Common Name: Citronella
Latin Name: Cymbopogon
nardus and C.
Geo-distribution: Originating in southern Asia, citronella is a fragrant grass that has adapted to most tropical countries around the world. It grows well in the coastal and mid-range elevations of Costa Rica.
Botanical Description: Both citronella and lemon grass are members of the Poaceae family and are similar in appearance. However, citronella has a stronger aromatic scent, which most of us are familiar with as citronella oil. Citronella grows much taller (two meters) than lemon grass, and the stems are red at the base of the plant. These plants produce long, flowering stems, which produce seeds annually.
Uses: Citronella oil is obtained from different Cymbopogon species. It is also present in several other plants, including geraniums and basil. The principal compounds of citronella oil are geraniol and citronellol, which are used in perfumes, household disinfectants and soaps, as well as insect repellents.
Taiwan, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Brazil, China, Sri Lanka, India, Argentina, Ecuador, Madagascar, Mexico and the West Indies are leading producers of citronella oil.
Household cleaner and disinfectant. Boil several chopped stems of citronella and three lemon rinds in two liters of water. Cool, strain and use for kitchen cleanup and general household cleaning.
Insect repellent. Finely chop one stem of citronella and one small cactus pad (known as tuna in Spanish). Add to one liter of alcohol in a clean glass jar with a tight cap. Shake the ingredients once a day for three days. Strain the liquid into a new container and discard the pulp. Apply generously and frequently to the skin to repel insects.
Citronella candles. Add several finely chopped citronella stems to one liter of melted candle wax. Simmer for several minutes to extract the citronella oil from the stem. Pour the melted wax into your favorite candle molds and discard the chopped citronella stems.
Notes: Citronella plants are sold in many nurseries across the country, or you may come across citronella growing in your neighborhood. In this case, carefully dig away several of the stems and their roots, which grow from the base of the mother plant. Be sure to trim off the leaves, while leaving the main stem intact.
You can plant these stems in plastic nursery bags full of good, fertile soil, leaving them in the shade for several weeks until they begin to form new growth. After several months, they can be transplanted to permanent sites around the house or garden.
Citronella does well in full sun and partial shade. Citronella plants can also be grown in large pots around the home or apartment to help repel mosquitoes. These hardy plants have no significant pest or disease problems and require no special attention._