And dulling tastes of happy Citron fruit,
Than which, no helpe more present can be had,
If any time stepmothers worse than brute
have poyson'd pots, and mingled herbs of sute
With hurtfull charmes: this Citron fruit doth chase
Blacke venome from the body in every place.
~ Virgil 70 BC – 19 BC
Despite the quote from the storied author above, the history of Citrus limon is quite silent. The lemon itself is native to Asia, grown from a small, evergreen tree. Multiple cultures claim the lemon as their own, from Burma and China to northeast India. Botanists from the University of California have their own twist, believing that the lemon is actually a hybrid fruit, combining sour orange and citron, rather than standing alone as a historical species. (1)
So while we speak so frequently about the historical use of many essential oils, the history of lemon itself is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. We have seen lemons in Ayurvedic medicine for as much as a century, and lemons appear again in Josephus' writings, describing a high priest's fruitful encounter with an angry crowd in 90 B.C. – who preceded to pelt him with lemons for his errant ways!
The key to it's healing power, lemon rinds (where the essential oil is extracted from) are one of the richest sources of d-limonene, which is the most common cancer-fighting terpenes in nature. (source) Additionally, we know that d-limonene can help:
- Boost immunity (source, source)
- Reverse liver and pancreas damage (source)
- Kill pathogens and acts as a food preservative (source)
- Aid in weight loss (source)
- Decrease anxiety (source)
- Promote restful sleep (source)
Some of the richest sources of d-limonene are: (source, p 580)
- Sweet orange (83.9 – 95.9%)
- Grapefruit (84.8 – 95.4%)
- Clementine (94.8 – 95.0%)
- Bitter orange, peel (89.7 – 91.7%)
- Tangerine (87.4 – 91.7%
- Lemon, expressed (56.6 – 76.0%)
- Celery seed (68.0 – 75.0%)
- Mandarin (65.3 – 74.2%)
- Tangelo (73.2%)
- Lemon, distilled (64.0 – 70.5%)
- Dill seed (35.9-68.4%)
- Elemi (26.9 – 65.0%)
- Palo santo (58.6 – 63.3%)
- Yuzu (63.1%)
- Lime, expressed (51.5-59.6%)
- Lime, distilled (55.6%)
- Fir needle, silver (54.7%)
- Bergamot, expressed (27.4 – 52.0%)
- Caraway (36.9 – 48.8%)
In addition to d-limonene, other commonly shared chemicals in the citrus family are furocoumarins like bergapten, notable for their phototoxic effects. When bergapten is left on the skin, then exposed to the sun, it amplifies the effect of the sun and can leave burns. Some people like to avoid using bergapten-heavy oils topically altogether, but simply avoiding the sun after use (such as using it at night before bed) is sufficient. Alternatively, steam-distilled citrus oils have lower concentrations of bergapten and mitigate this effect.
This list of photosensitizing and non-photosensitizing came from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapists. (3)
|Essential Oil||Latin Name|
|Angelica root||Angelica archangelica|
|Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk)||Citrus paradisi|
|Expressed lemon||Citrus limon|
|Expressed lime||Citrus medica|
|Orange, bitter (expressed)||Citrus aurantium|
Non-Phototoxic Citrus Oils
|Essential Oil||Latin Name|
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
|Distilled lemon||Citrus limon|
|Distilled lime||Citrus medica|
|Mandarin – Tangerine||Citrus reticulata|
|Sweet orange||Citrus sinensis|
|Expressed tangerine||Citrus reticulata|
|Yuzu oil (expressed or distilled)||Citrus juno|
Great care should be taken when using citrus oils during summer months and with your children, but you don't have to avoid them all together. Many aromatherapists agree that heavily diluting citrus oils minimizes the risk.
- Cold Pressed Bergamot — 2.4 drops (I just consider this 2 drops per oz)
- Cold Pressed Lemon — 12 drops per oz
- Cold Pressed Lime — 4.2 drops (I just consider this 4 drops per oz)
- Cold Pressed Grapefruit — 24 drops per oz
13 Key Ayurvedic Uses
Traditional use has carried us where historical origins fail, and we have plenty of record of lemon's benefits in Ayurvedic medicine, followed in recent decades by scientific confirmation.
Ayurvedic food and medicinal preparations use lemon and lemon essential oil heavily, giving us an excellent basis for discovery and use.
- Vakrashodhi – Oral health
- Rochana – Digestion.
- Trushna Nivarana – Thirst quencher.
- Shula Nivarana – Remedy for abdominal colic pain.
- Kasa Nivarana – Cough relief.
- Kaphotklesha, Chardi Nivarana – Calms stomach and relieves nausea, excessive salivation and vomiting.
- Amadoshahara – Prevents malabsorption.
- Hrutpeeda – Relieves chest pain due to gastritis.
- Asya vairasya hara – Relieves bad breath
- Vahnimandyahara – Promotes digestion, it is naturally detoxifying.
- Varnya – Improves complexion and skin tone.
- Pushtiprada – Nourishes the skin.
- Kapha Dosha – Weight loss.
Other notable effects include the regulation of cholesterol deposits in the circulatory system, which can help to reduce risk factors for heart disease!
Hundreds of studies have referred to lemon essential oil, exploring the dozens of traditional uses. Its most prominent component, limonene, is likely the key to its potency, found in many citrus oils. Its cancer-fighting antioxidant power is impressive, as well. With such a strong foundational composition, it's not surprising that the science is catching up to 1,000-year-tradition at breakneck speed!
Alzheimer's and Dementia
Dementia occurs when brain nerve cells become damaged. Being that this affect several areas of the brain, people experience dementia quite differently. There are various types of dementias, and they are often categorized by the part of the brain damaged and whether the condition worsens. Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia in seniors over 65 years old is, has been researched extensively and essential oils can be of great help.
For instance, the effects of aromatherapy were evaluated on elderly people suffering from dementia, with the majority being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. They were given rosemary and lemon inhalations in the morning, then lavender and orange in the evening. Through multiple tests and forms of analysis, the “patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation” without any deleterious side effects. (3)
Nausea and Vomiting
An interesting study came out the spring of 2014, highlighting the benefits that lemon essential oil has for pregnant women dealing with nausea and vomiting. This was actually the first study of its kind and they discovered some promising results. Basing their research findings on the personal report 100 women provided to the researchers, they learned that the majority were significantly more satisfied with aromatherapy (i.e. simply smelling lemon essential oil out of the bottle) than with the drugs that they were given or the placebo. (4)
Another component of lemon that researchers have recently validated is geraniol. To evaluate the antioxidant ability to reverse damage from inflammation and oxidative stress, scientists in India gave geraniol to rats with diabetic neuropathy. Over the course of the 8-week study, markers of sciatic nerve damage and mitochondrial enzymes were both restored significantly. As a bonus, they also observed restored dopamine levels, the neurotransmitter that is associated with healthy functions like movement and unhealthy functions like addiction. (5)
Although this was an animal study and not necessarily indicative of mirrored results in humans, the potential beneficial effects of regular lemon essential oil use are promising, especially with our current influx of mitochondrial disease and the effects of stress on the heart and aging. And, as concluded,
“From our data, we hypothesize that [geraniol] may be a promising therapeutic candidate in the management of [diabetic neuropathy] in humans!”
Food safety is another major benefit of lemon essential oil use. A USDA study utilized lemon in a study regarding E. coli and Salmonella. It successfully protected apple juice against the dangerous bacterial strains, confirming its antimicrobial use. (6)
After just a couple of examples, it already seems like lemon is a super-oil. And for good reason – it really is! Not only for us, but for our four-legged friends, as well. In 2014, Italian scientists documented the benefits of bitter orange, lavender, oregano, marjoram, peppermint, and helichrysum in a sweet almond/coconut oil carrier on dogs with dermatitis. A common denominator and major active compound? Limonene. Twice daily applications for one month were comparable to conventional treatments, with no side effects and benefits lasting for six months. (7) Impressive, to say the least!
Fun & Effective Lemon Essential Oil Uses
We've already walked through quite a range of uses for lemon essential oil, so there's no surprise at the long list of practical applications. These are just a sampling, and some of my favorite ways to use lemon outside of medicinal benefits.
1. Freshen Clothes – We've all forgotten to switch laundry to the dryer at least once. Just add a few drops of lemon EO in a rinse to prevent that awful odor.
2. Remove Gum and Sap – Playtime around trees can quickly become a mess. Remove pine gum or tree sap from clothes and carpet with an essential oil application.
3. Wash Greasy Hands – Soap just doesn't always cut it after doing mechanic work. But with a couple of drops of lemon essential oil added to your soap, the grime should wash right off!
4. Disinfect (Without the Toxins!) – Alcohol and bleach are harsh, especially when little hands and lungs are around. Instead, add 40 drops lemon oil to 8 oz pure distilled water and 8 oz witch hazel or white vinegar to clean the moldy shower and germy countertops.
5. Safe Leather Treatment – A dab of lemon oil on a cloth will restore leather furniture, shoes, and clothing to their original luxe.
6. Polish Silver – Try the same effect on tarnished silverware and jewelry to bring back the shine.
7. Goo-Be-Gone – Sticker books are a parent's nemesis when the stickers find their home on windows and furniture. Remove stickers, gum, and other gooey remnants with the help of lemon essential oil!
What's YOUR favorite way to use lemon?