whole host of problems and worsen existing ones such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Citronellal is the chief compound found in Citronella oil, with research studies showing it exhibits a strong anti-inflammatory effect. It also contains potent antioxidant compounds that aid in the removal of free radicals, one of the major causes of persistent inflammation.

It can be extremely soothing when diluted with carrier oil and massaged into sore tired muscles, swollen joints and into the abdomen for menstrual cramps. Taken internally it can help to inhibit inflammation in the digestive tract, stomach and liver.

5. Skin Health

This versatile oil can work wonders for the skin. It can help to heal dermatitis and eczema, slow down skin aging and treat fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. As part of a beauty routine, its antibacterial and astringent qualities make Citronella essential oil great for use on oily skin and as a remedy for acne.

6. Hair Health

The high limonene and methyl isoeugenol content in Citronella oil makes it effective in regulating and decreasing the amount of sebum oil produced by the scalp, combating greasy hair. It also soothes and nourishes a dry or itchy scalp, eliminates dandruff and can prevent head lice.

Traditional uses and benefits of Citronella

  • Practitioners claim citronella oil is a stimulant when inhaled or rubbed on the skin, and an antiseptic that can be used to sterilize food preparation surfaces.
  • It is also used in Chinese medicine and traditional medicine for the treatment of rheumatism, digestive problems, fever and intestinal problems, and in aromatherapy to treat colds, flu and headaches.
  • It is used to treat lice and other parasites, like intestinal worms.
  • It is anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal.
  • Bitter and sweet in taste, the plant can cause loose bowels, and feelings of hunger.
  • It can be used to control flatulence and to treat leprosy, epilepsy, and diseases associated with the intestines.
  • Whole plant is used as an antispasmodic, carminative, and diaphoretic.
  • Oil is used topically to relieve joint inflammation; on the scalp to stop hair loss; and on the skin to treat scabies, rashes and other conditions.
  • Liquid from soaking the leaves in hot water can be taken for shooting stomach pains.
  • Juice from crushed leaves is applied to treat arm or leg paralysis.
  • Citronella reduced blood pressure, respiratory rate, and heart rate following inhalation.
  • Individuals who had taken citronella had reported better mood and were fresher.
  • Citronella has an anti-amoebic effect and is effective against Entamoeba histolytica.
  • Citronella also acts as an anti-bacterial and is active against various bacterial organisms like Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella species.
  • Citronella is also effective against body and head lice.
  • Citronella oil can be combined with neem and coconut oil for the prevention of head lice transmission.
  • Citronella is used as a fever reducer, insect repellent, anti-parasitic and as a soothing agent for pain, inflammation and skin healing.
  • In many cultures it has been traditionally used to reduce fevers, as an insect repellent, for digestive issues and to expel intestinal parasites.
  • It is also used to treat lice and other parasites (including intestinal worms!).

Culinary Uses

  • It is used in teas and desserts.
  • Dry the leaves for use as a potpourri.
  • The leaves are a delicious seasoning for tea, curries and soup.
  • The white center of the succulent stems is used to impart a flavor to curries.
  • An aromatic tea can be obtained from the leaves.
  • An essential oil is obtained from the plant.
  • It is much used by the food industry to flavor a wide range of foods.
  • Citral can be used to imitate apple, lemon, strawberry and vanilla flavors.

Other Facts

  • Citronella is the source of citronella oil, used in perfumery and as an insect repellent.
  • Inexpensive soaps sold in Asian markets are scented with citronella oil.
  • Citronella oil can be mixed with other vegetable oils and used in massage or rubbed on the skin for an insect repellent.
  • Citronella candles and incense, however, are less effective.
  • Citronella emits a pleasant fragrance and is planted along walkways or near houses.
  • It is also reported that citronella oil repels cats.
  • Essential oils are extracted from the aerial parts and applied topically or slowly burned as an insect repellent, particularly to deter haematophagous insects such as mosquitoes.
  • Citronella is also used as a fumigant against adult houseflies and red flour beetles.
  • It has a long history of use as an ingredient in perfumes, soaps and natural deodorizers.
  • It has also been widely used in Southeast Asian countries as a flavoring for foods and beverages.
  • It can also be used for thatching, mulching and erosion control.

Prevention and Control

Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product’s label.


Whichever control method is chosen, controlling the weed before it seeds will reduce future problems. Control is generally best applied to the least infested areas before dense infestations are tackled. Consistent follow-up work is required for sustainable management.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

The manipulation of grazing regimes can be used as a management method. Light grazing encourages growth, but heavy grazing pressure of one bullock per hectare prevented re-colonization of C. nardus; however, it is generally avoided by grazers. Periodic heavy stocking was able to convert a slope pasture of 47% C. nardus to a mixed pasture dominated by Brachiaria decumbens. The application of 158 kg N/ha increased the content of B. decumbens still further.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Uprooting the tufts with a hoe is effective over small areas but was deemed impractical on large scale areas due to high labor costs. At 2005 prices, this mode of control was costed at 1 Ankole cow per acre of land cleared (approx. US $175). Burning the grass is also suggested, but C. nardus regrows immediately when the rains come.

Chemical Control

Spot spraying with glyphosphate can reduce C. nardus without negatively impacting indigenous species.















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