The Health Benefits of Lemongrass Essential Oil

Lemongrass on a table

Joff Lee / Photlibrary / Getty Images

With its fresh, citrusy scent, lemongrass essential oil is a type of essential oil often used in aromatherapy for health and beauty. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus, Cymbopogon flexuosus) is a tall grass that grows in tropical climates. Native to islands in Southeastern Asia, it is a common seasoning in Thai, Indian, and Chinese cuisine and is often brewed as a tea.

In aromatherapy, lemongrass essential oil is used to reduce inflammation, relieve headaches, and ease indigestion. Inhaling the scent of the oil or using the oil topically (mixed into carrier oils, body oil, and hair and skin products) is said to offer a variety of benefits. 

One of the main components of lemongrass essential oil is citral, a compound found to act as an antimicrobial (a substance that destroys or suppresses the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi). Lemongrass essential oil also contains limonene, a compound shown to reduce inflammation and knock out bacteria in scientific research.

How Does It Work?

Inhaling the aroma of lemongrass essential oil or absorbing it through the skin is said to transmit messages to the brain's limbic system, a region that influences the nervous system.

According to aromatherapy proponents, essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function. Lemongrass essential oil is typically used for:

  • Acne
  • Anxiety
  • Athlete's foot
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Muscle aches

In addition, lemongrass essential oil is said to act as a natural insect repellent and air freshener, and may also alleviate stress and relieve pain.

Health Benefits

To date, few scientific studies have evaluated the health effects of aromatherapeutic use of lemongrass essential oil, however, several of its chemical components have been found to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, antidepressant, and sedative qualities.

Lemongrass essential oil contains beneficial terpenes, saponins, alkaloids, steroids, and flavonoids including myrcene, citral, citronellal, nerol, geraniol, and limonene. Preliminary research suggests that lemongrass essential oil may be useful for the following conditions.

Dandruff

A 2015 study found lemongrass essential oil may help fight dandruff. Researchers gave subjects with dandruff a hair tonic containing either lemongrass essential oil (Cymbopogon flexuosus) or a placebo twice a day. After 14 days, those using the lemongrass hair tonic showed a significant decrease in dandruff compared to placebo.

Fungal Infections

Compounds in lemongrass essential oil have been shown to have antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and several in vitro studies have found the oil may eliminate certain strains of fungus. However, too few human trials have been performed to confirm its use to treat any type of fungal infection.

A 2015 report published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine found lemongrass essential oil may help inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infections.

A 2013 study suggests lemongrass essential oil may be effective against pityriasis versicolor, a fungus that causes small, scaly patches on the skin (also called tinea versicolor). For the study, participants used as a shampoo and cream containing lemongrass essential oil three times a week or a cream containing 2 percent ketoconazole (a medication used to treat fungal infections) twice a day. After 40 days, those treated with lemongrass has a 60 percent reduction in symptoms, compared with 80 percent in those using ketoconazole.

Anxiety

Although there's limited evidence on the effectiveness of lemongrass essential oil as an anxiety remedy, one preliminary study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2015 suggests that brief exposure may possess anti-anxiety properties.

Participants in the study inhaled lemongrass oil (three or six drops), tea tree oil (three drops), or distilled water (three drops). Immediately after the inhalation, each study participant took a color and word test. Those who inhaled the lemongrass essential oil had a reduction in anxiety and tension and were quicker to recover from the anxiety than those who took the tea tree oil.

Headache

Preliminary research suggests lemongrass may help to relieve headaches. According to a 2011 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the compound eugenol in lemongrass essential oil impacts both the neurotransmitter serotonin and blood-platelet action, two factors that contribute to headaches.

Stomach Upset

Lemongrass essential oil may ease stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, and ulcers. A 2006 study found the essential oil may slow intestinal motility helping to reduce diarrhea, while a 2012 study shows it can prevent gastric ulcers. The research, however, is limited to studies in mice and not humans.

Possible Side Effects

Lemongrass essential oil should not be taken internally without the supervision of a health professional. Internal use of lemongrass essential oil may have toxic effects.

In addition, some individuals may experience irritation when applying lemongrass essential oil to the skin. A skin patch test should be done before using any essential oil.

Lemongrass essential oil should always be diluted in a carrier oil before using it on the skin. Avoid applying it near the eyes or mucous membranes. Do not exceed the recommended dosage. The oil is absorbed by the skin and toxicity may occur.

Pregnant or nursing women, children, and people with liver or kidney disease or other health conditions should consult with their health care providers before using any essential oils.

Dosage and Preparation

When combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado oil), lemongrass essential oil can be applied directly to the skin or added to baths in small amounts. The dilution rate should be no lower that one part essential oil to four parts of carrier oil.

Lemongrass essential oil can also be inhaled after sprinkling a drop of the oil onto a cloth or tissue, or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.

What to Look For

Widely available online, lemongrass essential oil is sold in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in self-care products. However, the quality can vary between different brands and oils are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

When buying lemongrass essential oil, check for its Latin name, Cymbopogon citratus or Cymbopogon flexuosus. If any other oils are listed, such as fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, or sweet almond oil, the lemongrass oil is diluted for topical use and should not be used in a diffuser.

Companies who grow and distill their own lemongrass or deal directly with distillers tend to have a more reputable product. Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) is the gold standard for analyzing the quality of essential oils.

Essential oils should be packaged in a dark amber or cobalt bottle and stored out of sunlight.

Other Questions

Can lemongrass essential oil be used in cooking?

Lemongrass essential oil is generally regarded as safe by the FDA and can be used in stir-fries, soups, marinades, and curries. The fragrant oil is highly concentrated and a few drops can go a long way toward flavoring dishes. Add two to three drops at a time, stir and taste.

Does lemongrass essential oil lighten skin?

Lemongrass essential oil contains limonene, which may help to lighten and brighten skin, unclog pores, and reduce acne and acne scars. There is limited scientific evidence to support this use, however, anecdotal evidence suggests it can be effective. Remember to always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil prior to applying to the skin, and do a skin patch test before using it on your face.

A Word From Verywell

At this time, there is little evidence to support using lemongrass essential oil to treat any health condition. Always check with your doctor before using complementary and alternative medicine for illnesses. Self-treating a chronic condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shah G, Shri R, Panchal V, Sharma N, Singh B, Mann AS. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Cymbopogon citratus, stapf (Lemon grass). J Adv Pharm Technol Res. 2011;2(1):3-8. doi.10.4103/2231-4040.79796

  2. De souza M, Vieira A, Beserra F, Pellizzon C, Nóbrega R, Rozza A. Gastroprotective effect of limonene in rats: Influence on oxidative stress, inflammation and gene expression. Phytomedicine. 2019;53:37-42. doi.10.1016/j.phymed.2018.09.027

  3. Dany S, Mohanty P, Tangade P, Rajput P, Batra M. Efficacy of 0.25% lemongrass oil mouthwash: a three arm prospective parallel clinical study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015;9(10):ZC13-7. doi.10.7860/JCDR/2015/14465.6581

  4. Madeira P, Carvalho L, Paschoal M, et al. In vitro effects of lemongrass extract on candida albicans biofilms, human cells viability, and denture surface. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2016;6:71. doi.10.3389/fcimb.2016.00071

  5. Goes T, Ursulino F, Almeida-Souza T, Alves P, Teixeira-Silva F. Effect of lemongrass aroma on experimental anxiety in humans. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2015, Dec 21(12): 766-73. doi10.1089/acm.2015.0099

  6. Sinha S, Jothiramajayam M, Ghosh M, Mukherjee A. Evaluation of toxicity of essential oils palmarosa, citronella, lemongrass and vetiver in human lymphocytes. Food Chem Toxicol. 2014;68:71-7. doi.10.1016/j.fct.2014.02.036

  7. Tisserand Institute. How to use essential oils safely - general safety guidelines.

  8. Harpreet G. Aromatherapy: do essential oils really work? Johns Hopkins Medicine 2019.

Additional Reading