Essential Oil Profile: Litsea Cubeba



Marie Temmen


Common Name: May Chang

Latin Binomial: Litsea cubeba

Family: Lauraceae

Other Common Names: Exotic verbena, tropical verbena (not related to lemon verbena).

Part Used: Litsea cubeba is obtained from the small pepper shaped fruits which resemble peppers.

Production Method: Oil is obtained by steam distillation.

Countries of Origin: China is the primary producer of Litsea cubeba. It is also cultivated in Taiwan and Japan.

Chemical Composition: Litsea cubeba is valued because of its high citral content, estimated to be at 75%. Geraniol is the alpha-citral and Neral is the beta-citral. The sensitization risk, due to high citral level, is mitigated by the presence of the chemical limonene.

Description of Oil: A pale yellow liquid with a lemony fresh and fruity odor. The scent of May Chang has been compared to lemongrass and lemon verbena. It is considered sweeter and finer than lemongrass and a possible fragrance alternative to the costly lemon verbena (not an alternative in terms of therapeutic potential).

Description of Plant: This is a small tropical tree with lemon scented leaves and flowers and small berries which resemble peppers.

Therapeutic Properties: May Chang is most valued for its anti- inflammatory and calming properties. Other therapeutic actions are: astringent, antiseptic, insecticide, hypotensive, stimulant and tonic.

Integumentary system: This oil is helpful for general skin cleansing due to its antiseptic properties. It is also beneficial to the aromatherapy treatment of oily, acne infected skin areas.

Respiratory system: May Chang functions as a bronchial dilator and is therefore helpful for relief of symptoms associated with bronchitis and asthma.

Circulatory system: Research in China has focused upon the oil’s ability to regulate cardiac arrythmias.

Nervous system: This oil is helpful in treatment of fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Safety Information: May Chang should be used diluted in a carrier or blended with other essential oils to decrease potential for skin irritation. (As mentioned above, limonene decreases risk of such skin problems). Dermatitis-like reactions were reported in 3 of 200 people using this oil (Tisserand). May Chang should not be applied to skin which is diseased or damaged. In animal studies citral has been shown to increase intraocular pressure, so its oral use is contraindicated in those with glaucoma. The May Chang we purchase is generally from China so opportunities for comparison are very limited if not impossible. However, this is a relatively inexpensive oil so the danger of adulteration is lessened.

Summary: May Chang gives us an oil beautiful in name, spirit and scent. In a diffusor it can cleanse the environment, ease breathing and uplift the soul. As a blend it is healing and regenerative to skin and leaves a clean and fresh scent. Battaglia recommends use of May Chang with the following essential oils: Basil, Bergamot, Geranium, Ginger, Jasmine, Rose, Rosemary, Rosewood and Ylang-Ylang.



Batagglia, Salvatore, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. The Perfect Potion Pty Ltd, 1995.

Schnaubelt, Kurt, Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy. Healing Arts Press, 1995.

Schnaubelt, Kurt, Medical Aromatherapy. Frog Ltd, 1999.

Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla, The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual. Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, 1995.

Tisserand & Balacs, Essential Oil Safety. Churchhill Livingstone, 1995.

Williams David, The Chemistry of Essential Oils. Micelle Press, 1996.

Marie is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s degree in counseling and is certified in aromatherapy by (and is now a tutor for) the Institute of Dynamic Aromatherapy. She provides aromatherapy consultation and educational services at Cheryl’s Herbs in St. Louis. She has written several essential oil profiles for Scentsitivity and has three profiles (Cypress, Tea Tree and Vetiver) featured in Essential Oil Profiles, Volume 1, from the pages of Scentsitivitypublished by NAHA in 1998.

© 1999 National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) From Volume 9, Number 4Scentsitivity, the quarterly journal of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Reprinted with permission of NAHA.

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