Common Names

  • Fever grass
  • Barbed wire grass
  • Silky heads

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Lemongrass has antioxidant, anticancer, and antimicrobial properties, but it has not been studied in cancer patients.

There are over 140 species of lemongrass that are prevalent in many parts of Africa and Asia. It is widely used as a flavoring agent in Asian cuisine, in perfumery, and as an insect repellent. Lemongrass has also been traditionally used in folk medicine to treat anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, and to induce sleep. These effects have mostly been shown in animal studies. Lab studies showed that lemongrass can lower blood pressure, and has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties. More research is needed to confirm such effects in humans.

Purported Uses
  • To treat or prevent cancer
    Although lab and animal studies showed that compounds in lemongrass can inhibit tumor growth or cause cancer cell death, human data are lacking.
  • To lower blood pressure
    Lab studies suggest that lemongrass can lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Human studies are needed.
  • To improve sleep
    Animal studies have shown that lemongrass injections can produce sedative effects. However, drinking lemongrass tea does not have the same effect in humans.
  • To prevent infections
    Lab studies show that lemongrass has activity against various microorganisms. A clinical trial of HIV/AIDS patients with oral thrush indicated that lemongrass is an effective antifungal treatment. It may also be helpful in addition to mainstream therapies for chronic gum disease.
  • To reduce inflammation
    Lab and animal studies showed favorable results, but human data are lacking.
  • To reduce anxiety
    Clinical studies show that lemongrass tea does not lower anxiety or produce calming effects. However, briefly breathing in lemongrass essential oil might speed recovery from some types of anxiety. More studies are needed to confirm this effect.
Do Not Take If
  • You are undergoing chemotherapy: Lemongrass can act as an antioxidant and may reduce the effectiveness of some chemotherapy agents.
  • You are taking drugs that are glutathione-S-transferase substrates: Although no interactions have been reported, ingesting quantities of lemongrass over standard culinary use may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs.
  • You are taking drugs that are cytochrome P450 substrates: Although no interactions have been reported, ingesting quantities of lemongrass over standard culinary use may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs.
  • You are pregnant: Citral and myrcene in lemongrass caused birth defects in rats.
Side Effects

Oral: Dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, excess urination, and increased appetite.
In high doses, essential oil of lemongrass can damage liver and stomach mucous membranes.
Excessive intake of lemongrass tea may also affect kidney function.

Topical: Skin rash with the use of lemongrass essential oils

Case report
Delayed skin rash from both topical and oral use: In a 52-year-old massage therapist who also practiced aromatherapy with essential oils including lemongrass. Her rash also came back after she drank lemongrass tea.

Back to top

For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Cymbopogon citratus, Cymbopogon flexuosus
Clinical Summary

The genus Cymbopogon consists of several lemongrass species (1) that are prevalent in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia, (2) including C. citratus (West Indian) and C. flexuosus (East Indian). Lemongrass is widely used as a flavoring agent in Asian cuisine, in perfumery, and as an insect repellent (6). It has been used in folk medicine as a sedative (3), to reduce gastrointestinal problems (4), and for its central nervous system-depressant effects (5). It is traditionally consumed as a tea and used in aromatherapy.

In vitro, lemongrass exhibits antimicrobial (21) (23) (24), antibiofilm (25), anti-inflammatory (26), neuroprotective (27), vasorelaxant (10), and antidiabetic effects (28). Lemongrass extracts and constituents have shown antioxidant, antiproliferative, and apoptotic activity (8) (9) (29) (30). Animal models also suggest anticancer (31), anti-inflammatory (32), anti-allergic (33) (34), and anxyolitic activity (35), as well as protective effects on various organ systems (36) (37) (38) (39) (40).

In human pilot studies, lemongrass essential oil formulations were a helpful adjunct to periodontal therapy for patients with chronic periodontitis (41) and helped reduce oral thrush in HIV-positive patients (7). Lemongrass demonstrated antifungal activity against pityriasis versicolor, but was not as effective as ketoconazole (42).

In other studies evaluating lemongrass tea consumption, erythropoiesis-boosting effects were observed, suggesting possible uses in the treatment or prevention of anemia  (43). However, lemongrass tea may also produce dose- and time-dependent adverse effects on renal function  (44). Other studies have not found lemongrass tea ingestion to reduce anxiety or to benefit sleep (5). However, brief inhalation of lemongrass essential oil may help to accelerate recovery from some types of anxiety compared with controls (45). More studies are needed to confirm this effect.

Although lemongrass and its constituents induced apoptosis in some cancer cell lines (11) (12) (29) (30) (31), they have not been studied in cancer patients.

Food Sources

Lemongrass is used to flavor many foods and beverages. The dried leaves are used to make tea.

Purported Uses
  • Anticancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anxiolytic
  • Sedative
  • Vasorelaxation
Mechanism of Action

Chlorogenic acid, isoorientin, and swertiajaponin were identified as the active constituents in lemongrass that possess antioxidant properties to prevent endothelial dysfunction via a nitric oxide-independent vasodilatador effect on blood vessels (46). In vitro, anti-inflammatory effects of lemongrass occur through inhibition of IL-1beta (26), and proteasome and nuclear factor-kappaB pathways by chlorogenic acid (47). In rat cerebellar granule neuron cultures, neuroprotective effects were attributed to antiapoptotic activity that occurred with cell cycle arrest in the G0G1 phase (27).

In animal models, anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects were attributed to the major constituents citral and geranial (33). The anti-inflammatory effects of citral were further attributed to PPAR-gamma activation (38). Lemongrass inhibits release of the inflammation marker myeloperoxidase from neutrophils and suppresses IL-6 and IL-1alpha production in mice peritoneal macrophages (13). A lemongrass hexane extract modulated allergic asthma via inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B activation (34). Analgesic effects by the constituent citronellol are attributed to inhibition of peripheral mediators as well as central inhibitory mechanisms (22). Anxiolytic activity of lemongrass appeared to be mediated by the GABAergic system (35). It also altered onset and duration of convulsions and potentiated sleep time through GABAergic mechanisms (3), and increased seizure threshold by blocking seizure propagation (15).

In humans, the erythropoiesis-boosting effects produced with lemongrass tea consumption are likely due to its nutritional constituents and antioxidant and pharmacologic properties  (43). As aromatherapy to revert reactive anxiety, lemongrass essential oil appears to act through the olfactory or nose-to-brain pathways to restore homeostasis (45).

Several constituents in lemongrass demonstrate anticancer activity. Isointermedeol upregulates tumor necrosis factor receptor 1 leading to apoptosis through the extrinsic Fas pathway (2) (11). It also increases mitochondrial expression and activation of caspase-9 via the intrinsic cell death pathway. Citral induced apoptosis via caspase-3 enzymatic activity in human leukemia and breast cancer cells (8), and induced glutathione S-transferase (GST) through an electrophilic interaction with glutathione in rat liver epithelial cells. GST functions in cell detoxification by rescuing cells from oxidative damage and carcinogenic compounds (9) (12). Cytotoxicity was attributed to the presence of an unsaturated aldehyde group, which is specific to the geranial isomer of citral (9). Polysaccharides from lemongrass produced cytotoxic and apoptotic effects in cervical and prostate carcinoma cells via caspase 3 upregulation and Bcl-2 downregulation followed by cytochrome c release (29), and antitumor and immunomodulatory activities in sarcoma-180 tumor cells were attributed to immunoenhancement rather than direct cytotoxicity (31).

  • Because of its antioxidant potential, lemongrass may interfere with the actions of some chemotherapeutic agents.
  • Lemongrass should be avoided during pregnancy as high doses of citral and myrcene caused birth defects in rats (16) (17).
Adverse Reactions

Oral: Dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, excessive urination, and increased appetite (5) (7).

In high doses, the essential oil of C. citratus can damage liver and stomach mucosae (18). Excessive ingestion of lemongrass tea may also have adverse effects on renal function  (44).

Topical: Contact dermatitis (48).

Case report
Delayed contact dermatitis (topical and oral): In a 52-year-old massage therapist who also practiced aromatherapy with essential oils including lemongrass. Her cutaneous symptoms also recurred following ingestion of lemongrass tea (49).

Herb-Drug Interactions
  • Glutathione-S-transferase (GST) substrates: Citral, found in lemongrass essential oil, was shown to induce GST (9).
  • Cytochrome P450 substrates: Beta-myrcene in lemongrass can interfere with cytochrome P450 liver enzymes (19) (20), although lemongrass-prescription drug interactions have not been reported.
Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Ganjewala D and Luthra R. Essential oil biosynthesis and regulation in the genus Cymbopogon. Nat Prod Commun 2010;5(1):163-72.

  2. Sharma PR, et al. Anticancer activity of an essential oil from Cymbopogon flexuosus. Chem Biol Interact 2009; 179(2-3):160-8.

  3. Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. Repellent activity of essential oils: a review. Bioresour Technol 2010;101(1):72-8.

  4. Dudai N, et al. Citral is a new inducer of caspase-3 in tumor cell lines. Planta Med 2005;71(5):484-8

  5. Sforcin JM, et al. Lemongrass effects on IL-1beta and IL-6 production by macrophages. Nat Prod Res 2009;23(12):1151-9.

  6. Blanco MM, et al. Neurobehavioral effect of essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus in mice. Phytomedicine 2009;16(2-3):265-70.

  7. Delgado IF, Carvalho RR, Nogueira AC, et al. Study on embryofoetotoxicity of b-myrcene in the rat. Food and Chemical Toxicology 1993;31(1):31-35.

  8. Nogueira AC, Carvalho RR, Souza CA, Chahoud I, Paumgartten FJ. Study on the embryofeto-toxicity of citral in the rat. Toxicology 1995;96(2):105-113.

  9. De-Oliveira AC, Ribeiro-Pinto LF, Paumgartten JR. In vitro inhibition of CYP2B1 monooxygenase by beta-myrcene and other monoterpenoid compounds. Toxicol Lett 1997;92(1):39-46.

  10. De-Oliveira AC, Ribeiro-Pinto LF, Otto SS, Goncalves A, Paumgartten FJ. Induction of liver monooxygenase by beta-myrcene. Toxicology 1997;124(2):135-140.

  11. Chaudhari LK, Jawale BA, Sharma S, Sharma H, Kumar CD, Kulkarni PA. Antimicrobial activity of commercially available essential oils against Streptococcus mutans. J Contemp Dent Pract.2012 Jan 1;13(1):71-4.

  12. Brito RG, Guimarães AG, Quintans JS, et al. Citronellol, a monoterpene alcohol, reduces nociceptive and inflammatory activities in rodents.J Nat Med. 2012 Oct;66(4):637-44.

  13. Vazquez-Sanchez D, Cabo ML, Rodriguez-Herrera JJ. Antimicrobial activity of essential oils against Staphylococcus aureus biofilms. Food Sci Technol Int. Oct 3 2014.

  14. Tayeboon GS, Tavakoli F, Hassani S, et al. Effects of Cymbopogon citratus and Ferula assa-foetida extracts on glutamate-induced neurotoxicity. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. Oct 2013;49(9):706-715.

  15. Thangam R, Sathuvan M, Poongodi A, et al. Activation of intrinsic apoptotic signaling pathway in cancer cells by Cymbopogon citratus polysaccharide fractions. Carbohydr Polym. Jul 17 2014;107:138-150.

  16. Halabi MF, Sheikh BY. Anti-proliferative effect and phytochemical analysis of Cymbopogon citratus extract. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:906239.

  17. Bao XL, Yuan HH, Wang CZ, et al. Polysaccharides from Cymbopogon citratus with antitumor and immunomodulatory activity. Pharm Biol. Jan 2015;53(1):117-124.

  18. Boukhatem MN, Ferhat MA, Kameli A, et al. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) essential oil as a potent anti-inflammatory and antifungal drugs. Libyan J Med. 2014;9:25431.

  19. Mitoshi M, Kuriyama I, Nakayama H, et al. Suppression of allergic and inflammatory responses by essential oils derived from herbal plants and citrus fruits. Int J Mol Med. Jun 2014;33(6):1643-1651.

  20. Santos Serafim Machado M, Ferreira Silva HB, Rios R, et al. The anti-allergic activity of Cymbopogon citratus is mediated via inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B (Nf-Kappab) activation. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015;15:168.

  21. Costa CA, Kohn DO, de Lima VM, et al. The GABAergic system contributes to the anxiolytic-like effect of essential oil from Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass). J Ethnopharmacol. Sep 1 2011;137(1):828-836.

  22. Ullah N, Khan MA, Khan T, et al. Cymbopogon citratus protects against the renal injury induced by toxic doses of aminoglycosides in rabbits. Indian J Pharm Sci. Mar 2013;75(2):241-246.

  23. Rahim SM, Taha EM, Al-janabi MS, et al. Hepatoprotective effect of Cymbopogon citratus aqueous extract against hydrogen peroxide-induced liver injury in male rats. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2014;11(2):447-451.

  24. Shen Y, Sun Z, Guo X. Citral inhibits lipopolysaccharide-induced acute lung injury by activating PPAR-gamma. Eur J Pharmacol. Jan 15 2015;747:45-51.

  25. Sagradas J, Costa G, Figueirinha A, et al. Gastroprotective effect of Cymbopogon citratus infusion on acute ethanol-induced gastric lesions in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. Sep 15 2015;173:134-138.

  26. Warad SB, Kolar SS, Kalburgi V, et al. Lemongrass essential oil gel as a local drug delivery agent for the treatment of periodontitis. Anc Sci Life. Apr 2013;32(4):205-211.

  27. Carmo ES, Pereira Fde O, Cavalcante NM, et al. Treatment of pityriasis versicolor with topical application of essential oil of Cymbopogon citratus (DC) Stapf - therapeutic pilot study. An Bras Dermatol. May-Jun 2013;88(3):381-385.

  28. Goes TC, Ursulino FR, Almeida-Souza TH, et al. Effect of lemongrass aroma on experimental anxiety in humans. J Altern Complement Med. Sep 14 2015.

  29. Bleasel N, Tate B, Rademaker M. Allergic contact dermatitis following exposure to essential oils. Australas J Dermatol. Aug 2002;43(3):211-213.

Back to top
Back to top
Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

Last Updated