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Lemongrass (Cymbopogon)

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon) Image
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
Abafado (Portuguese), alpha-citral, alpha-terpineole, Andropogon citratus, Andropogon nardus, bai mak nao (Lao), beta-citral (neral), beta-myrcene, bhustrina (Indian), British Indian lemongrass, capim-cidrao, carene-2, caspase-3, Ceylon citronella grass, citral, Cochin lemongrass, Cymbopogon ambiguus, Cymbopogon citrates, Cymbopogon citratus DC, Cymbopogon excavatus, Cymbopogon flexuosus, Cymbopogon goeringii, Cymbopogon martinii, Cymbopogon nardus, Cymbopogon nardus, Cymbopogon proximus, Cymbopogon schoenanthus (L.), Cymbopogon winterianus, Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt, East Indian lemongrass, erba di limone (Italian), essência de capim-limão (Portuguese), essential oils, farnesol, fever grass, geraniol , geranium grass, geranyl acetate, Graminaeae (family), Guatemala lemongrass, Halfa barr, herbe de citron (French), hierba de limon (Spanish), Java citronella, lemon grass, lemon grass extract (LGE), lemongrass oil, lemon grass oil (LGO), lemongrass stalk, lemon herbs, Lg, Madagascar lemongrass, Melissa grass, MYR, myrcene, palmarosa, pinene, piperitone, Poaceae (family), proximadiol, Santalum acuminatum, sera (Indian, Sinhalese), serai (Malay), sere (Indonesian), sereh (Indonesian), Sudanese flora, takrai (Thai), terpene beta-myrcene, West Indian lemongrass, Zitronengras (German).

Note: This review does not include citronella oil or stone root.

Mechanism of Action


  • Constituents: One of the main constituents of the many different species of lemongrass (genus Cymbopogon) is citral (3,7-dimethyl-2,6-octadien-1-al).17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 Lemongrass oil has been found to contain up to 75-85% citral.17,26,21 Lemongrass also contains z-citral, borneol, estragole, methyleugenol, geranyl acetate (3,7-dimethyl-2,6-octadiene-1-ol acetate), geraniol (some species higher in this compound than citral), beta-myrcene (MYR, 7-methyl-3-methylene-1,6 octadiene), limonene, piperitone, citronellal, carene-2, alpha-terpineole, pinene, farnesol, proximadiol, and (+)-cymbodiacetal.11,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,25,37,38,39,40,41,12,42,25 The volatile oil from the roots contains 56.67% longifolene-(V4) and 20.03% selina-6-en-4-ol.25 In particular, a study of Cymbopogon martinii isolated fatty acids, common sterols, and 16-hydroxypentacos-14(z)-enoic acid.43
  • Analgesic effects: Lemongrass has exhibited analgesic effects in mice and rat studies.44,45,46 Intraperitoneal and subcutaneous injections of lemongrass and myrcene inhibited the acetic acid-induced writhing in mice.45,46 Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, blocked the antinociception in the mice, suggesting that the analgesic effect may be a result of the release of endogenous opioids. Oral administration of lemongrass in rats resulted in a dose-dependent analgesia when hyperalgesia is induced by injections of carrageenan or prostaglandin E2, but did not affect the hyperalgesia induced by cyclic AMP, indicating a peripheral site of action.44 The analgesic effect did not cause tolerance on repeated injections in rats. The analgesic component of lemongrass was determined to be myrcene.44,45
  • Anthelmintic effects: Cymbopogon martinii was tested for anthelmintic activity in vitro.47 Geraniol, a constituent of Cymbopogon martinii, showed potent anthelmintic activity and the ED50 of geraniol was found to be 66.7µg/mL.
  • Antibacterial effects: Lemongrass has demonstrated antibacterial properties in laboratory studies.48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70 Some examples of organisms that lemongrass has activity against are Escherichia coli, Salmonella enterica, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.52,53,54,61,65,67 Lemongrass has also demonstrated activity against common respiratory tract pathogens like Haemophilus influenzae, Pseudomonas aeroginosa, Streptococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Staphylococcus aereus.55,57,71,69 One study showed that Cymbopogon citratus completely inhibits the growth of Helicobacter pylori without developing resistance, where clarithromycin developed resistance under the same conditions.60 Lemongrass has also been reported to increase the activity of phenoxythanol against Escherichia coli50,72 and Staphylococcus aureus63.
  • Lemongrass was found to elicit morphological changes, inhibit septum formation, spheroblast formation, production of 'blisters' or mesosomes, development of abnormally shaped cells, and lysis.61 It was also found to permeabilize the cytoplasmic membrane with the leakage of carboxy-fluorescein.59 One study showed that lemongrass might have antibacterial activity by influencing bacterial targets involved in cytoplasmic and cell well metabolism.69
  • Lemongrass was also tested against Escherichia coli wild type (AB 1157) strain submitted to SnCl(2) treatment.72 In the presence of Cymbopogon citratus, the SnCl(2) effect on the survival of Escherichia coli was reduced. Another laboratory study also found that the essential oil from Cymbopogon martinii exhibited broad spectrum inhibiting properties, with strong activity (MIC between 100 and 500mcg/mL) against 10 out of 13 Escherichia coli serotypes: three enterotoxigenic, two enteropathogenic, three enteroinvasive and two shiga-toxin producers. Similarly, C. winterianus significantly inhibited two enterotoxigenic, one enteropathogenic, one enteroinvasive and one shiga-toxin producer serotypes.50
  • Sorrel drink, a combination of roselle calyx aqueous extract, orange or pineapple juice, and lemon grass, had antibacterial effects on Bacillus sp., Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Lactobacillus sp., and Corynebacterium sp., whereas roselle calyx aqueous extract did not show these effects.73
  • Anticancer effects: Cymbopogan citratus Stapf was found to have anti-mutogenic properties in a Salmonella mutation assay.74 Citral, extracted from Cymbopogan citratus, induced death apoptosis, DNA fragmentation, and caspase-3 catalytic activity in several hematopoietic cancer cell lines in anther study.20 In rats, lemongrass extract was administered before inducing DNA adducts and aberrant crypt foci.75 The lemongrass treatment significantly inhibited the DNA adduct formation and aberrant crypt formation in the colon. However, in a study in rats with induced hepatocarcinogenesis, lemongrass extract had only an inhibitory effect on the early phase of hepatocarcinogenesis.76 Limonene, a constituent of lemongrass, is also being tested for its antitumor activity.
  • Antifungal effects: Lemongrass has been shown to have antifungal properties in laboratory studies.77,17,78,79,80,81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100,101,102,103,104,105,106,107
  • Some examples of fungi include various Aspergillus species and Candida albicans. In one study, lemongrass oil was able to treat experimental ringworm in guinea pigs in 7 to 12 days.88 The oil has also been proven effective as a preservative in preventing fungi from growing on foods. There are various proposed antifungal mechanisms of action for lemongrass oil. It has demonstrated an inhibitory effect on hyphal growth and spore formation in Aspergillus niger as well as plasma membrane disruption and mitochondrial structure disorganization.80,85,96 Cymbopogon martinii has also been shown to cause K+ leakage from the yeast cell, as well as changes in the composition in the yeast cell membrane.97
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: In a pharmacological study in mice, anti-inflammatory properties of lemongrass oil was examined with 5microL of lemongrass oil per subject, intraperitoneally.108 Lemongrass oil was shown to suppress the leukocyte recruitment into the peritoneal cavity by inhibiting neutrophil accumulation. In another study, 0.0125 to 0.1% lemongrass oil suppressed neutrophil activation by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in vitro.17
  • Antimalarial effects: Studies in mice have shown that lemongrass is effective against the malaria parasite.109,4,110 One study showed as high as 86.6% response at 500mg/kg of Cymbopogon citratus oil per day in mice where chloroquine 10mg/kg per day in mice was 100% effective.4 Another study in mice proved Cymbopogon giganteus to have anti-malarial activity in chloroquine resistant malaria.109
  • Antimutagenic effects: Constituents of lemongrass have been tested on their antimutagenic effects against cyclophosphamide, mitomycin-C, and nickel chloride.111,112 In one study with mice, citral prevented the nuclear damage induced by cyclophosphamide, mitomycin-C, and nickel chloride. 112
  • Antioxidant effects: Lemongrass oil has been evaluated for its antioxidant properties.113,114,115,116 Citral, a main constituent of lemongrass oil, has been given to rats orally at 60mg/kg for one week.116 Then nickel chloride, a known mutagen, was given intraperitoneally to induce nuclear damage. Citral significantly inhibited the formation of micronuclei induced by nickel when the antioxidant activity of citral was tested in vitro. An EC50 of 19µg/mL was observed in the superoxide scavenging activity for citral, suggesting an anti-clastogenic effect of citral against nickel chloride.
  • Citral was also tested for its induction activity on glutathione S-transferase (GST), which detoxifies polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, using rat liver epithelial cell lines.115 Citral dose- and time-dependently induced the activities of GST. Glutathione (GSH) and protein thiol also specifically activated with the isomer geranial. The authors suggest this study implied the antioxidant role of GST induction by citral. Cymbopogon citratus showed free radical scavenging effects in one study and was antigenotoxic against gamma-rays in another study again suggesting free radical scavenging mechanisms.113,114
  • Antiplatelet activity: The essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus has been tested for antiplatelet activity in guinea pig and rat plasma.117
  • Antiviral effects: Lemongrass oil has shown antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) in vitro.118 A concentration of 0.1% lemongrass oil completely inhibited viral replication when there was direct interaction with the virions at 4Cº for 24 hours.
  • Cardiac effects: Aqueous extracts of Cymbopogon citratus reduced cardiac rate and did not alter contractile force in isolated hearts of male rats.14 Cymbopogon goeringii volatile oil inhibited the contraction and prolonged the functional refractory period in isolated guinea pig papillary muscles and atrium, suggesting the anti-arrhythmic actions of this species.15 Lemongrass oil also demonstrated vasorelaxation on isolated, perfused, mesenteric artery preparation and appears to be mediated by nitric oxide-independent and non-postanoid mechanisms.13,16 Cymbopogon citratus showed some hypotensive effects that were dose related when given intravenously to rats.5 It also showed some weak diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects when given orally to the rats.
  • CNS effects: An oral infusion of up to 208 times the corresponding human dose of lemongrass and oral citral up to 200mg/kg in rats showed no effect on the central nervous system (CNS) as a depressant, hypnotic, neuroleptic, anti-convulsant, or anxiolytic.6 Intraperitoneal doses also exhibited little or no effect on the CNS of rats. In another study, rats and mice received beta-myrcene, a constituent of lemongrass, 1g/kg orally in corn oil27. This study also showed no effect of lemongrass acting on the central nervous system. There have been other studies conducted on the effects of lemongrass on the CNS.119,120
  • Hypoglycemic effects: There were two studies conducted to determine the hypoglycemic properties of lemongrass (Cymbopogon proximus) in alloxan-induced diabetic rats.9,10 Both studies showed that lemongrass restored glucose levels to normal in four weeks of treatment in rats. In one study, alloxan-induced diabetic rats were given 1.5mL of aqueous suspension of lemongrass per 100g body weight orally each day for four weeks.9 The lemongrass treatment restored glucose, urea, creatinine, bilirubin, total protein and albumin and decreased aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in the alloxan-induced diabetic rats. In the other study, lemongrass was administered orally each day to alloxan-induced diabetic rats and elevated blood glucose returned to normal levels after four weeks.10 Lemongrass treatment also decreased cytochrome P450s, and their associated enzyme activities such as aryl hydrocarbon (benzo(a)pyrene) hydroxylase (AHH), N-nitrosdimethylamine N-demethylase I (NDMA-dI), NADPH-cytochrome C reductase, and detoxified by glutathione S-transferase (GST) and glutathione (GSH) after these enzymes had been increased in alloxan-induced diabetic rats.
  • Insecticide and insect repellent effects: Lemongrass has been shown to have insect repellent effects.3,121,122,123,124,125,126 Various studies have shown lemongrass oil to be anywhere from 50 to 95% effective at repelling insects for two to three hours.3,122,123,126. Lemongrass has also shown insecticidal.2,127,128,129,35,36,130,131,132,133,134 Studies have shown that lemongrass oil is an effective insecticide against various insects like dust mites, termites, and ticks.
  • Other: Lemongrass was tested to determine its affect on 5-HT release for use in headache treatment.1 Cymbopogon ambiguus inhibited adenosine diphosphate (ADP) induced platelet 5-HT release in levels ranging from 56-98% and was not due to the non-specific effects of protein binding tannins. The inhibition was dose dependent with an IC50 value of 0.758mg/mL. The dichloromethane (DCM) extract of C. ambiguus also caused a significant inhibition of platelet activation induced by epinephrine, arachidonic acid, and to a lesser extent by collagen. The authors suggest these results indicate that inhibition may occur within the arachidonic acid pathway and suggest the presence of a cyclo-oxygenase inhibitor.
  • A test was conducted to assess the effect of Cymbopogon citratus on levels of serum aflatoxin-albumin (AF-albumin) adducts following aflatoxin B(1) (AFB(1)) exposure in rats.135 Rats were treated with 5g/kg Cymbopogon citratus extract daily for one week, then the rats were administered AFB(1). No significant difference in biomarker levels was seen with the Cymbopogon citratus extract treatments compared to control rats.
  • An in vitro test found that Cymbopogon densiflorus possessed significant antidrepanocytary activity (anti-sickle cell anemia), supporting the traditional use of this herb by Congolese healers.136
  • An in vitro study found that ethanolic extracts of Cymbopogon citratus had enzyme inhibiting ability (≥50 %) against acetylcholinesterase (AChE), butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), and lipoxygenase enzymes (LO).137
  • Extracts from the lemongrass plant, when reacted with aqueous chloroaurate ions, yields a high percentage of thin, flat, single-crystalline gold nanotriangles used in nanaotechnology.7,8


  • The urinary metabolites of citral, the main constituent of lemongrass oil (up to 80% of lemongrass oil)23, was studied in male rats138. Urine was collected for 24 hours after a single oral citral dose of 500mg/kg. The elimination in the urine was found to be rapid, with approximately 50% of the dose excreted within 24 hours. Citral was rapidly metabolized and excreted as metabolites. The metabolites were a biliary glucuronide and several acids. The metabolites that were isolated were 3-hydroxy-3,7-dimethyl-6-octenedioic acid; 3,8-dihydroxy-3,7-dimethyl-6-octenoic acid; 3,9-dihydroxy-3,7-dimethyl-6-octenoic acid; E- and Z-3,7-dimethyl-2,6-octadienedioic acid; 3,7-dimethyl-6-octenedioic acid; and E-3,7-dimethyl-2,6-octadienoic acid. The urinary metabolites of citral appeared to arise from metabolic pathways other than a nucleophilic addition to the double bond.


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