I bet you have heard about citronella essential oil before. Or even better… You have used the oil before – whether it was in a candle or bug spray or insect repellent. Yes? I’m not surprised. Citronella essential oil is one of the most common oils. And for good reason too! It has a lot of benefits – especially against insects.
But did you know there are two species of plants that are used to make citronella oil? One is Ceylon citronella and the other is Java citronella. Both have unique properties, benefits and uses which we will get into now.
Citronella Essential Oil Properties
As I said before, Ceylon citronella and Java citronella are the two source plants typically used to produce citronella essential oil. The botanical name for Ceylon citronella is Cymbopogon nardus Rendle and for Java citronella, it is Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt.
You will notice these botanical names are very similar to that of lemongrass. West Indian lemongrass is Cymbopogon citratus and East Indian lemongrass is Cymbopogon flexuosus. In fact, citronella is sometimes mixed up with lemongrass essential oil. So please, verify the botanical name before buying this essential oil.
Color & Smell of citronella oil
Both oils are usually colorless but can be pale yellow. And the smell? Well, the citronella essential oil smell is unique, lemony, and grass-like.
What is in citronella oil?
The compounds in Ceylon citronella essential oil include geraniol (which can make up over 20% of the oil), limonene, methyl isoeugenol, citronellol and citronellal. Geranial, neral, and geranyl acetate were also found in this 2003 study.
The chemical composition of Java citronella is very similar to its Ceylon counterpart. But the amounts differ. For instance, citronellal is the main compound in Java citronella essential oil as it can make up about 40% of the oil. Other compounds include geraniol, citronellol, alpha-cadinol, geranyl acetate, germacrene B and limonene.
All these compounds are responsible for the insect repellent and other benefits of citronella essential oil. Let see what these benefits are.
Citronella Essential Oil Benefits
Because there are two sources of citronella essential oil, I have split up the benefits into two – one for the benefits of Ceylon citronella and the other for the benefits of Java citronella.
Ceylon Citronella Essential Oil Benefits
It may decrease appetite
This 2015 animal study is certainly a unique one. It tested the effects of inhaling citronella oil, citronellal and citronellol on rats in terms of weight, liver function and blood lipid levels. The study was done over a five week period.
The results? Inhaling citronella oil and citronellol caused the rats to experience a decreased appetite, lower weight gain and lower blood cholesterol levels. And there was no liver function damage. Yay!
Before adding citronella inhalation to your workout routine, remember this is an animal study. This is not a proven clinical benefit of citronella essential oil. So you may not see similar decreased appetite and weight loss effects when you inhale the oil.
It is antibacterial
Several studies prove Ceylon citronella has antibacterial benefits. Consider this 2015 study. It tested ten essential oils on four pathogens that cause tooth decay and other oral problems. The oils were used at concentrations of 1%, 0.1% and 0.01%.
The study noted citronella essential oil had the highest antibacterial activity since it completely inhibited the growth of two pathogens at all three concentrations. That’s pretty impressive.
It is also antifungal
Ceylon citronella also has strong antifungal benefits too. That is according to this 1999 study. In fact, the results showed the essential oil inhibited the fungi Candida albicans at concentrations of 0.12%.
It is insecticidal and repellent
Like if you didn’t know this already! Ceylon citronella essential oil has great insecticidal, repellent and ovicidal effects. And there are lots of studies that prove it.
Take a look at this 2005 study. The study tested the repellency of 38 essential oils including citronella, patchouli and clove against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The researchers applied 10% and 50% blends to the forearms of volunteers and found that repellency lasted for one to two hours. Note, undiluted citronella oil provided two hours of repellent action.
While citronella essential oil is considered safe, I do not recommend placing neat or undiluted oils on your skin. You can get sensitized to them or experience skin irritation and dryness.
Another study (2011) investigated the ovicidal properties of five essential oils – basil, celery seed, citronella, peppermint, and rosemary – against eggs of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Interestingly, at concentrations of 1%, peppermint, citronella and basil killed all the eggs under investigation.
This is why Ceylon citronella essential oil is so widely used as an all-natural insecticide and repellent.
Java Citronella Essential Oil Benefits
It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pain relieving
Those are quite a few benefits of Java citronella essential oil just grouped together, right? Well, that’s because they are all covered in this 2010 animal study. The study used multiple tests to show the mice under investigation had fewer pain responses and inflammation after being administered the oil. In addition, the free radical scavenging and antioxidant properties were also demonstrated.
While this study is noteworthy, I should point out that the mice were fed the oil. And I do not recommend oral intake of this or any essential oil. Also note, this was an animal study, so these findings may not be the same when considered from a clinical standpoint. Hence, I said the oil MAY be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pain relieving.
It is definitely antibacterial
This 2008 study compared the antimicrobial benefits of citronella and caraway essential oils against 7 bacterial species. Both oils exhibited antibacterial potential, but caraway essential oil was the stronger of the two.
It is a strong antifungal oil
There are several studies that demonstrate the anti-fungal benefits of Java citronella essential oil. Here’s a look at two studies, both published in 2011.
This one studied the effects of Java citronella on fifteen strains of the fungi, Candida albicans. The results showed that, at low concentrations, the essential oil killed all the strains being tested.
This other study tested the oil on Trichophyton rubrum, the fungi responsible for ringworm. Yes ringworm infections are caused by a fungi… not a worm… And yes, Java citronella exhibited antifungal benefits against the fungi.
It’s also insecticidal and repellent
Of course, insecticidal and repellent benefits of Java citronella essential oil have also been observed. Like in this 2016 study. The study tested the oil on the larvae of the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), a common corn pest. The results? Citronella oil killed the larvae! And at lower than lethal concentrations, citronella damaged the reproductive capabilities of the larvae. So less corn pests!
Another study (2001) proved that Java citronella had repellent effects against three mosquito species (Aedes aegypti, Anopheles dirus and Culex quinquefasciatus). Under cage conditions, the repellency lasted for up to eight hours. Impressive!
It is a mild acaricide
Here’s another interesting benefit. It may have acaricidal effects. That is according to this 2014 study done on cattle ticks (Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus). Concentrations used for this study ranged from 0.5% to about 15%. After 20 days of treatment with citronella oil, the acaricidal rates ranged from 2% to 55%. Clearly, the oil isn’t strong, but it does have some mild to moderate acaricidal benefits.
It kills snails too
This 2013 study looked at the effects of citronella oil on ram’s horn snails (Biomphalaria glabrata) and brine shrimp (Artemia salina). The snail is an intermediate host for bloodflukes, a parasitic flatworm that can infect humans. And brine shrimp are sensitive organisms that are used to test the toxicity of chemicals.
The study showed, at low concentrations, Java citronella oil killed the snails but only had moderate effects on the brine shrimp. As such, the researchers concluded this essential oil is relatively safe for dealing with freshwater snails that host bloodflukes.
Interesting right? Well, those are all the benefits of citronella essential oil – for both Ceylon and Java. Were you surprised by any?
Uses of Citronella Essential Oil
There are so many ways you can use citronella essential oil.
One of the easiest way is to add it to your diffuser. It’ll keep the bugs away and MAYBE even reduce your appetite. I mean, why not? Citronella essential oil also blends really well with bergamot, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, orange, and peppermint oils.
You can absolutely use this oil on your skin too. But it is always best to patch test first and use it at dilute concentrations. While the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) does classify topically applied citronella oil as safe, I personally think you should still dilute it with a carrier oil (like apricot kernel or jojoba oils) before lathering it on. And I am always a fan of 5% concentration blends (or even lower).
I have certainly made my own citronella repellent sprays. I make a large batch and use it as repellent. Then I go hunting around my home and garden looking for ants, spiders, and any other bug I find. Huh! I sound like a monster! Anyway, a good repellent mix includes adding about 10-15 drops of citronella essential oil to 4 ounces of water in a spray bottle. Shake well before applying it to your clothes and exposed skin. You can also add a little witch hazel or ethanol to your mix.
You can use the same repellent mix above to handle your bug problems. Or you can make it much more concentrated. In fact, you can add up to 30 drops of citronella oil to your 4 ounce bottle. But don’t forget, when dealing with concentrated blends, wear gloves and protective clothes. You don’t want your hands peeling a day or two after using it. This happened to me a lot. It’s not fun. So safety first!
This essential oil is considered safe but it is still important to check with your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or on any medication. Again, safety first!
Where to buy citronella essential oil?