What gives Ivory Soap its familiar scent? The not-so-familiar lemongrass essential oil. A fast-growing, tall perennial grass originally from India and Sri Lanka, lemongrass found its way into traditional cuisines throughout Southeast Asia. It is used extensively in Thai fish soups and curries and is seen more and more frequently in supermarkets in North America in aromatherapy and other products.
An important medicinal and culinary herb in South and Central America, South East Asia, and the Caribbean, it is widely known as “fever grass.” India’s Ayurvedic medical tradition, for instance, has long used it to treat cholera and fevers. A relatively inexpensive essential oil, it’s often the source of the lemon scent found in cosmetics and hair preparations. Its pleasant, clean fragrance is also incorporated into soaps, perfumes, and deodorants, and it flavors many canned and frozen foods. No wonder it is one of the ten best-selling essential oils in the world.
Along with related oils such as the lemon-rose scented palmarosa (C. martini) and citronella (C. nardus), it often adulterates more costly essential oils like melissa and lemon verbena to stretch them. Palmarosa is frequently used in skin preparations, while citronella is well known as an insect repellent and cleanser. The yellow to amber oil of these grasses is distilled from their partially dried leaves.
Principal constituents of lemongrass: Citral (up to 85 percent), myrcene, citronellol, dipentene, farnesol, furfurol, geraniol, and many more
Scent of lemongrass: The scent is lemon/herbal, grassy, and slightly bitter. Palmarosa has a pleasant rose scent. Citronella is very lemony.
Therapeutic properties of lemongrass: Antiseptic, deodorant, astringent; relieves rheumatic and other pain, relaxes nerves
Uses for lemongrass: In traditional medicine, lemongrass is usually given in the form of a tea or foot bath made from the fresh herb, from which the patient additionally benefits by inhaling the scent. Lemongrass also treats pain arising from indigestion, rheumatism, and nerve conditions. Researchers also found this refreshing fragrance to reduce headaches and irritability and to prevent drowsiness. To make a foot bath, add about 3 drops of lemongrass oil to 2 or 3 quarts of warm water in a small tub. Stir well and keep your feet in the water for at least 20 minutes. You can also add a few drops to your bath. Lemongrass is an antiseptic suitable for use on various types of skin infections, usually as a wash or compress, and is especially effective on ringworm and infected sores. In fact, studies found that it is more effective against staph infection than either penicillin or streptomycin.
When added to a hair conditioner, facial water, or vinegar, it counters oily hair and acne by decreasing oil production. Add 12 drops of the essential oil per ounce of apple cider vinegar and dab or spray on the afflicted area. You can spray this same solution in the air, on a counter top, or along walls and floors to discourage insect invasions and mold. Add it to pet shampoos as a bug repellent.
Warnings about lemongrass: It is nontoxic, but causes skin sensitivity in some people.