Essential oil of citronella is distilled from the leaves of Cympopogon nardus, one of some 56 species of perennial tropical grasses. The oil is pale to brownish in color and possesses a strong, fresh, grassy-green lemony odor.
First exported to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century, the oil became a popular fragrance ingredient in soaps and toiletries and continues to be used as such today.
Essential oil of Cympopogon nardus has been shown to be an effective mosquito repellent. During in vivo human tests, topical application of the oil afforded total protection from ‘Anopheles culicifacies’ (a principal malaria vector) for up to eleven hours.
The oil is indicated for dyspepsia, gastritis and nausea. It may also be of benefit in cases of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid where there is heat, redness and swelling.
Cympopogon nardus essential oil has been formally tested for safety and found to be non-toxic, very mildly irritant and non-phototoxic. However, the oil should be considered to be a potential sensitiser due to the fact that both geraniol and citronellal have on occasion caused hypersensitivity.
Despite the reputation of citronella to successfully repel insects, we do not recommend that you rely solely on the oil. If you are planning to visit a country where the risk of malaria is high, make sure you follow the advice given by your GP.