Citronella Plant: Benefits, How to Use & Side Effects

Updated in February 2024

Citronella is a medicinal plant that is rich in essential oils, such as linalool, citronellol, citronellal, geraniol and cis-calamenene. It has insect repellent, flavoring, antibacterial and calming properties, and is widely used in the manufacture of cosmetics.

The scientific name of citronella is Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus, which is different from lemongrass, whose scientific name is Cymbopogon citratus. Lemongrass is similar to citronella, but has different properties. These plants can be easily differentiated by their smell, as lemongrass has a sweet smell reminiscent of lemon, while citronella has a very strong smell, similar to a disinfectant. 

Citronella plants can be potted grown in the garden or at home to enjoy its natural effects, but, in addition, you can also buy its essential oil already extracted from the plant to obtain its effects in a more practical and powerful way.

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Main benefits

Citronella has many benefits and is normally recommended for:

  • Repelling insects, making it a great natural way to scare away mosquitoes, such as Aedes aegypti, flies and ants;
  • Fighting fungi and bacteria, helping to keep the skin clean and healthy;
  • Helping with wound healing, especially wounds caused by diabetes, due to the anti-inflammatory and antifungal effects of its essential oil;
  • Keeping the house scented and disinfected when used as a cleaning agent;
  • Facilitating relaxation through aromatherapy, which also helps maintain concentration and improve mood.

Citronella can be used in cosmetic products and provide benefits for animals, such as dogs or cats. Citronella can be added to collars to help keep insects, fleas and ticks away, as well as promote relaxation in our furry friends.

How to use

Citronella can be used in the form of an essential oil for aromatherapy, added to repellents, disinfectant sprays, and aromatic candles or used for massage.

1. Citronella essential oil

Citronella essential oil can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • Aromatherapy: add 2 to 3 drops of citronella essential oil to a little water, inside an electric air freshener or room diffuser. The amount of water used varies according to the volume capacity of the electric air freshener or diffuser. The cloud of vapor formed allows the aroma to be released throughout the room. Learn more about the benefits of aromatherapy.
  • Skin massage: add 5 to 10 drops of citronella essential oil mixed with 50 mL of a vegetable oil, such as coconut oil or sweet almond oil. Then, apply to the skin, massaging gently with your fingertips, for about 10 minutes;
  • Lotion for skin wounds: mix 3 to 6 drops of citronella essential oil for every 30 mL of a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, jojoba oil or sweet almond oil, for example. Then apply to the wound, as long as the wound is not open or bleeding.

Citronella essential oil should not be consumed orally or applied in its pure form to the skin.

Before using citronella essential oil, you should perform an allergy test. Mix 1 drop of citronella essential oil in 1 teaspoon of carrier oil, and apply it to the back of the hand or the crease of the elbow. Wait 24 hours and, if during this period the skin becomes red or irritated, you are advised to discontinue using citronella essential oil.

2. Citronella repellent

Citronella repellent can be prepared with the leaves of the plant or its essential oil.

  • Citronella repellent with essential oil: add 10 to 15 drops of citronella essential for ever 30 mL of water to a spray bottle. Shake the spray bottle before using on the skin or in the environment;
  • Citronella leaf repellent: cut some citronella leaves, place them in a container, spread them around the house and change them daily.

Another way to use citronella leaves as a repellent is to boil the plant's leaves with water and spray the solution around the house. In addition, you can also purchase a citronella candle, found in pharmacies, supermarkets or natural product stores. A citronella candle also helps to repel insects and perfume the environment.

3. Citronella disinfectant

Citronella disinfectant can be used in environments, such as the kitchen or bathroom, due to its antibacterial properties. It can be used to disinfect areas where animals like dogs or cats urinate, leaving the environment clean and with a pleasant aroma.

To use citronella as a disinfectant, you can mix citronella leaves with hot water and use this to clean the desired areas of the house.

Citronella disinfectants can also be purchased ready-made in pharmacies or natural health stores.

4. Citronella tea

The consumption of citronella in the form of tea can have an irritating effect, therefore its use is not recommended for oral consumption.

However, the tea can be sprayed around the home to ward off insects and to perfume the environment.

Possible side effects

Side effects that may occur from from using citronella on the skin. Some include redness, itching, irritation, swelling or blemishes on the skin. These side effects are a sign of an allergic skin reaction, and if you notice them, cleanse the skin with plenty of water, discontinue use and see your doctor for assessment.

The use of citronella can also cause serious side effects or anaphylaxis that require immediate medical attention. Serious side effects such as difficulty breathing, a feeling of a closed throat, and swelling in the mouth, tongue or face should be assessed urgently.

Contraindications for use

Citronella should not be used orally, whether in the form of essential oil or as tea. Its essential oil should not be applied in its pure form to the skin.

Furthermore, citronella should not be used by people who are allergic to this plant.

Children, pregnant or breastfeeding women should only use citronella as advised by a doctor.