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Lemongrass

Scientific Name(s): Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf, Cymbopogon flexuosus (Nees ex Stend.) J.F. Watson
Common Name(s): Achara, British Indian Lemongrass, Cochin Lemongrass, East Indian Lemongrass, French Indian Verbena, Guatemala Lemongrass, Lemongrass, Madagascar Lemongrass, West Indian Lemongrass

Clinical Overview

Use

Lemongrass has traditionally been used as a fragrance and flavoring, and for a wide variety of medical conditions. However, clinical trials are lacking to support any uses. Limited clinical or experimental studies have shown antifungal and insecticidal activity, as well as potential anticarcinogenic activity, while suggested hypotensive and hypoglycemic actions have not been confirmed.

Dosing

Information from clinical trials is lacking to provide dosing recommendations. Dose and time-dependent adverse effects of C. citratus leaves on renal function have been reported.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Adverse Reactions

Rare cases of hypersensitivity have been reported. Toxic alveolitis has been associated with inhalation of lemongrass oil. Dose and time-dependent adverse effects of C. citratus leaves on renal function have been reported.

Toxicology

No data. Lemongrass is considered to be of low toxicity at low doses.

Botany

Cymbopogon is a tall, aromatic, perennial grass native to tropical Asia. C. citratus is known as Guatemala, West Indian, or Madagascar lemongrass. C. flexuosus is known as cochin lemongrass, British Indian lemongrass, East Indian lemongrass, or French Indian verbena. C. citratus is cultivated in the West Indies, Central and South America, and tropical regions. The linear leaves can grow up to 90 cm in height and 5 mm in width. Freshly cut and partially dried leaves are used medicinally and are the source of the essential oil.Blumenthal 1998, Leung 1980, USDA 2008

History

Lemongrass is usually ingested as an infusion made by pouring boiling water over fresh or dried leaves. It is one of the most widely used plants in South American traditional medicine. It has been used as an antispasmodic, antiemetic, antipyretic, and analgesic, as well as for the management of nervous system and GI disorders. In India, it is commonly used as an antitussive, antirheumatic, and antiseptic. In Chinese medicine, lemongrass is used in the treatment of headache, stomach ache, abdominal pain, and rheumatic pain. Lemongrass is an important part of Southeast Asian cuisine, especially as flavoring in Thai food. Other uses include as an astringent and a fragrance in beauty products.Blumenthal 1998, Girón 1991, Leite 1986, Leung 1980

Chemistry

Fresh C. citratus grass contains approximately 0.4% volatile oil. The oil contains 65% to 85% citral, which is a mixture of 2 geometric isomers, geraniol and neral. The related compounds geraniol, geranic acid, and nerolic acid have also been identified.Lewinsohn 1998, Masuda 2008, Ming 1996, Sargenti 1997, Torres 1993 Other compounds found in the oil include myrcene (12% to 25%), diterpenes, methylheptenone, citronellol, linalol, farnesol, other alcohols, aldehydes, linalool, terpineol, and more than a dozen other minor fragrant components.Ansan 1986, Kasumov 1983, Viturro 1998 Geographical variations in the chemical constituents have been noted.Faruq 1994, Idrissi 1993, Torres 1996

Nonvolatile components of C. citratus include luteolins, homo-orientin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, fructose, sucrose, octacosanol, and others.De Matouschek 1991 The flavonoids luteolin and 6-C-glucoside have also been isolated.Cheel 2005, Guanasingh 1981

C. flexuosus volatile oil typically contains up to 85% citral. However, many strains have a higher concentration of geraniol (50%), with citral (10% to 20%) and methyl eugenol as minor components. Another type of East Indian lemongrass reportedly does not contain citral but does contain up to 30% borneol.Leung 1980

Uses and Pharmacology

Anticarcinogenic effects

Animal and in vitro data

Antimutagenic properties of ethanol lemongrass extracts against certain Salmonella typhimurium strains have been demonstrated in some studies.Avoseh 2015, Vinitketkumnuen 1994 In other studies, the extract inhibited DNA adduct formation in rat colon but not liver cells.Suaeyun 1997, Vinitketkumnuen 1999 In another experiment, ethanol extracts reduced the number but not the size of lesions in rat livers with induced hepatocellular carcinoma.Puatanachokchai 2002 Studies have demonstrated toxicity and apoptosis-inducing action of the essential oil and extracts against mouse and human leukemia cells.Dubey 1997, Dubey 1997, Kumar 2008

Topical C. citratus extract exhibited antioxidant activity in mouse skin, leading to suggestions of a potential role in skin cancer prevention.Nakamura 2003

Anti-inflammatory/Analgesic effects

Animal data

Conflicting analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects have been demonstrated in animal experiments, but most purported effects were too weak to be of clinical importance.Carbajal 1989, Carlini 1986, Lorenzetti 1991, Rao 1990

Antimicrobial effects

Animal and in vitro data

Several reports describe antimicrobial effects of lemongrass, including activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial pathogens and fungi.Baratta 1998, Chalcat 1997, Hammer 1999, Helal 2006, Kishore 1993, Lima 1993, Mishra 1994, Ogunlana 1987, Onawunmi 1984, Qureshi 1997, Wannissorn 1996, Yadav 1994 The effects are attributed in part to the geraniol (alpha-citral) and neral (beta-citral) constituents.Onawunmi 1984, Syed 1995 In a study examining 13 oils, lemongrass oil was found to be one of the most active against human dermatophyte strains, inhibiting 80% of strains and with inhibition zones more than 10 mm in diameter.Lima 1993

Clinical data

Clinical trials are lacking. In a study in South Africa, lemongrass showed efficacy in treatment of HIV-related oral thrush.Avoseh 2015 As a mouth rinse, either alone or in combination with other essential oils, lemongrass has demonstrated antimicrobial effects on subgingival biofilm and reduced oral malodor.Azad 2016, Satthanakul 2015 Antifungal activity was evaluated in a clinical study of C. citratus essential oil (1.25 mcL/mL concentration) in patients with pityriasis versicolor. Rate of mycological cure was 60% in the C. citratus group compared to 80% in the control group (ketoconazole 2%). No adverse effects were reported, with efficacy lower than that of ketoconazole.Carmo 2013

Antioxidant activity

In vitro data

Lemongrass oil has demonstrated antioxidant and radical-scavenging activity in several in vitro experiments.Cheel 2005, Masuda 2008, Menut 2000

Clinical data

A clinical trial (N=105) evaluating the effect of lemongrass tea on hematological indices reported positive effects on erythropoiesis, likely due to its antioxidant effects.Ekpenyong 2015

Cardiovascular effects

Animal data

Dose-related hypotensive effects and weak diuretic actions have been demonstrated in rats.Carbajal 1989 In one study in isolated rat hearts, lemongrass extract reduced the cardiac rate but did not alter the contractile force.Gazola 2004

Diabetes

Animal data

An experiment in rats demonstrated dose-dependent decreases in fasting blood glucose levelsAdeneye 2007.

Clinical data

In one study, lemongrass leaf tea ingested for 2 weeks induced no hypoglycemic changes.Leite 1986

Hepatoprotective Effects

Animal data

In a study in mice with acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity, lemongrass oil demonstrated reduced hepatocellular injury.Saenthaweesuk 2017, Uchida 2017

Insecticidal activity

Experimental data

In a study evaluating the mosquito repellent effect of lemongrass using Aedes aegypti adult mosquitoes and differing concentrations of lemongrass oil in liquid paraffin, the oil exhibited repellent activity, which was attributed to the citral content.Oyedele 2002 Other experiments have evaluated the oil as an insecticide.Ahmad 1995, Avoseh 2015, Gilbert 1999

Neurological effects

Animal data

Antidepressant activity of C. citratus has been reported in animal models. A murine study suggests the effect may be regulated through noradrenergic and serotonergic pathways.Umukoro 2017

Dosing

No information is available to provide dosing recommendations for lemongrass oil. Lemongrass is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in the United States.

A suggested safe limit for humans (based on an experiment in rats) is 0.7 mg/kg/day of the essential oil.Fandohan 2008

A clinical study evaluated the effect of an infusion prepared from 2, 4, or 8 g of C. citratus leaves once daily for 30 days on hematological indices.Ekpenyong 2015 At the higher dose (8 g daily), adverse effects on creatinine clearance rate and estimated glomerular filtration rate were noted.Ekpenyong 2015

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Citral and myrcene at high dosages have been shown to induce maternal toxicity in pregnant rats.Fandohan 2008 Lemongrass extracts have demonstrated antimitotic and apoptotic actions and should be avoided in pregnancy.Kumar 2008, Williams 1996

Interactions

Citral, found in high concentrations in the essential oil of lemongrass, is a potent inducer of glutathione-S-transferaseNakamura 2003 and its constituent beta-myrcene. Beta-myrcene has been shown to interfere with cytochrome P450 liver enzymes; however, no drug interactions have been reported for lemongrass.De-Oliveira 1997, De-Oliveira 1997

Adverse Reactions

Topical application of lemongrass has rarely led to an allergic reaction.Fandohan 2008 Two cases of toxic alveolitis have been reported from inhalation of the oil.Blumenthal 1998

A clinical study reported dose- and time-dependent adverse effects on creatinine clearance and estimated glomerular filtration rates following an infusion of C. citratus leaves.Ekpenyong 2015

Toxicology

An infusion of lemongrass given orally to male and pregnant female rats for 2 months at doses up to 20 times the corresponding human dose did not induce toxic effects. No external malformations were noted in pups.Souza Formigoni 1986 However, in another experimental study in rats, doses higher than 1,500 mg/kg body weight showed histological changes in the stomach and liver, leading to marked abnormalities in the liver and stomach mucosa and ultimately death.Fandohan 2008

Achara, an herbal tea made from dried lemongrass leaves, was nontoxic in a small study of healthy volunteers.Orisakwe 1998 Beta-myrcene was found to be nontoxic in one study in Wistar rats,Zamith 1993 but was toxic in another in vitro study.Kauderer 1991 Aqueous extracts of the plant used as an insecticide led to some mitotic abnormalities in Allium cepa root tips grown in these extracts.Williams 1996

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