Lemon Oil

Lemon Oil (Citrus limonum)


By Hwaa Irfan

Native to Northern India, this now common fruit, is a member of the Rutaceae family of the plant kingdom. The Latin name Limonum is from the Arabic ليمون, but is also known by many variations, along with citron (French) is present in every home for it has many purposes. First brought to Europe via the  unholy Crusades of the Middle Ages in 1096-1271 AD. English ships are deem by law to carry lemons which contains the best antiscorbutics, which are specific in the treatment of scurvy.

The lemon has changed over centuries of cultivation through commercialization of which today one can find over 47 varieties. Preferring well drained soil and abundant sunlight, lemon trees can grow up to 20 feet high. The tree bark varies in colour from grey – green – purple. Ovate evergreen alternating leaves grow two inches long, sheltering five-petaled flowers that are white at the center, changing to the lemon yellow we know and love, ending in purple edged petals.

The lemon comes to fruit first as an ovoid berry with oil glands and acidic pulp.

The essential oil is extracted by cold press from the mesocarp or the white pith as well as from the peel. It takes one ton of fresh lemons to produce seven pounds of fresh lemon oil.

When buying look out for lemon oil watch out for adulteration from citrene (a fraction from the citral oil of the lemon used to make terpeneless oil, other fixed oils, orange terpenes, alcohol, oils of turpentine, and pinene. The oil should be a pale greenish-yellow, and the consistency watery. The smell is recognizable and more rounded than the fruit itself, but refreshing. At home, the oil should be stored like all oils in a dark glass bottle and kept away from direct light in a cool place to protect the oil from deteriorating.  It is only effective up to 10 months after extraction so check the date of manufacture.

Chemical Properties

Not to be confused with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon myrtle, or lemongrass oils, Citrus limonum contains:

  • a-pinene
  • a-terpinene
  • b-bisabolene
  • b-pinene
  • Camphene
  • Limonoids
  • Linalool
  • Limonene
  • Sabinene
  • Myrcene
  • Trans-a-bergamotene
  • Nerol
  • Neral

Limonoids have been found to play a positive role in the fight against cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, stomach, and the colon.

Alpha-pinene provides the anti-rheumatic effect of Citrus limonum, and acts as a tonic for mucous membranes and the upper respiratory tract. Alpha-pinene acts as an anti-inflammatory, and is anti-microbial.

Limonene is the source of the smell of the oil. Limonene has anti-cancerous effects, and increases the enzymes of the liver concerned with detoxification. D-limonene has been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones.

Linalool decreases aggressive behavior, stress, and improves sleep

Therapeutic Properties

The scent plays an important therapeutic role especially pertaining to the liver, but its long history has mad lemon oil a cure all for a wide variety of conditions including the following:

Some of the therapeutic properties are as follows:

  • Anti-anemic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-rheumatic
  • Anti-sclerotic
  • Antiseptic
  • Carminative
  • Cicatrisant
  • Depurative
  • Diaphoretic
  • Diuretic
  • Febrifuge
  • Haemostatic
  • Hypotensive
  • Insecticidal
  • Rubefacient
  • Tonic
  • Vermifuge

As an antibacterial, citrus limonum has been found to be effective against a wide variety of bacterial causing infections including staphylococcus aureus and E.coli. Within 15 minutes of exposure to the oil, meningococcus bacteria die, an hour for typhoid bacilli, and two hours for Staphylococcus aureus.

The Japanese use lemon oil in a diffuser in banks to increase concentration, as a Japanese university study established that 54% fewer mistakes were made.

As an anti-sclerotic it prevents hardening of the bodily tissues as in the case of scleroderma, sclerosis, and varicose veins.

For glossary see It All Makes Good Scents!


The oil is photo-senstive, and can cause skin irritation in some individuals on exposure to the sun, but can cause skin irritation and sensitizing in some individuals. Since it is a photo-toxic oil, it should not be used (even in low dilution) 72 hours before being exposed to the sun as it increases the likelihood of sunburn.


The oil can only be used for external use, though some traditions have specific applications for internal use. It is preferable to dilute it in a Carrier Oils at 5 drops per tablespoon (15ml).

Circulatory – Detoxification, high blood pressure, sluggish

Dietary – A good substitute for vinegar.

Digestive – Acidity, cramps, indigestion, stomach upsets

Endocrine – balances the spleen, detoxifies the liver

Head – Aches, sinusitis, migraines

Mind – Dizziness, convulsions, mental fatigue, nervous tension, stress,

Musculoskeletal – Rheumatism

Renal – Fluid retention

Respiratory – Asthmatic, upper respiratory tract infections

Skin –  Cuts, dull, immunity (stimulates white blood cells, pimples, oily, wounds, weak nails,

Skeletal – Arthritis, rheumatism

Diffuser – To aid concentration, clear the mind, lift the spirits, reduce stress,

Vapor therapy – For colds, decision-making, depression, fatigue, stress, lack of energy, low spirits, poor concentration, sluggish liver, upper respiratory tract infections, and voice loss. 30 drops added to a diffuser of spring water makes it an effective disinfectant.

Massage/bath oil – depression, digestive problems, fatigue, flu, lack of energy, infections, obesity, overweight, rheumatism, stress and as a general tonic.

Added to a cream/lotion – acne, cellulite, cuts, oily skin conditions, wounds

Mouthwash – mouth ulcers

The antiseptic effect of lemon oil on the other hand, helps to treat any cuts, boils and minor wounds. The rubefacient action of the oil further helps to sort out cellulite, as well as helping with acne.


Burfield T. “The Adulteration of Essential Oils and the Consequences to Aromatherapy & Natural Perfumery Practice.” London. 2005

Felter, W, M.D., Lloyd, J. U. “King’s American Dispensatory, 1898”

Soković, M et al. “Chemical Composition and Antibacterial Activity of Essential Oils of Ten Aromatic Plants against Human Pathogenic Bacteria.” http://www.baltikjunior.com/origano_doc/sinisa_stankovic_1.pdf

Aromatherapy Series:     

It All Makes Good Scents!

Amber Oil

Angelica Root Oil

Anise Oil

Bath Oil

Basil Oil

Bay Oil

Bergamot Oil

Bitter Almond Oil

Bitter Orange Oil

Black Seed Oil

Calendula Oil

Carrier Oils

Camphor Oil

Cedarwood Oil

Cinnamon Oil

Citronella Oil

Emergency First Aid Kit

Eruca – Rocket Oil

Eucalyptus Oil

Fennel Oil

Forsythia (Orchid) Oil

Fragonia Oil

Frankincense Oil

Geranium Oil

Galbanum Oil

Jasmine Oil

Juniper Berry Oil

Lavender Oil

1 Comment

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