Citronella – What is it?

By: Wendy Kennedy

We're all concerned about mosquito bites & West Nile this year. Citronella is the best known organic insect repellent. It is used in sprays, soaps, candles and other mosquito repellent products. So what is it?

Citronella is a tall, blue-green, lemon-scented perennial grass which grows to 1 or 1.5 meters tall. The leaves are used to make citronella oil. When the grass is 2.5 - 3 months old it is cut about 5 cm above the leaf sheath. The leaves are left to wilt in the sun. It can then be harvested again after about 1.5 months. Fresh, partly dried or wholly dried grass is steam distilled to remove the essential oil. The oil is yellow-brown and has the powerful lemony aroma we are all familiar with. Citronella oil is used a lot for commercially produced perfumes and soaps. It is also mixed with other vegetable oils to produce massage oils.

Citronella is native to southeast Asia. It is grown commercially in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, and Indonesia. The leaves have been used for their fragrance and medicinal value for centuries. Besides being an effective insect repellent it has been used for rheumatism, colds, headaches, lower back pain, migraines, fevers, pain, sprains, muscular aches, intestinal parasites, digestive problems, menstrual problems, stomach complaints, an after childbirth wash, to speed healing, fatigue, depression, household germicide/antiseptic, repelling cats, excessive perspiration, conditioning oily skin & hair, and to increase mental alertness.

Don't put pure citronella oil directly on your skin (it needs to be mixed with something). Don't used when pregnant. It has also been known to increase the heart rate of some people. Citronella oil should be used externally only - if ingested seek medical help.

Do citronella candles & soaps really work? Some say you'd have to have a lot of candles to create enough scent to keep the mosquitoes away. My feeling is - it won't hurt and even if it doesn't keep them all away it should cut them down. Use decorative candles that look great so their only purpose isn't repelling mosquitoes. I've used a mosquito repellent soap in the summer for years and I believe it helps. My daughter still gets lots of bites but she is one of those people that has always been covered with mosquito bites (must taste or smell good to mosquitoes!). She doesn't think the soap works. So give it a try - it if works great, if it doesn't keep the mosquitoes away you're still clean & a little lemony scented :-)

Wendy Kennedy owns and operates which carries a wonderful selection of country products including citronella candles & handmade mosquito repellent soaps.

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