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What is Litsea Cubeba?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated May 17, 2024
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Litsea cubeba, also known as May Chang, is a member of the Lauraceae family. It is a mid-sized deciduous tree that grows from 16 to 26 feet (4.9-7.9 m) tall. This plant is best known for the pleasant citrus scent that is emitted from its leaves, flowers, and fruit. It is quite similar in fragrance to lemongrass, but smells even sweeter. The flowers are light yellow or white in color and the small fruit has a pepper-like resemblance. Although essential oil from Litsea cubeba can be extracted in small amounts from the leaves, the majority of it comes from the fruit.

Originating in China, Litsea cubeba is also found across Southeast Asia, including Taiwan and Indonesia. Although it grows wild in Indonesia, it is cultivated and harvested for its oil in China. Litsea cubeba essential oil has been used in traditional Chinese medicine practices for thousands of years; however, it was not available in the Western countries until the 1950s. Once it was introduced to the West, it was used mainly as a fragrance in soaps, perfumes, and other scent-based products.

The essential oil of the Litsea cubeba is light yellow in color and translucent. It is used in countless products in addition to soaps and detergents. For example, it is often found in skin toners or astringents because its citrus properties work to prevent acne. It has also been successful in repelling insects; consequently, it is a common ingredient in insect repellant. Many people enjoy its aromatherapeutic uses and place the Litsea cubeba oil in a diffuser to lighten and energize the air.

Traditional Chinese medical practitioners use Litsea cubeba oil in inhalers for asthma sufferers and people with bronchitis because it helps dilate the bronchial tubes. Some practitioners use it to treat fatigue, back pain, headaches, muscular pain, depression, and anxiety. It is also thought to stop cancerous tumors from growing. In addition, modern research has shown that it works to regulate arrhythmias of the heart.

Although Litsea cubeba is considered to be a safe essential oil, there can be some negative side effects for some users. The most common side effect is skin irritation for those with extremely sensitive skin. In addition, some people experience a hypersensitivity to the sun when they use a product with this oil as an ingredient. Consequently, a prolonged exposure to the sun should be avoided. Also, people with glaucoma should not use the oil, since it may raise intraocular pressure.

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Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi , Former Writer
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.

Discussion Comments

By Oceana — On Jul 25, 2011

At the recommendation of my friend who is into all natural treatments for physical conditions, I decided to try litsea cubeba to treat my fibromyalgia. Since there’s no medical cure for it, I figured anything was worth a shot.

Litsea cubeba really did seem to lessen my pain. I always felt like my muscles were aching, but once I starting using it, the aches got a lot better. Additionally, I started to feel a bit more energized. I had gotten so tired just from feeling tired that it was nice to experience refreshment.

I will continue to use it. It has enabled me to take up exercising again, and I’m starting to enjoy life more because of it.

By shell4life — On Jul 24, 2011

I used some litsea cubeba body spray in college. My roommate had a bottle of it, and she always smelled so refreshing and bright. She had tougher skin than I did, though, mostly from years on the tanning bed and on the beach.

My pale white skin was sensitive to everything from the sun to certain fibers. I did not even think before using the body spray that it might cause irritation.

I sprayed it on my chest and arms before going out to a party. Within the hour, I had to leave, because I was itching so bad. I had broken out in a red rash, and I needed to wash the stuff off. It’s too bad, because it really does smell wonderful.

By orangey03 — On Jul 23, 2011

I use an insect repellent containing litsea cubeba. I love that I can wear something that smells so fruity and wonderful, yet it doesn’t attract bugs! Normally, if I wear a fruity or flowery perfume while outdoors, I get stung a lot.

My boyfriend thinks it smells like a vaporizer that we use containing litsea cubeba, but to me, it just smells delicious. To the bugs, it smells repulsive, and that’s all that matters.

It keeps the mosquitoes away, and even the normally aggressive red wasps turn and fly in the other direction when I come near wearing it. I haven’t gotten bitten by any ants, either.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 23, 2011

Litsea cubeba essential oil can really make a good difference in my mood. I use it in a diffuser, and I begin to experience a range of good emotions.

The first thing I notice is that I feel more alert. The second thing is that I am glad to be awake and alive. I start to feel good about my life, and I begin to make future plans. I suddenly get the energy to start a new project or finish a chore.

Often, the scent of litsea cubeba makes me want to bake lemon cookies. I usually give in to this urge, and I feel like I have accomplished something by baking a batch.

Deanna Baranyi

Deanna Baranyi

Former Writer

Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
Learn more
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