Plant Talk with Palmarosa Essential Oil

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There is much to admire about Palmarosa grass and its pearly inflorescence. In my mind, Palmarosa is the yin to Lemongrass’s yang. This Plant Talk article features the many virtues and applications of Palmarosa essential oil including essential oil blending ideas.

a green grass in close up photography
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An Abundantly Fragrant Resource

Palmarosa essential oil is obtained by distilling the fresh, wilted, flowering aerial parts of Cymbopogon martinii var. martinii (a.k.a. Cymbopogon martinii var. motia) where the essence is most abundant in its inflorescence. Native to the Indian sub-continent it is wild harvested in many parts of India or readily cultivated for its cash crop and return-on-investment: it is one of the most abundant natural sources of geraniol (possibly > 90% of the essential oil depending on climate, elevation, time of harvest, etc.). Thanks to the popularity of this aromatic plant, it has been imported to and cultivated in several other countries (e.g., Nepal, Java, Madagascar and Brazil to name a few) for its essential oil due to its importance in the flavor, fragrance and cosmetic industries for hundreds of years (namely for geraniol). 

The Many Grasses of Aromatherapy

Beware of nomenclature and botanical varieties as the close relative of Palmarosa—Gingergrass—is also named Cymbopogon martinii var. sofia. This being one of many examples as to why smelling an essential oil and being familiar with Latin binomials behooves any aromatherapist. Other Poaceae friends are Lemongrass (Cymbopogan citratus, Cymbopogon flexuosus), Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides): all of them have their own personality and way of being in the world.

Palmarosa, How Do You Grow?

Palmarosa is a tall, perennial grass that may grow up to 2.5 m. With shallow and fibrous roots, this adaptable plant may grow in many locations but does not tolerate severe drought nor water-logged soil—like Goldilocks its “just right” conditions are hot, humid and sunny places. Its flowers (a.k.a., inflorescence), which contains more essence than any other part of the plant, may grow up to 80 cm. The epithet “motia,” meaning “pearl,” may be a reference to its milky-white inflorescence.

The Rosy Nature of Palmarosa

Let’s get back to the cash-crop nature of Palmarosa where it was and still may be used as a relatively inexpensive substitute or adulterant for Rose and Geranium. The essential oil was historically referred to as “Indian” or “Turkish” Geranium oil when it was heavily imported to the west (i.e., Constantinople) to adulterate Turkish Rose oil. “Rosy” essential oils are mainly procured from 3 plants; Rosa damascena, Pelargonium graveolens and Cymbopogon martinii var. motia. Palmarosa is a durable plant that tolerates many soil types and conditions over the fickler Rose and Geranium, making it more reliable and cost effective from an agronomy perspective. This may shed light as to why Palmarosa is used to “fake out” the other two essential oils.

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Impressions of Palmarosa Essential Oil

An encounter with Palmarosa’s settling energy offers an opportunity to sit in satisfaction with the self. “I am enough.” It has the ability to draw our awareness inward, get in-touch with self-acceptance and help us “wear our own skin.” The essence of Palmarosa softens things (e.g., hard thoughts, hard skin); links the gut-brain to big brain, equalizing both. With its affinity for circulation and flow (including digestive stimulation), effects of the essential oil may be realized through the entire body just as blood courses through every artery, vein and capillary of our being. The sensation of Palmarosa is slow-flowing, like a person you enjoy being around because of their stable, even-keeled energy.
Palmarosa brings two words to mind: integrate and embody. Its aromatic chemistry helps us wear our own skin; integrate parts of ourselves we feel disconnected from so we may embody our true selves.

Physical Impressions of Palmarosa Essential Oil

A signature of Palmarosa’s essential oil is downward energy, targeting the navel into the lower abdomen. This stirring of lower chakra energy seems to fill the pelvic bowl, settle any tension and rise up through deeper “belly breathing”. Palmarosa has an inner quality, supporting inner contemplation and acceptance. The aromatic profile is quiet, so is the energy on the body. Its signature energy is not bossy; it is rather like a gentle guide who helps you know yourself. Another way of saying this is how Palmarosa opens and clears lower energy (e.g., pelvic-gut-bowl) so energy can rise up into the lungs: clearing the lower so creative expression is available through the throat chakra. Breathing slows, but this is not a sedative oil. It is an evening oil, supporting time to turn inward to support the Yin qualities in each of us as the day winds down. In my notes I have the following words I’d like to share, unedited: “I want to breath deeper, lean in, like it’s letting me in on a secret but she’s whispering, and I need to be very quiet, put my ear up to her lips and listen. There is a quality akin to smooth, durable, natural fabric of good quality and single color that is soft from gentle use.”

Aromatic Personality of Palmarosa Essential Oil

Palmarosa essential oil saturates the air with a sweet, floral-rosy backbone and hints of fresh citrusy-green blue-grass. Surrounded by this slightly musty cloud of thick perfume, Rose Geranium comes to mind, but Palmarosa may be a bit demurer, a bit softer. There are hints of smoky dirt, molasses and lilac which get along nicely with soft and soapy notes bringing to mind Victorian roses and English gardens on a warm, sunny day. Its overall aura is fresh and clean in a soft way, rather like a gentle sponge bath than an abrasive scouring.

Affinities and Usage Applications for Palmarosa Essential Oil

Palmarosa essential oil has an affinity for the skin, cardiovascular and immune systems and is overall modulating on the nervous system. Following are notable therapeutic actions and indications where the essential oil may be worked with:

  • Emotions/Nervous: calming yet uplifting; restorative (similar to lavender in my opinion), softens emotional rigidity, working with states of tension, stress, exhaustion, debility, burn-out, depression
  • Skin: skin regenerative/tissue healing, softening quality and emollient, cooling, notable antifungal, effective insect repellent, sebum balancing, astringent
  • Circulatory: restorative (heart), stress related heart disorders
  • Immune: rich in monoterpenols it is anti-infectious and antimicrobial (notable anti-fungal with an affinity for the digestive tract)

What to Blend with Palmarosa Essential Oil?

Considering the above and depending on your intention, consider blending Palmarosa essential oils with the following essential oils: Rose (Rosa × damascena), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Nagarmotha (Cyperus scariosus), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and other species), Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), several of the woods (Cedrus atlantica, Santalum album, Aniba rosaeodora) and several of the aforementioned members of the Poaceae family.

Notes on Palmarosa Essential Oil Chemistry

Palmarosa essential oil is abundant in monoterpenols (notably geraniol) supported by esters such as geranyl acetate. It is generally accepted that essential oils rich in these chemical families have soothing qualities. Palmarosa essential oil is classified as non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing overall. However, it contains geraniol in abundance, a component classified by the EU as a potential sensitizer. Consider patch-testing if dermal application is intended.

Aromatherapy Blending with Palmarosa Essential Oil

Self-Care Body Cream

Support your mood and skin health with this reparative blend of essential oils. Many of these oils are known to support regeneration and working through traumas of both physical and emotional natures. I find creams and lotions are a lovely way to support skin health while also being a joy to apply. Isn’t self-care even better when it is enjoyable and not seen as a chore or something to put on a “to-do” list?

Class alert! Learn how to make your own deluxe creams!

  • 10 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
  • 10 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • 5 drops Carrot seed (Daucus carota)
  • 5 drops Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
  • 1 drop Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus)

To make: Combine the essential oils into a 2-ounce glass jar with a screw top. Cap the jar and let the oils mingle at least 24 hours as Cistus and Carrot seed need time to settle from an aromatic standpoint. When ready, add your own cream base to the jar (or buy an unscented base). Incorporate the essential oils into the base by stirring with a metal or glass stirring rod (or chopsticks work well too!). Affix the lid to the jar and label it with a name you enjoy, ingredients and the date.

To use: Use daily. Apply a generous amount to your skin with clean hands, enjoying the aroma and repeating a special affirmation or word you feel brings joy, empowerment or anything that feels right to you.

Shoo-Away Insect Repellant

Smell amazing while wearing an “aromatic shield” to keep bugs at-bay. Palmarosa is a known and trusted mosquito repellant, though many people are more familiar with its cousin, Citronella. You may not as readily find Gingergrass as other essential oils. If this is the case, swap that out for the more readily available Cymbopogon nardus. Note: this spray was used at a recent community garden meeting by many members with much efficacy.

Class alert! Learn the “ins and outs” of making aromatherapy sprays!

  • 20 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
  • 18 drops Spike lavender (Lavandula spicata)
  • 10 drops Gingergrass (Cymbopogon martinii var sofia)
  • 10 drops Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
  • 5 drops Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)

To make: Combine the essential oils into a 2-ounce bottle with a spray top (glass is preferred). Cap the bottle and let the oils mingle overnight. Once the essential oils have “mingled,” add 1 ounce of distilled water and 1 ounce of ethanol to the bottle. Affix the spray top and label the bottle with a name you enjoy, ingredients and the date.

To use: Shake before using. Spray skin and clothing liberally, rubbing the “aromatic shield” into the skin. Reapply every 1-2 hours or as needed. Use as desired.

Surround Yourself with Love (Stock Bottle)

Evoke the power of stillness, self-acceptance and love with this deep, floral synergy of essential oils. I find Palmarosa encourages mental states of calm, akin to still versus turbulent waters of a large lake. Combine that energy with joyful florals and the relaxed backbone of Patchouli and see what happens…

  • 35 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii var motia)
  • 35 drops Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara)
  • 25 drops Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
  • 20 drops Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)
  • 6 drops Rose (Rosa damascena)

Usage suggestions:

  • Add 1-2 ml of the blend to a nebulizing diffuser; diffuse 5 to 10 minutes a day for 14 days to fill your space with vapors of self-care or, add 10-15 drops to a water diffuser, diffusing on a timer for 14 days.
  • Add 25 drops to an aromatic inhaler and use daily to encourage a state of radiant calm.
  • Put 10 to 12 drops in a roller-ball applicator filled with a fixed oil of your choice and apply to your pulse points as desired.
  • As this is a stock bottle, consider adding a few drops to a bath soak or even to your shampoo or conditioner! So many possibilities!

Thank you for spending time with Palmarosa and me.

Works Cited

Holmes, P. (2016). Aromatica A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. London: Singing Dragon.

Mojay, G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.

Smitha G.R., V. S. (2015). Variations in essential oil yield, geraniol and geranyl acetate contents in palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii, Roxb. Wats. var. motia) influenced by inflorescence development. Industrial Crops and Products 66 (2015), 150-160.

Smitha Gingade, P. M. (2014). Cultivation of Palmarosa. Boriavi: ICAR – Directorate of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research.

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