lemon grass
    lemon grasscitronella oil

    Used in soaps and creams, citronella oil has antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, deodorant and anti-fungal properties and is favoured worldwide to keep ants, fleas, ticks, moths, mosquitoes and flies out of the home. Citronella grass will protect you and your household throughout the summer from mosquitoes and flies.


    Plant citronella grass in full sun, spaced 2 m apart, as the perennial clump quickly expands into graceful, long leaf blades. A deeply dug, richly composted area is essential for the rewards this precious grass offers. Water twice or three times a week to of propagation, whole clumps can be broken apart and ensure good leaf growth and development. Remember, citronella grass originates from tropical and subtropical areas only, and frost will damage it severely – so be sure of ample winter protection.


    Pull small tufts off the main plant and immediately replant them into compost-filled bags, to allow them to establish.

    I allow the clumps to develop for several years before splitting and dividing. During spring, in the early stage of propagation, whole clumps can be broken apart and the fragrant leaves cut off, leaving a rooted section 30 cm long for planting. If this is kept protected, watered and shaded, its growth is assured, and by midsummer new, strong plants emerge, ready for planting out in the garden. Create a sturdy dam around each plant, and water twice or even three times a week.


    In many years of lecturing on the medicinal values of essential oils, making citronella oil became a favourite activity with most students, and we grew many clumps of the richly fragrant citronella grass.

    To make the oil, in a double boiler simmer three cups of finely chopped citronella grass bladed in a cup of almond oil, stirring frequently and pressing the leafy blades well down with a spoon. Simmer the liquid for 30 minutes, keeping the saucepan covered when not stirring. Allow to cool, covered, overnight. The next morning, reheat the liquid for 10 minutes, then strain it through a muslin-lined, new sieve and pour it into dark glass bottles.



    The pale yellow liquid with its rich, lemony scent makes an excellent massage oil for muscular aches and stiffness. Diluted 1 in 10 in a carrier oil, it can be applied to the affected area. Citronella oil relaxes tense shoulder muscles and can be massaged over rheumatic aches and pains. If blended with a few drops of rose geranium essential oil or lemon essential oil, it makes a comforting foot oil and eases sinus or nasal congestion and other discomforts from flu, colds, coughs and fatigue. It lowers fever, aids digestive problems and eases menstrual aches and pains.

    Add two teaspoons of pure citronella oil to one and a half litres of warm water, shake it up well and use it as a room spray, shaking frequently to disperse the oil. Spray yourself too, when sitting outside on the patio on hot summer nights. Alternatively, make citronella grass ‘tea’ and use it as a spray.

    To make the ‘tea’: Boil up to two cups of grass pieces in two litres of water for 10 minutes, then cool and strain the liquid and pour it into a spritz-spray bottle.

    On plantations in Sri Lanka, harvesters reap the flowering heads and long stalks and tie them in bundles to dry, for burning in the fire as an insect repellent.

    Burn citronella candles to create calm and chase away mosquitoes.

    Citronella also has a remarkably calming effect. Sri Lankans use the leaf blade as a tea to ease sleep patterns and encourage relaxation, particularly in the tropical heat (add 1⁄4 cup of fresh leaf to one cup of boiling water, let it stand for five minutes, then strain). Drop a few drops of citronella oil onto a candle and burn it in a safe place, out of draughts and away from anything flammable. The pleasant citronella scent will refresh stale air, ease headaches and help everyone stay calm and relaxed.

    lemon grass


    Roberts M. 100 New Herbs. Struik Nautre. 2015.

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