What’s the Big Deal with Lemongrass?
We all have that one hippie friend on social media who likes to post the latest, greatest essential oil. For most of us, that friend is a sweet, counterculture Earth mama we know from work or school.
I will call my source Michelle. Although Michelle’s ubiquitous posts on the miracles of essential oils tend to blend together for me, her latest offering on lemongrass caught my eye.
The myriad of promises in her post drew my attention, as it claimed lemongrass essential oil does everything from disinfect and kill bacteria to repel bugs.
Why wouldn’t I want to achieve a healthier, bug free existence by using a few drops of oil? Still, the skeptic in me had to do some research.
Operation Lemongrass was afoot!
- It is rumored lemongrass oil was used medicinally in the Philippines as early as the 17th century, but did not catch on in Western cultures until about 1905.
- Sri Lankan researcher J.F. Jovit provided the earliest 20th century research on the uses of lemongrass oil, which piqued Western interest.
- Lemongrass oil was first cultivated in Florida and Cuba in 1947.
- A 1951 World’s Fair booth for citronella essential oil, a known bug repellent, helped popularize lemongrass oil due to the similar properties of the oils.
Also known as citronella grass or fever grass, lemongrass is a subtropical and tropical plant that is mostly native to Asia. It is prized for its citrus-tinged flavor, striking appearance, and nutritional properties.
Lemongrass is added to teas, soups, salads, and other dishes because it is high in:
- B vitamins
Lemongrass is used in several Asian recipes, as well as an ornamental plant. The four inch stature of the plant and the stark elegance of the stalks make lemongrass a popular decoration in med spas, restaurants, and homes that prize clean feng shui.
For those who like to garden, lemongrass grows easily in sandy soil and full sun.
Literature on medicinal uses of ingested lemongrass is increasing. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and homeopathic medicine practitioners use lemongrass in plant form to treat:
- menstrual disorders
- to promote detoxification of the body
Some literature even claims the plant form lemongrass is potentially an effective treatment for:
- even some forms of cancer
Although the exact chemical composition of lemongrass plants varies by region in which they are grown, the main chemical powerhouse common to all varieties is a compound called citral.
Citral is an aldehyde, or a natural organic compound with a double-bonded carbon. This aldehyde in particular gives lemongrass the following attributes:
- its distinct smell
- antimicrobial properties
- metabolic benefits
- ability to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells
Lemongrass also contains ethanolic compounds, which are related to ethyl alcohol. These compounds have been known to stop the growth and mutation of certain cancer cells, as well as stop the movement of tumors.
Another alcohol-like compound in lemongrass (methanol) has been studied for its ability to get rid of free radicals, which makes lemongrass a powerful antioxidant when ingested.
And Then There’s the Essential Oil…
When used as an essential oil, lemongrass has a light, fresh scent that is said to promote calm and refreshed feelings in the user. Aromatherapists use lemongrass in diffusers for a variety of reasons, including:
- to relieve muscle pain
- kill off bacteria
- as a bug repellent
- killing cold and flu germs
- cooling the body during hot weather
Lemongrass is also a popular addition to perfumes and personal care products because of its citrus and earth notes. Many natural care companies use lemongrass oil in body care products and cosmetics because lemongrass oil can be used as:
- a natural toner
- antibacterial agent
Here is a short list of beauty brands that use lemongrass oil in their products:
Those who believe in the spiritual properties of essential oil use lemongrass oil for:
- centering and purification
- uplifting energy
- attracting love
- enhancing intuition
Many homeopathic medicine practitioners use lemongrass topically as:
- a disinfectant
- an ointment for antibiotic resistant staph infections
- a decongestant
- as an antiviral remedy for warts
Some practitioners mix lemongrass oil with grapeseed oil as a massage oil for vericose veins, cellulite, and sagging skin.
In addition to topical and aromatherapy uses, high quality lemongrass oil can be ingested to soothe a variety of ailments, such as:
- calming sore throats and easing chest congestion
- sluggish lymph system
- compromised immune system
- issues with the thymus gland and cellular health
- bloating and edema
As impressive as that list was, I decided to start small and use lemongrass in less ambitious ways. I identified my skin and my counters and sinks as the sites of my experiment.
Here are the ways I used lemongrass essential oil to see if it lived up to the hype:
- as a toner
- as a household cleaner
- mixed with grapeseed oil to massage my legs and feet
I liked the toner a lot, even though the smell was a tad strange for me. It appeared to take off the lingering dead skin after exfoliating. As a micellar water, it left my skin looking refreshed and totally hid the fact that I did not get enough sleep the previous night.
The clean smell of the disinfectant recipe was soothing and made the air in my home feel less congested. It’s prime allergy and dust season where I live, so this was a distinct bonus.
The cleaning power was on par with many of the all-purpose cleaners I have used.
The massage oil probably takes over two weeks to truly see any real effect on cellulite and spider veins. However, using it as a nightly ritual has actually helped me fall asleep faster.
My verdict is the oil so far is producing a placebo effect, but moisturizes well.
I started to get pretty creative after these first three experiments. My next use for lemongrass essential oil was as part of a pedicure. Not only did I use 20 drops as part of my epsom salt, Listerine, and vinegar foot soak, but I also mixed a couple drops with almond oil as a cuticle softener.
Bonding was an unexpected perk of Operation Lemongrass. While I was researching how I was going to use lemongrass essential oil, a friend of mine told me she uses it in a homemade deodorant paste. She was kind enough to let me share it below.
Homemade Lemongrass Deodorant
- 3 tablespoons shea butter
- 3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 15-20 drops lavender essential oil
- 15-20 drops lemongrass essential oil
- 4 oz glass jar
- Combine shea butter and coconut oil in the glass jar.
- Set the jar in a lightly boiling pan of water until the contents are liquified. The pan should contain about four inches of water. Stir, stir, stir.
- Add arrowroot powder and baking soda. Stir, stir, stir some more.
- Add your essential oils and pour into the storage container of your choice while the mixture is still warm.
Again, my friend swears by this deodorant. She says it makes her feel cleaner than commercial grocery store brands and it’s cheaper than comparable organic brands and is aluminum-free.
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Lemongrass Essential Oil Benefits and Studies
My lemongrass mission was thus far successful, but more still needed to be revealed. I had to know if there was any substantive clinical research behind the almost mystical claims. This led me to read the following studies:
1. Narisa Kamkaen, Natadaow Na Patalung, Nijsiri Ruangrungsi, and Rith Watthanachaiyingcharoen studied the effects of lemongrass essential oil and sweet almond massage oil on human vital signs. This 29-participant study compared the blood pressure and pulse rates of the control group (no treatment) and the experimental group (received one of three types of massages using the oil for three weeks). The results of this study indicate the combination of massage and the aromatherapy effects of lemongrass oil have a harmonizing effect on the human nervous system. 1
2. Javid Ahmad Bhat, Bashir Ahmad Fomda, Ebenezar Jaykumar, and Mohd Irfan Naik studied the disinfectant properties of lemongrass oil on Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis), Escherichia coli (E. coli), Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa). The researchers found lemongrass oil was effective on all multidrug resistant pathogens, except P. aeruginosa. 2
3. Luis Barbisan, Lucas Bidinotto, Celso Costa, Mirtes Costa, Daisy Salvadori, and Regina Takahira conducted an animal study on the effects of lemongrass on cholesterol. The mice were given an oral dose of lemongrass oil for 21 days to assess not only the effects of lemongrass oil on blood cholesterol levels, but also the toxicity level of lemongrass oil. This study concluded the mice started to lose weight after Day 16, there was a significant reduction in cholesterol in the experimental group, and there were no significant indicators of toxicity in the research subjects. 3
4. R. Ashokkumar, Niranjali Devaraj S., S. Jamuna, S. Sivan Mozhi, Sakeena Sadullah, and Gokul Shanmuganathan studied the antioxidant and cell protective properties of lemongrass on human blood cells. They found significant antioxidant effects on the cells exposed to lemongrass essential oil. The cytoprotective properties of lemongrass on human blood cells appeared just as promising. 4
5. Cristiane de Bona da Silva, Silvia Guterres, Elfrides Schapoval, and Vanessa Weisheimer evaluated the ability of lemongrass essential oil to combat candida skin disease. The study concluded lemongrass essential oil had a significant antifungal effect on all strains of candida tested. 5
6. Nagaraj Kalburgi, Veena Kalburgi, Sahana Kolar, and Shivaraj Warad studied the effects of lemongrass essential oil gel on the microbes that cause periodontal disease. The researchers found lemongrass effective in inhibiting the growth of periodontal pathogens. 6
The above list of studies is only a drop in the bucket compared to the available research on lemongrass essential oil. Scientists are discovering lemongrass essential oil is also beneficial in the following ways:
- effectively treats oral thrush in HIV patients
- as an anti-inflammatory agent
- slows the progression of diabetes
- helps decrease anxiety
- in the treatment or prevention of anemia
- as a sedative
- as a digestive aid
- relaxes blood vessels
Although the current research surrounding lemongrass essential oil appears mostly positive, it should be noted that there are limited studies on pregnant women and limited human clinical trials to study the benefits of lemongrass.
Lemongrass Oil Side Effects and Precautions
As with any potential remedy, though, it’s best to use common sense and consult a medical professional other than Dr. Google before taking it. No remedy is for everyone. Lemongrass essential oil has been linked to the following side effects:
- dry mouth
- increased appetite
- increased urination
- stomach irritation
- kidney issues
Lemongrass essential oil has also been known to cause photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight) and allergic contact dermatitis in those with skin sensitivities or allergies.
Some signs of dermatitis are:
- dry, scaly, or flaky skin
- darkened or “leathery” skin
- itching or skin that feels like it is burning
Yikes. If you experience any of those symptoms after ingesting or using lemongrass essential oil on your skin, consult a medical professional.
Although lemongrass essential oil appears to be generally well-tolerated, I found out it does not always play nice with others. You are more likely to experience side effects from lemongrass essential oil if you are also:
- undergoing chemotherapy
- taking glutathione-S-transferase or cytochrome P450 substrates
- taking blood thinners, such as Warfarin
- taking medications or supplements that affect blood sugar
- diagnosed with or prone to liver conditions
Lemongrass Oil Facts and Research
This article covered a lot of ground regarding lemongrass essential oil, so I’m taking this opportunity to provide an overview of the facts and research.
The Lemongrass Plant:
- is native to Asian countries and parts of Africa
- grows to 4-5″ tall
- a tropical and subtropical plant that grows best in full sun and sandy soil
- member of the grass family
- the blue-green stalks are considered decorative
- used in Asian cuisine
- was not used in the United States until it was popularized by a booth at the 1951 World Fair
Lemongrass is commonly used:
- in cosmetics and personal care items
- as a homeopathic remedy for a variety of ailments
- topically or ingested
- as a household cleaner
- in aromatherapy
Cosmetic and personal care uses for lemongrass essential oil include:
- as part of a natural deodorant
- giving perfume earthy and citrus notes
- mixed with almond oil for a soothing massage oil
- mixed with tea tree oil and a carrier oil as a hand sanitizer
- as part of a clarifying shampoo
- mixed with rosewater and witch hazel as a toner/micellar water
- as an ingredient in an antibacterial soap
Household uses for lemongrass essential oil include:
- as an all-purpose cleaner
- a few drops added to fabric softener for added scent and disinfecting power in cold water
- as an all-natural bug repellent
- use 20 drops in a homemade epsom salt foot bath as part of your green pedicure
Aromatherapy enthusiasts use lemongrass essential oil to:
- act as a decongestant
- kill the cold and flu virus in the air
- ease muscle pain
- promote sleep
- decrease anxiety
Current research on lemongrass essential oil indicates:
- a natural anti-inflammatory agent
- a natural antiviral agent
- has anti-fungal properties
- a powerful antioxidant and cell protector
- boosts the nervous and immune systems
- can prevent the mutation and growth of certain cancer cells
- can help stabilize blood sugar
- can regulate high cholesterol
- can help treat anemia
- can help digestive issues
- can promote more restful sleep
- can increase metabolism
- can rev up a sluggish lymph system and detoxify the body
Keep this in mind when considering lemongrass essential oil:
- there is no one-size-fits-all remedy that works for everyone
- do not use lemongrass essential oil if you have a history of liver or kidney issues
- lemongrass essential oil can cause allergic contact dermatitis in people with skin sensitivities
- consult a medical professional before using
From perfumes and cosmetics to cancer treatments and homeopathic migraine cures, it seems essential oils are everywhere. It can be difficult to know what’s real and which claims are just hot air. My research showed me lemongrass essential oil is much more than an urban legend.
Lemongrass is a powerful essential oil with many uses. It can disinfect, pack an antioxidant punch, kill yeast and antibiotic-resistant microbes, decrease anxiety, and act as a toner. What’s more, lemongrass essential oil smells great and is super concentrated.
As you can see, the sheer amount of information I found on lemongrass essential oil through research and my own experiments was overwhelming. This member of the grass family has been a folk remedy since the 17th Century. It stands to reason there would be so much data, yet much more to be learned.
Operation Lemongrass was, for me, a success. I discovered new products, learned some science, had an excuse to make stuff, and I got to know the oil behind the hype. I was genuinely surprised by how well the existing research lived up to the claims.
What Company Should I Purchase Lemongrass Oil From?
I hope you enjoyed learning about all of the cool benefits and uses that peppermint essential oil offers. It is definitely one of the most versatile oils because it can be used to create so many different types of blends to solve your everyday problems.
My personal favorite brand that I purchase most of my oils from is doTERRA. I find that they offer the highest quality oils, starter kits, and diffusers. They are especially good if you are brand new to oils because they offer a lot of free resources and education once you become a customer.
I started my journey with essential oils about 2 years ago after the birth of my first child. To say that they changed my life forever would be an understatement. I share my story with you, so you can thrive and change your life, like it has done for me. Click here to read about my story.