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Lemon Oil

Citrus limonum - family Rutaceae


The name Limonum is derived from the Arabic Limun or Limu, which in its turn probably comes from the Sanscrit Nimbuka. Synonyms: - Citronnier. Neemoo. Leemoo. Limoun. Limone.
Other members of the citrus genus include:

  • Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Bergamot (Citrus aurantium ssp. bergamia)
  • Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
  • Citron (Citrus medica)
  • Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
  • Combava (Citrus hystrix)

Lemon is a cultivated hybrid deriving from wild species such as the citron and mandarin.

Scientists at the University of Western Sydney believe that citrus originated in Australia, New Caledonia and New Guinea and not in South East Asia as previously assumed. They suggest that the earliest species of citrus could have been dispersed from north-eastern Australasia as ‘floating fruit’ on westward-flowing equatorial currents, about 30 million years ago.

During the Renaissance, lemon was a symbol of trust. It was recognised by the neo- Galenic pharmacist Nicholas Lemery in his medical book, published in 1698, where he praised lemon as being both effective blood cleanser and carminative. Roman historian Virgil referred to lemon as the ‘median apple’. Columbus introduced the lemon tree to the New World on his second Atlantic voyage in 1493. A beautiful colour drawing of Lemon featured in Koehler's Medicinal-Plants 1887.

There are over 47 different varieties of lemon including:

  • Java Lemon (Citrus javanica)
  • Median Lemon (Citrus medica)
  • Pear Lemon (Citrus limetta)
  • Pearl Lemon (Citrus margarita)
  • Sweet Lemon (Citrus Lumia).

Lemon Verbena oil is from the leafy herb Lippia citriodora, and is unrelated to Lemon.

Lemon is widely cultivated in Florida, California, Australia, the Ivory Coast, Itlay, Sicily, France and Brazil.


The lemon tree is small and thorny, ranging between 3-6 metres in height and has a somewhat straggly nature. The branches are irregular with grey bark on the trunk, pale green younger branches and purple twigs.

The leaves are pale-green ovate-oval, about five centimetres long with a serrate margin and sharp tips. The pink and white flowers have five petals and are deeply fragrant.

The smooth ovoid shaped fruit with pointed ends changes colour from green to bright yellow as it ripens. Under favourable weather conditions, a tree can produce up to 1500 lemons annually. It is quite possible for a healthy tree to have ripe fruits and flowers side by side. Most citrus fruits ripen during winter, as they need cold nights to develop skin colour and flavour. November is the start of the citrus season in the Northern Hemisphere


Lemon oil is typically clear to pale yellow with a fresh, light, citrus sour and sweet fragrance. It smells clean and pure and has an immediate refreshing and uplifting effect.
The yield is approximately 0.7% and is expressed from the rind of the fresh fruit. The oil is more fragrant and if obtained by expression than by distillation.

The main chemical constituents are monoterpenes including limonene (60-80%); alpha terpinene, alpha and beta pinene, sabinene, myrcene, beta bisabolene, aldehydes including citral, geraniol, neral; coumarins and furocoumarins including bergaptole, and numerous trace compounds and flavonoids including naringine, neohesperidine, rutin, hesperidine, eriocritin.

The terpene D-limonene is what gives the characteristic lemon smell and taste. Apart from its use in aromatherapy, lemon oil is used widely as a top note in perfumery, cosmetics, shampoos and as a food flavouring in soft drinks and desserts.


Aerial antiseptic, anti-infectious, antibacterial, antifungal, anti rheumatic, antispasmodic, calmative, anti-scorbutic, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, digestive stimulant, lymphatic decongestant, cicatrisant, anti-anaemic, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge.



The British Navy used large quantities of lemon and lime juice to counteract scurvy on long sea voyages and it is believed that this gave their sailors a distinct advantage at sea. Lemon would also have been used as a cooling drink for fevers and malaria on sea trips through the tropics.

Lemon is used in acute rheumatism and its astringent nature makes it helpful as a gargle in sore throat. Lemon is also a safe children’s remedy for indigestion and hiccups and it is also helpful with jaundice and digestive or liver troubles. Some sources state that lemons contain unique flavonoid compounds that have antioxidant properties.

During colds and flu, a warming drink can be made with fresh ginger root, lemon peel and a spoonful of honey. Use water that is below boiling to preserve the vitamin C.
Lemon makes an effective household disinfectant on work surfaces and leaves the kitchen or bathroom smelly clean and fresh. Plain water can have its taste improved through the addition of a wedge of lemon.
Fresh lemon rind can be added to tonics for example elderberry or rosehip syrup. The peel can also be crystallised in boiling syrup for use in baking and desserts. Candied peel is used in traditional Hot Cross Buns of Easter.

Surplus lemons can be made into lemonade or marmalade. To extract the maximum amount of juice, allow the lemons to warm to room temperature before squeezing.

Lemon juice also prevents sliced apple going brown (oxidizing), for instance in fruit salads or apple pie.


Energetically, lemon is classified as cool and dry so can be considered with situations of heat or damp, or when there is an imbalance in the Earth element. Ayurvedic medicine states that hot water and lemon juice are beneficial to ones liver. Lemon juice is about 5% acid, which gives lemons a sour taste and a pH of 2 to 3.

According to Oriental Medicine, the key actions are clearing Heat from the Liver, clearing Heat and Phlegm –Fire from the Stomach and intestines, Gently tonifying Spleen-Qi and clearing Damp-Heat. This equates to situations with pain, excessive heat or thirst, nervous tension, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, headache migraine, tinnitus and epistaxis (nose bleeds), dyspepsia, halitosis, swollen gums, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, mucous colitis, lymphatic congestion.

It is useful in skincare where there is infection, warts, verruccas, boils, seborrhoea or fungal conditions such as athletes foot. Lemon is also effective for cleaning greasy hair or skin.

Useful for indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence and tummy spasms, tired and aching limbs, poor circulation in the extremities. A digestive tonic will calm the intestines, and aids in the secretion of bile and breaking down of fats so is useful for high blood fat and cholesterol, general obesity, cellulite, absesses and carbuncles. It activates the stomach and liver. Lemon is a mild sedative for the nervous system, helping to soothe and relax, so makes a useful addition to a blend for insomnia.

Lemon, Thyme white, Lemongrass and Cinnamon oil have been tested against MRSA. Lemon has a tonic effect on the circulatory system and is helpful for varicose veins and high blood pressure.

Lemon counteracts acidity in the body and makes the stomach more alkaline. Excess uric acid in the body that is not secreted results in the formation of crystals which cause pain and inflammation of the joints: rheumatism, gout and arthritis.

Psychologically lemon lightens, calms, refreshes and disperses confusion and worry. It rescues a mind bogged down by thoughts, burdens, decisions and obstacles.


Lemon oil is phototoxic so avoid exposure to direct sunlight or sunbed rays for 12 hours following application of the diluted essential oil to the skin. Lemon may cause dermal irritation or sensitisation in some individuals.


  • Lemon blends well with grapefruit, bergamot, chamomile, lavender, ylang ylang, frankincense, ginger, eucalyptus and juniper.
  • To make a fresh breath mouth rinse mix two drops of lemon and peppermint oil with 285ml spring water in a screw top bottle. Shake well before each use. Do not swallow.
  • For mouth infections, use lemon, myrrh, laurel, myrrh and tea tree.
  • Blend with tea tree, blue cypress and calendula and apply to athletes foot or verrucas after a shower or bath.
  • Use in nebuliser where there is illness or infection to lighten and refresh a room and bring calm to the patient.
  • Use on a tissue at the office when concentrating on tasks that require careful planning and decision making, or when one is feeling bogged down with burdens, decisions and obstacles.
  • As lemon is mentally decongesting and uplifts the Intellect, it makes a useful addition to a study blend along with peppermint, rosemary and basil.


  • University of Western Sydney ArchivesMedical Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt
  • ITHMA Course Notes
  • Aromatherapy for Everyone by Jan Kusmirek
  • The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia