Citronella, an insect repellant

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Introduction

Citronella oil is a volatile oil which is distilled using steam from the greenish blue, lemon-scented leaves and stem of the plant Cymbopogon nardus (Ceylon citronella) orCymbopogon winteratus (Java type citronella) and the main constituents being citronellal and geraniol. In trade, citronella oil is categorised into two types:
1) Ceylon citronella oil - obtained from Cymbopogon nardus Rendle, (inferior type)
2) Java citronella oil - obtained from Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt, (superior type)

The Ceylon citronella oil was the more widely produced citronella oil, until the beginning of this century. However, the Java citronella oil slowly began to show dominance in the market because of its higher yield of oil. 

Characteristics

Citronella oil is a colourless or light yellow liquid with a characteristic woody, grassy or lemony odour. It is flammable and if the vapours are inhaled, this could cause an initial stimulation followed by depression of the central nervous system.

Citronella oil may be harmful if ingested in quantity and may irritate the skin and eye. However, it is not believed to be hazardous to humans, including children and those with sensitive skin, if used according to label instructions. Citronella oil has been widely used since the 1950s without any adverse effects which may cause concern.

Citronella oil has minimal or no risk to wildlife and environment due to its toxic levels being low and its use being limited. Therefore, it can be used around the home with no expected adverse effects.

The fumes of citronella oil are said to be potentially toxic to birds; however, this is because it is often used in conjunction with other essential oils in air fresheners – therefore, the potential to cause toxicity.

Uses

1) Insect repellent:
Citronella oil repels insects such as mosquitoes, black flies, fleas and ticks, therefore, preventing its bites. It is used on humans and their clothing – in the form of an oil, liquid and patch. Citronella oil is a natural, non-toxic alternative to chemical insect repellents such as DEET , therefore, is usually the preferred choice. Also available are solid products such as citronella oil insect repelling candles and cartridges. Citronella oil is also used in a tablet or pellet form in recreational or outdoor household areas and around trees and shrubs. In addition, there are animal collars and tags containing citronella oil for pets and other domestic animals to repel fleas. A combination of the citronella oil and cedarwood virginian oil also helps to repel mosquitoes.

Historically Citronella oils has been and continues to be used as an insect repellent for animals, particularly, horses. There are lots of recipes to be found and good anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness.

2) Aromatherapy:
Citronella oil, an essential oil, possesses activating and warming qualities both physically and mentally.The aroma is said to be like its relatives lemongrass and palmarosa. However, citronella oil is overlooked in aromatherapy because of its association with insect repellency. When citronella oil is diluted properly in a base oil and is applied to skin, it produces a mild sensation of warmth – which relieves painful muscles and joints. Mentally, the aroma of citronella oil may help with nervous fatigue due to its clarifying properties. It can also ease pressure of migraines and headaches. Citronella oil blends well with cedarwood, orange, geranium, lemon and bergamot - however, you should only use essential oils under those specialised in the field. It is safer to consult a qualified aromatherapist if ever in doubt.

3) Astringent:
Citronella oil is an astringent and if used correctly it may help with oily skin areas. Use a single drop of citronella oil on the skin (usually inner forearm) to test for irritation. Apply two or three drops of citronella oil to a cotton ball and gently wipe off the excess oil. Then complete your regular facial routine.
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