Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf

Last updated: 31 December 2015

Scientific Name

Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf


Andropogon ceriferus Hack., Andropogon citratus DC., Andropogon citriodorus Desf. [Invalid], Andropogon fragrans C.Cordem., Andropogon roxburghii Nees ex Steud. [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Sereh, serai, serai dapur [2], serai makan [3]
English Lemongrass, West Indian lemongrass [2]
Indonesia Serai dapur (General); sereh (Sundanese); bubu (Halmahera) [2]
Thailand Cha khrai (Northern); khrai (Peninsular); soet-kroei (Eastern) [2]
Myanmar Sabalin [2]
Philippines Tanglad, salai (Tagalog); balioko (Bisaya) [2]
Cambodia Slek krey sabou [2]
France Herbe-citron, verveine des Indes [2].

Geographical Distributions

Cymbopogon citratus is reported to be native to Sri Lanka. It is widely grown in the tropics, includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Tanzania, Brazil, Guatemala and China [3]. It grows widely in many tropical countries of Asia, America, and Africa. In Malaysia, it is normally cultivated in home gardens [4].

Botanical Description

C. citratus is a perennial grass from the family of Poaceae. It grows in clusters, and has long blades of grass, arising from a short, oblique, ring-shaped and sparingly branched rhizome, which grow up to one metre and are extremely aromatic. [2]

The stem is smooth, solid at the bottom and is up to 2(-3) m tall with waxy powdery secretion below the nodes. [2]

The leaves are leathery-textured sheaths, smooth and cylindrical, tightly embracing the stem, striate with basal ones persistent. The elongated flattened strap-shaped structure is less than 2 mm long, rounded or truncate, papery and hairless. The blade is linear, 50-100 cm x 0.5-2 cm with long-attenuate at both ends. The hairless apex is acuminate, drooping and waxy bluish-green. The midrib is prominent below and white above, smooth on both surfaces but top part and margins are often rough. [2]

The inflorescence is 4-9 noded,large, loose and compounded; nodding stalk up to 60 cm longand repeatedly branched. Each division is issuing from a spoon-like sheath with or without a leaf until the final ramification is a flower stalk carrying a pair of racemes. The raceme is 1.5-2.5 cm long; its rachis is villous with 2-3 mm long hairs. It has 4-7 pairs of a secondary simple indeterminate inflorescence size between 5-6 mm x 0.7 mm and 2 florets. Each pair is sessile while the other has a stalk; terminated by 1 sessile and furnished with stalk of individual flowers. The 2-keeled, hairless and less veined lower chaff of the grass inflorescence is flat or shallowly concave on the back with similar size and shape to the secondary simple indeterminate inflorescence. The upper grass inflorescence is boat-shaped and I-keeled on the back. The lower floret is reduced to an empty lemma while the upper floret is hermaphrodite, less a bristle-like appendage, with hyaline and 2-lobed lemma. There are no bracts enclosing the flowers but have 2 lodicules, wedge-shaped or truncate with 3 stamens and 2 styles with plumose stigmas.  The secondary simple indeterminate flowers are furnished with 4.5 mm long stalk, either male or reduced to empty glumes. The lower grasses inflorescence is 7-9-veined while the upper is 3-veined. [2]

The seeds are cylindrical to slightly spherical caryopsis with basal scar left on the seed. [2]



Figure 1: C. citratus or known as serai makan by Malays.


C. citratus grows best under sunny, warm and humid conditions. It performs best below 500 m altitude, but is grown up to 750 m in Madagascar and the Comoros. Average daytime temperatures of 23-30°C without extremely low night temperatures are optimum for growth and yield. Short periods with a daily maximum temperature over 30°C do not harm growth but severely reduce oil content. Hot dry winds may not only desiccate the crop but can also evaporate the oil. Frost is normally fatal. Water requirement is very high; the highest yields are obtained where the average annual rainfall is 2500-3000 mm evenly distributed over the year. Up to 5000 mm is tolerated on well drained soils. Long periods of dry sunny weather strongly reduce herbage yield and oil yield, although oil content is generally higher during the dry season. Good drainage is the most important soil requirement for C. citratus and in many countries plantations are on sandy soils, though loamy soils are used e.g. in China, Madagascar and Vietnam. Generally, soils of C. citratus plantations have a pH of 5.5-7.5, although good growth has been observed in Australia on a clay soil with pH 9.6. Good growth was also found on acid peat soils in Sarawak, Malaysia (pH 4.5). Saline soils are considered unsuitable, although fair growth and oil yield on saline soils have been obtained in greenhouse experiments.[2]

Soil Suitability and Climate Requirement

C. citratus can be planted on most soil types except for heavy clay and under waterlogged conditions. It is best grown on sandy loam soil with high organic matter content. This plant is well adapted to tropical climate and needs an evenly distributed rainfall throughout the growth period. The optimum monthly rainfall is 250–300 mm. The plant requires full sunlight for optimum growth. [3]

Field Preparation

Land Preparation

C. citratus needs proper land preparation for good control of weeds and crop establishment. This includes ploughing using disc plough and disc harrow. If necessary, ground magnesium limestone should be applied at least two weeks before ploughing to increase the pH to 5–6. Pre-germination herbicide has to be applied prior to planting to avoid early weed establishments. [3]

Production of Planting Materials

The rooted seedlings stems are used as the source of planting materials. These rooted tillers are collected from the mature plants of about eight to nine months in the fields. Each clump can produce 20-30 good and vigorous seedlings. The leaves are cut leaving the rooted stems to about 20-25 cm long. [3]


 Figure 2: Rooted tillers are used as planting materials

Field Planting

One or two rooted stems are planted in each planting hole. The recommended spacing is 1.0 m between rows and 0.5 m within a row. This will give the population density of about 20,000 clumps/ha. [3]


Figure 3: Field planting of C. citratus on peat soils.

Field maintenance


The recommended fertiliser for C. citratus on alluvial soil is the compound N:P:K (15:15:15) at the rate of 400 kg/ha. For the main crop, it is split into three applications and given at first, third and fifth months after planting. The rate is 100 kg/ha for the 1st month followed by 150 kg/ha for the third and fifth month after planting. For the ratoon crop, the fertiliser is given at the first and third month after the last harvest at the rate of 150 kg/ha. [3]

Weed Control

Good land preparation is very important for the early control of weeds. During the early crop growth, weeds can be controlled by practicing inter row cultivation. Manual weeding and careful use of contact herbicides such is practised to control weeds at later crop growth stages. [3]

Water management

C. citratus is relatively resistant to droughts and dry weather conditions. However for good crop establishment and initial crop growth, planting should be planned to coincide with the start of the rainy season. [3]

Pest and Disease Control

Generally, there are no serious pests and diseases in the commercial production of C. citratus. [3]


For fresh market, C. citratus is harvested at 6-8 months after field planting. This is done by pulling out the whole clump by using a hoe. The leaves and roots are removed and leaving the stem (together with the leaf sheath) measuring about 15–20 cm long. The estimated yield of fresh C. citratus is 16–20 t/ha. If the crops are harvested for essential oil extraction, the leaves are harvested to the height of about 10 cm from the ground by a sharp knife. The clumps are left to grow for the next harvest that is 3-4 months after the last harvest. The yield of fresh leaves from each harvest is 12-15 t/ha. The potential yield a year (three harvests) is 36-45 t/ha. A new crop has to be planted after four to five years. [3]




Figure 4: Harvested C. citratus to be cleaned and processed for fresh market.



Figure 5: Processed C. citratus ready for fresh market.

Postharvest handling

For fresh market, harvested stems are cleaned from dried leaf sheath before being tied into bundles of about 10 cm in diameter. Leaves harvested for essential oil production are left to wilt for 1-2 days before distillation. The yield of essential oil extracted from C. citratus is 0.3-0.4% of the leaf fresh weight. The estimated yield per hectare per year is 96-120 kg for the first year and 144-180 kg for the subsequent years. [3]

Estimated cost of production

The total cost of production for the first year is RM 9,800. The costs for the second and subsequent years are RM 7,700. The main components are the planting materials, other agricultural inputs and labour. The estimated cost of production for fresh produce is RM 0.55/kg for the first year and RM 0.4/kg for the subsequent years. [3]

Chemical Constituent

C. citratus has been reported to contain stereoisomeric monterpene aldehydes (e.g. trans isomer geranial, cis isomer neral, nerol, limonene, linalool, β-caryphyllene, flexuosus), alcohols (cotronellol, geranoil), aldehydes (geranial, neral, citronellal), myrecene, dipentene, nerol, citronellol, farnesol, linalooletc, geraniol, citral a, citral b, furfural, isovaleraidehyde, citronellal, decylaldehyde, farnesal, diacetyl and methyl heptenone. [5][6][7]

Extract of C. citratus has been reported to contain monoterpene (mycrene), terpenoid (neral, geranial), monoterpenoid (geraniol), citral, limonene, citronellal and β-pinene. [7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Essential oil of C. citratus has been reported to contain monoterpene (nerol), terpene (linalool), monoterpenoid (geraniol, citronellal, citronellol), citral, farnesol, farnesal and limonene. [3][14][15][16][17][18]

Plant Part Used

Stalks, leaves

Traditional Use

Traditionally, this plant is traditionally used as a sedative, hypnotic, analgesic, asthmolytic, diuretic, sudorofic, gastrointestinal disturbances, common colds and pneumonia. The stem of C. citratus has been used as a flavouring agent in rice, curry and soup preparations. It has antiseptic, sedative properties. It is normally used to treat fever, rheumatism and digestive problem. The leaves and stems are also used in herbal bath preparations especially for the afterbirth treatments. The leaves are used in the production of essential oils which are normally used in household and cosmetic products. [3][14][15][16][17][18]

Preclinical Data


Antifungal activity

Essential oil of C. citratus inhibited the growth of Alternaria alternata, Aspergillus niger, Fusarium oxysporum, and Penicillium roquefortiiby using disc diffusion and broth dilution bioassay. The oil also inhibited the growth of Candida albicans by using Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute agar-based method.  [19]

Essential oil of C. citratus inhibited the growth of Candida spp. compared to miconazole and clotrimazole. [20]

Essential oil of C. citratus (> 200 µg/mL) inhibited the mycelial and yeast-form growth of Candida albicans. [21]

Essential oil of C. citratus inhibited the hyphal growth and spore formation of Aspergillus niger. [22]

Antiparasitic activity

Essential oil ofC. citratus (200, 300 and 500 mg/kg/day) administered to mice (pre-inoculated with Plasmodium berghei) for four days showed anti-parasitic activity against P. berghei in a dose-dependent mannar (62.1-86.6%). [13]

Essential oil ofC. citratus leaves (used together with ethanol) showed strong ascaricidal activity in an experiment with cattle ticks whilst the whole plant extract of this plant also against activity of earthworms. [23]

Essential oil of C. citratus has been shown to possess anti-amoebic activity as tested against Entamoeba histolyteca. [23]

Essential oil of C. citratus inhibited the activity of Leishmania chagasi (a parasite responsible for leishmaniasis disease) in a dose-dependent manner (IC50 = 45 µg/mL) after 72 hr of treatment. Morphological alterations were observed in the treated parasites, included cell swelling, accumulation of lipid droplets in the cytoplasm, and increase of acidocalcisome volume. [24]

Essential oil of C. citratus inhibited the epimastigote growth (IC50 = 126.5 µg/mL) and intracellular amastigote proliferation (IC50 = 5.1 µg/mL) of Trypanosoma cruzi. The oil also caused trypomastigote lysis (IC50 = 15.5 µg/mL) on T. cruzi. [25]

Antibacterial activity

C. citratus showed activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. [26]

Essential oil of C. citratus showed antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella paratyphi, Shigella flexneri, Bacillus mycoides, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Bacillus subtilis. [23][27][28]

Essential oil of C. citratus (0.1% v/v) inhibited the growth of Helicobacter pylori without resistance to the oil even after 10 times application. The oil also reduced the density of H. pylori in the stomach of mice treated with the oil compared to untreated mice. [29]

Essential oil of C. citratus showed antibacterial activity against Salmonella spp., E. coli, and Campylobacter jejunii by using disc diffusion assay. [30]

Essential oil of C. citratus showed antibacterial activity against Listeria monocytogenes, L. innocua and S. aureus. [31]

Antianxiety activity

Essential oil of C. citratus (0.5 and 1.0 g/kg) pre-administered orally to male Swiss mice increased the sleeping time, the percentage of entries and time spent in the open arms of the elevated plus maze as well as the time spent in the light compartment of light/dark box. [32]

Other activities

Beside these properties described above, extracts and the essential oil of lemon grass have also shown antioxidant activity and anti-cancer activity in cases of experimental hepatocarcinogenesis in animals. [33] 

Cymbopogon citrates extract reported to have faecal glucuronidase inhibiting activity. The 80% ethanol extract has shown anti-mutagenic activity towards chemical induced mutations in Salmonella typhimurium strains TA 98 and TA 100. [23] 

Oral administration of an infusion of lemon grass has shown a dose dependent analgesic effect against hyperalgesia induced by carrageenin or prostaglandin E2. [23][34]

Extracts of lemon grass have been shown to retard the growth of transplanted fibrosarcoma cells in mice in association with lung metastasis. [35] 

It has also been observed that lemon grass extract can inhibit rat colon carcinogenesis initiated with azoxymethane, induced DNA adducts, and aberrant crypt foci in rat colon. [36]


It is non-toxic and relatively safe when used in folk medicine. [37]

Clinical Data

No documentation.


Dosage Range

No documentation.

Most Common Dosage

In Ayurvedic practice, the recommended dosage is 3-6 g. [38]


No standard marker has been reported. However, related standard profiles have been documented in the Malaysian Herbal Monograph. [39]

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing



Figure 6: The line drawing of C. citratus. [2]


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