Aromatic grasses have traditionally been used in Indian and Chinese medicine because of their therapeutic properties; these same grasses are also used in aromatherapy as an essential oil. Here’s a quick look at lemongrass, palmarosa, and citronella, with regard to their use today as an essential oil.
Lemongrass Essential Oil
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a member of the Poaceae plant family. It is an aromatic grass that grows to a height of up to five feet. Lemongrass is fast growing and it is native to tropical regions of Asia and India, depending on the exact species of lemongrass. West Indian lemongrass and East Indian lemongrass are the two most common species of lemongrass for medicinal purposes. Lemongrass is now cultivated in parts of Africa and Brazil too.
Lemongrass was traditionally used in Indian medicine for the treatment of fevers and infectious diseases. It has powerful antiseptic and bactericidal properties. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from the chopped, fresh grass. Lemongrass essential oil is used for headaches, muscle pain, indigestion, acne and fevers. In addition, lemongrass is used as an insecticide.
Palmarosa Essential Oil
Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var. martinii) is also a member of the Poaceae botanical family. It is a herbaceous plant with fragrant, grassy leaves, long stalks, and flowering tops. Palmarosa is native to Pakistan and India, although it is also cultivated in Brazil, Africa, and Indonesia. The scent of palmarosa is not dissimilar to geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and rose (Rosa x damascena) which makes it a frequent adulterant of the more expensive rose essential oil.
Palmarosa was also traditionally used in Indian medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases and fevers, in addition to the treatment of bacterial infections of the intestine and as an aid to digestive problems. It also has extremely powerful antiseptic and bactericidal properties. Palmarosa was formerly known as “Indian/Turkish geranium oil” which gives rise to the confusion of some of its alternative names today. The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the fresh grass. It is used in aromatherapy for problems such as acne, dermatitis, skin care, stress, and intestinal infections.
Citronella Essential Oil
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), another member of the Poaceae plant family, is a tall, scented, perennial grass that is found growing wild in Sri Lanka. It is cultivated in other tropical countries, such as Africa, Central America and Vietnam, in addition to an extensive cultivation in Sri Lanka.
Citronella is used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of rheumatism. Other traditional medicine uses for citronella include use in the treatment of digestive problems, fever, intestinal problems and menstrual difficulties. Citronella essential oil is also extracted by steam distillation of the fresh grass. It is commonly used as an insect repellent, although it is also used in aromatherapy for colds, flu, headaches, and oily skin.
Davis, Patricia, 1999, Aromatherapy: An A-Z, UK: Vermilion
Lawless, Julia, 1995, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons
Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.