What is Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella) Oil?

What is Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella) Oil?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!


Cymbopogon Nardus (commonly called Citronella because of its distinctive citrus aroma)

What it is:

Cymbopogon Nardus is a tropical grass native to Southeast Asia that grows in large clumps and can reach 3-5 feet in height. The essential oil is extracted from the grass through steam distillation.

What it does:

Citronella oil has been used for a variety of purposes for thousands of years (1). One of its primary uses is as a bug repellent and it was actually the dominant ingredient in insect repellants up until the 1940’s when DDT, the first synthetic pesticide, was introduced (1). (DDT is a highly toxic petrochemical that was later banned in 1972 [2].) Citronella oil is making a resurgence in bug repellant products as consumers search for safer alternatives to DEET, and now it’s once again a very common ingredient. Study after study demonstrates its effectiveness and it’s even one of only seven insect repellent ingredients registered with the EPA (3-9).

Why we use it:

Simply put, we love almost anything we can source directly from nature with very little processing — especially when it’s safe and still effective. According to the EPA, citronella oil has little or no toxicity when used as an insect repellent on skin and in over 60 years, there have been no reports of adverse effects of concern (10). The US FDA even considers citronella oil as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for human consumption (11). Citronella oil is one of many organic, natural wonders we’ve included in our Honest Bug Spray that’s DEET-free and lab-tested for proven efficacy against mosquitoes and stable flies — it works up to 4 hours!



  1. Joshi, M. (2015). Textbook of Field Crops. PHI Learning Private Limited. Page 419.
  2. EPA. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www2.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/ddt-brief-history-and-status
  3. Müller, G. C., Junnila, A., Butler, J., Kravchenko, V. D., Revay, E. E., Weiss, R. W., & Schlein, Y. (2009). Efficacy of the botanical repellents geraniol, linalool, and citronella against mosquitoes. Journal of Vector Ecology, 34(1), 2-8.
  4. KIM, J. K., KANG, C. S., LEE, J. K., KIM, Y. R., HAN, H. Y., & YUN, H. K. (2005). Evaluation of Repellency Effect of Two Natural Aroma Mosquito Repellent Compounds, Citronella and Citronellal*. Entomological Research,35(2), 117-120.
  5. Trongtokit, Y., Rongsriyam, Y., Komalamisra, N., & Apiwathnasorn, C. (2005). Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites.Phytotherapy Research, 19(4), 303-309.
  6. Maia, M. F., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malar J, 10(Suppl 1), S11.
  7. Patel, E. K., Gupta, A., & Oswal, R. J. (2012). A review on: mosquito repellent methods. IJPCBS, 2(3), 310-317.
  8. Nerio, L. S., Olivero-Verbel, J., & Stashenko, E. (2010). Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresource Technology, 101(1), 372-378.
  9. EPA. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www2.epa.gov/insect-repellents/skin-applied-repellent-ingredients
  10. EPA. Citronella Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/fs_PC-021901_01-Nov-99.pdf
  11. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=182.20

This post was revised as of 1/14/2016.

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.