Java Citronella

Java Citronella

Cymbopogon winterianus


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Java citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus), also called "Madagascar" or "India" citronella, is a perennial rhizome plant native to Indonesia. 


It belongs to the Poaceae family (grasses), has long narrow leaves with rough and sharp edges and hollow stems, that are bulbous at the base. It forms clumps of up to thirty centimetres in height and double the width. The essence of Java citronella may take as its slogan, "the scented death of mosquitoes", just like the famous Marie-Rose lotion, enemy of lice, did before. This repulsive action is indeed phenomenal. Citronella, a powerful disinfectant, is the only rival to eucalyptus in terms of environmental hygiene. Greeks and Romans used a similar species they called Indian nard and which was probably Cymbopogon citratus. Its fresh and pungent odour was included in the composition of the famous "royal perfume" of the Parthians, "acme of delight and a reference" according to Pliny. It opened the appetite and favoured digestion. The Romans were not aware of its anti-rheumatism properties but praised its disinfectant virtue. We are told by Pliny that citronella was used as a moth-proofing treatment. It cost the ten denarii a pound in 75 A.D., this very reasonable price means that the "Indian nard" did not come from faraway Asia, in spite of its name.

Cultivation and production 

The genus Cymbopogon includes about fifty species, among which the most commonly found in the market is Ceylon citronella (Cymbopogon nardus). Java citronella is found in Asia (Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Nepal), in different African regions and in the Antilles. It is often planted around houses to repel mosquitoes. The base of the stems cut into rings is a traditional ingredient in South East Asia cuisine.


The odour of Java citronella, lemony and slightly peppery, is characteristic.

Extraction and yield 

The total distillation of aerial parts of the plant by steam distillation has a yield of 0.3% to 1%, i.e. three hundred grams to a kilogram per hundred kilograms of plant.

Chemical formula 

The main active constituents of Cymbopogon winterianus essence are citronellal, geraniol and citronellol.

Main indications 

Repelling mosquitoes and other insects and treating their bites, Java citronella essence is anti-infectious, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. For example, it is recommended in ENT to treat a sore throat as it is anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-infectious. It is effective against tendinitis and rheumatic pains. For cooking, one or two drops of essential oil are enough to perfume a dish for five to six persons.

Related species

Ceylon citronella (Cymbopogon nardus var. maha pengiri), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus).


Excerpts from the book « Aromatherapia – Tout sur les huiles essentielles », by Isabelle Pacchioni. Aroma Thera Editions.