Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Lemongrass Bad For You?

Also Known As: Cymbopogon, Barbed wire grass, Silky heads



Short answer

Lemongrass is generally safe for most people and can offer health benefits like aiding digestion, reducing stress, and having antimicrobial properties. However, it can cause allergic reactions in some, and should be used with caution by those with plant sensitivities, particularly to citral. When used topically, lemongrass oil must be diluted to prevent skin irritation. Excessive intake, especially in medicinal quantities or as an essential oil, warrants caution due to potential drug interactions and effects on liver enzymes, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.



Long answer

Lemongrass: Benefits and Traditional Uses

Lemongrass, scientifically known as Cymbopogon citratus, is a plant native to tropical regions, and it has been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems across the world. Known for its distinct lemony scent and flavor, lemongrass offers a variety of potential health benefits. The grass is often used in teas, soups, and even as a seasoning. Below is a breakdown of the traditional uses and reported health benefits of lemongrass, supported by contemporary research findings.

  • Digestive Health: Lemongrass has traditionally been used to aid digestion and alleviate stomach disorders. Modern studies suggest that lemongrass has antispasmodic properties, which might help to relax muscles of the stomach and gut, possibly easing symptoms of gastrointestinal distress (Ganjewala & Luthra, 2007).
  • Anxiety and Stress Reduction: Many cultures use lemongrass for its calming effects. A study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research highlighted that lemongrass might contain anxiolytic compounds, which can help reduce anxiety and stress (Shah et al., 2011).
  • Antimicrobial and Antifungal Effects: The essential oil of lemongrass has been found to have significant antibacterial and antifungal activity. Research demonstrates its effectiveness against various strains of bacteria and fungi, suggesting a role for lemongrass in treating or preventing infections (Weerakkody et al., 2016).
  • Pain Relief: Historically, lemongrass was used to alleviate pain, including headaches and menstrual cramps. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology supports these traditional claims, indicating that lemongrass may possess analgesic properties (Viana et al., 2000).
  • Antioxidant Properties: Lemongrass contains several antioxidants, which can help neutralize damaging free radicals in the body. The plant’s ability to fight oxidative stress was discussed in the Food Chemistry journal, where lemongrass showed potential as a source of antioxidant compounds (Cheel et al., 2005).
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: The use of lemongrass in reducing inflammation is another aspect rooted in traditional medicine. Research including a study from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry lends support to its anti-inflammatory capabilities, thanks to its constituent chemicals like citral (Mueller et al., 2008).
  • Cholesterol Lowering: Reducing cholesterol is another longstanding use of lemongrass. Evidence for this comes from a study published in the Lipids in Health and Disease journal, which noted a significant reduction in cholesterol levels among participants who consumed lemongrass oil (Adeneye, 2008).
  • Insect Repellent: Lemongrass has been traditionally used as a natural insect repellent. The Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association reports that lemongrass oil components are effective at repelling mosquitoes, adding support to this traditional use (Trongtokit et al., 2005).

While there is considerable anecdotal evidence and some scientific research supporting these traditional uses and health benefits, it is essential to note that more extensive and conclusive studies are needed in many of these areas. Nevertheless, the inclusion of lemongrass in a balanced diet may contribute positively to overall well-being, when used appropriately.

Potential Allergic Reactions and Sensitivities to Lemongrass

When evaluating whether a food or herb might have adverse effects, it's essential to examine its potential for causing allergic reactions or sensitivities. Lemongrass, while celebrated for its aromatic qualities and health benefits, is no exception. As a prominent ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine and an increasingly popular component in herbal remedies and teas, understanding its allergenic potential is of utmost importance for those who prioritize their well-being.

Firstly, it's important to note that lemongrass allergies, though relatively uncommon, can occur. The symptoms range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Skin reactions, such as hives, itching, or eczema
  • Respiratory issues, like sneezing, nasal congestion, or asthma
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort, including nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Individuals who exhibit an allergic response are generally reacting to the essential oils present in lemongrass, particularly citral, which is a known allergen. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry highlighted that citral, though responsible for lemongrass's distinct lemon scent, can provoke an allergic reaction in some individuals.

Besides allergies, lemongrass can also cause sensitivities in certain people. Sensitivities may not involve the immune system as allergies do, but they can still lead to uncomfortable symptoms. These could manifest as:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • General discomfort or malaise

For those with existing plant allergies, especially to related species like citronella, caution is advised when considering lemongrass intake. Cross-reactivity can occur, meaning if you're allergic to one plant within the same botanical family, you might also be allergic to lemongrass. Consulting with an allergist or a healthcare provider can clarify such risks.

Regarding dietary sensitivities, it’s important to recognize that lemongrass contains a class of compounds known as grassy aldehydes. These can interact negatively in sensitive individuals, possibly leading to the symptoms described above.

The prevalence of lemongrass in various products, from foods to skincare items, makes it increasingly pertinent for individuals to be aware of its potential to elicit allergic or sensitive reactions. Products containing lemongrass should list it as an ingredient. However, considering the range of names it may be listed under, including Cymbopogon citratus or Cymbopogon flexuosus, vigilance is key for those at risk. Ingesting lemongrass or applying it topically in any form, should be done cautiously by those with known allergies or sensitivities.

For individuals considering the use of lemongrass, whether as a culinary ingredient or therapeutic agent, it is always recommended to proceed with a patch test or a small intake initially, monitor your body's response, and seek medical advice in case of any adverse reactions.

Lemongrass Oil: Safety and Topical Use Concerns

Lemongrass oil, derived from the lemongrass plant, is commonly used in aromatherapy and as a natural remedy for various skin conditions. However, with all topical applications, safety is of the utmost importance. This section aims to address potential concerns regarding the topical use of lemongrass oil, including skin irritation, allergic reactions, and proper dilution.

Skin Irritation and Sensitization

First and foremost, while essential oils are natural, this does not guarantee they are free from causing skin irritation or sensitization. Pure lemongrass oil is highly concentrated and can be irritating to the skin if applied undiluted. Prior to using lemongrass oil, it's critical to perform a patch test to ensure there's no adverse reaction. This involves applying a small diluted amount of the oil to a discreet skin area and waiting to see if any irritation, itchiness, or rash develops over the next 24-48 hours.


Photosensitivity is a notable concern when using certain essential oils topically. However, lemongrass oil is typically not associated with photosensitivity, unlike some citrus essential oils. This means that using it on your skin is less likely to result in a reaction when exposed to sunlight. Nonetheless, it's still a good practice to monitor individual experiences and protect skin from extensive sun exposure after application of any essential oil.

Allergic Reactions

As with many substances, there's always a potential for allergic reactions. Some people may have a specific sensitivity to lemongrass oil or any of its constituents. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and include symptoms such as redness, swelling, itching, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. People with plant allergies or those who are prone to sensitivities should consult a medical professional before incorporating lemongrass oil into their skincare routine.

Dilution is Key

One of the most important aspects of using lemongrass oil safely is to ensure it is properly diluted in a carrier oil. Carrier oils, such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil, help to disperse the essential oil and reduce its concentration before applying to the skin. As a general guideline, for every 1 teaspoon of carrier oil, add 1 drop of lemongrass oil for a safe dilution rate of approximately 1%.

Use with Certain Populations

Special populations, including pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children, should use extra caution with lemongrass oil. There isn't ample research to fully understand the effects in these groups, so it's often recommended to avoid usage or seek guidance from a healthcare professional prior to use.

Quality and Purity Considerations

The quality of lemongrass oil can greatly affect its safety. Oils that are not pure or that contain additives and preservatives can increase the risk of adverse reactions. Always opt for high-quality, therapeutic-grade essential oils from reputable sources. Verify the product's purity by checking for a label indicating it is 100% lemongrass essential oil, and review any third-party testing results that certify its composition and safety.

In conclusion, while lemongrass oil can be a beneficial addition to your topical regimen, these safety considerations are critical to ensure a positive and healthful experience. Understanding proper use and potential side effects will help you make informed decisions about including lemongrass oil in your skincare routine.

Safe Consumption Levels and Potential Drug Interactions

When examining whether lemongrass is bad for you, it’s crucial to consider how much you consume and its interactions with medications. Lemongrass, known for its citrusy flavor, is a common ingredient in teas, soups, and other culinary dishes. It is widely regarded as safe when used in food quantities but should be consumed with caution in medicinal amounts. Here's a breakdown of its usage levels and potential interactions with drugs.

Determining Safe Consumption Levels

  • As a Food Ingredient: Using lemongrass in cooking is generally safe for most individuals. There are no specific guidelines for safe consumption levels in culinary uses because the quantities typically used in food are much lower than those used medicinally.
  • Medicinal Use: In herbal medicine, lemongrass is often used as a tea or a supplement. While there is no standard dosage, clinical studies have used specific doses that are generally considered safe. For example, studies have reported the use of lemongrass in doses of up to 12 grams of the herb daily without reported adverse effects (source).
  • Essential Oil: As with many essential oils, lemongrass oil should be diluted before use to avoid skin irritation. A common recommendation is to use a maximum concentration of 0.7% of lemongrass oil when applied to the skin (source).

Potential Drug Interactions

  • Cytochrome P450 Enzymes: Lemongrass may affect certain liver enzymes such as cytochrome P450. Individuals taking medication that is metabolized by these enzymes should consult with a healthcare provider, as lemongrass could alter the levels and effects of these drugs.
  • Antihypertensive Drugs: Due to its potential blood pressure-lowering effects, lemongrass might have an additive effect with antihypertensive medications, which could lead to hypotension or excessively low blood pressure.
  • Chemotherapy: While lemongrass has been studied for its potential anticancer properties, individuals undergoing chemotherapy should approach its use cautiously, as it might interact with oncologic drugs or alter therapeutic outcomes.
  • Diuretics: Containing natural diuretic properties, lemongrass might enhance the effects of diuretic drugs, increasing the risk for dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Close monitoring of fluid and electrolyte balance is recommended.
  • Diabetes Medications: Lemongrass might affect blood sugar levels. Diabetic patients should monitor blood glucose levels closely, as lemongrass could potentially amplify the effects of insulin or other diabetes treatments.

If you're on any medications, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating substantial amounts of lemongrass or its extracts into your regimen. By doing so, you’ll ensure that lemongrass remains a safe and beneficial addition to your diet.

Frequently asked questions

Inhaling lemongrass essential oil can provide aromatherapeutic benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and possibly promoting a sense of well-being. Aromatic use avoids potential skin sensitivities associated with topical application. However, both methods can offer benefits, and the choice depends on personal preference and the intention of use.

Lemongrass is commonly used in cooking and generally considered safe in food amounts. However, the safety of medicinal amounts of lemongrass during pregnancy is not well established. Pregnant women should be cautious and consult a healthcare provider before consuming lemongrass as a supplement or in large quantities.

Lemongrass can be used fresh, dried, or powdered to flavor a variety of dishes. It's commonly added to soups, curries, marinades, and stir-fries. You can also infuse its flavor into rice or use it to make a refreshing lemongrass lemonade. Always start with small amounts to adjust the flavor to your preference.

Lemongrass tea may have calming effects that could contribute to better sleep due to its anxiolytic properties. While not as widely recognized for inducing sleep as chamomile, lemongrass's potential stress-reducing effects could indirectly aid in improving sleep quality. Individual experiences may vary, and it may be used as a caffeine-free alternative to traditional sleep aids.

Ask a question about Lemongrass and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • skin reactions
  • respiratory issues
  • gastrointestinal discomfort
  • headaches or migraines
  • dizziness
  • increased heart rate
  • skin irritation and sensitization

Possible long-term side effects

  • possible hypotension with antihypertensive drugs
  • dehydration with diuretics
  • altered blood sugar with diabetes medications

Ingredients to be aware of

  • citral
  • grassy aldehydes


  • aids digestion
  • reduces anxiety and stress
  • antimicrobial and antifungal
  • pain relief
  • antioxidants
  • anti-inflammatory
  • cholesterol lowering
  • insect repellent

Healthier alternatives

  • consultation with healthcare provider
  • use of milder essential oils
  • incorporation in small, culinary quantities

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-15-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-15-2024

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