Lemongrass Use Against Cancer
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Linda
Posted on: May 07, 2006

I read an article this week concerning the use of lemongrass to treat cancer where the researcher in Israel have found that citral, the key component in lemon grass killed the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells. The finding were published in the Planta Medica and I am wondering if this perhaps could help my sister undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer.

A search of Medline turned up this article by Israeli researchers on citral and its anticancer properties:


Citral is common in essential oils in lemon-scented herbs including lemongrass. The article gives lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and lemon verbena (incorrectly identified in the article as Verbena officinalis) as two examples besides lemongrass. Citral is also found in lemon basil, lemon eucalyptus, and probably most other lemon-scented herbs.

In the Israeli research, citral, at a concentration comparable to that found in a cup of tea brewed with 1 gram of lemongrass, was found to induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Apoptosis is a form of deliberate cell death that every cell succumbs to if it does not die prematurely by injury or disease. Citral seems to have the ability to turn on the apoptosis process in cancer cells thus causing them to die. Clearly any herb that is able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells has promise as an anticancer agent.

Will taking lemongrass tea or the essential oil of lemongrass stop cancer? Perhaps, but more research is needed before we know for sure. The Israeli research was done on isolated cancer cells in a laboratory, not on human patients with cancer. We can’t be sure if citral is absorbed by the gut and delivered to the ovaries in sufficient quantities to kill cancer cells. Nor do we know whether citral’s ability to induce apoptosis is limited to only cancer cells and not in healthy cells also. Even if citral does get to the cancer cells and causes them to die while leaving healthy cells to live, it still is necessary to test citral on animals and on human patients before we have solid evidence that citral works against cancer.

Often a look at the folkloric and traditional uses of a herb gives scientists clues whether a herb will prove to have useful medicinal effects. If lemongrass tea really is effective against cancer then the chances are that the effect was noticed in the past and is documented in herbals. However, I did not find any mention of lemongrass and cancer in the ethnobotanical literature I checked. That doesn’t mean that citral doesn’t have an anticancer effect -- the Israeli research apparently shows that it does -- but it does give reason for being cautious about jumping to conclusions about lemongrass and cancer.

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