Common names: May Chang, Mountain spice tree
Litsea cubeba is a small evergreen type of pepper tree that grows up to 5–12 metres high with white and yellow flowers. Despite its lemon-like aroma, the plant isn't part of the citrus family. Cousin to cinnamon and ravintsara, it belongs to the Lauraceae or Laurel family. It is native to Southern Chinese regions and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.
Litsea cubeba oil is steam distilled from the fruit of the tree. This top note is sweet and fruity with fresh, lemony notes and floral undertones. The name cubeba is given to this plant because the small round fruits resemble those on the climbing shrub piper cubeba, a native plant of Java.
Certainly the litsea cubeba essential oil has a pronounced, crisp and citrusy scent. It is often compared to lemongrass or lemon verbena essential oil, probably because they all share similar citral levels, however to the tutored nose, they are each quite distinct. Litsea is somewhat sweeter, softer and less fatty than the more strident lemongrass and a possible, unusually nuanced alternative to the very costly lemon verbena essential oil for use in fine perfumery. It's wise to be sparing with litsea oil in a blend and increase it carefully to reach a desirable intensity.
Centuries ago, Chinese herbalists used litsea cubeba oil for treating digestive ailments, chills, back pain and muscular aches. Indeed, today the plant is recognised for its many medicinal properties and is still used for healing various gastro-intestinal ailments (e.g., diarrhea, stomachache, indigestion and gastroenteritis) along with diabetes, edema, cold, arthritis, asthma and traumatic injury. Overall, modern aromatherapy endorses litsea’s stimulating and revitalising effect on the whole body, being the tonic to the heart and respiratory system that it is. It exerts bronchodilating properties in cases of bronchitis and asthma, so use in an ultrasonic diffuser. Use in a tummy rub to ease flatulence, nausea and balance the metabolism.
Litsea cubeba has gentle astringent properties that can work wonders for oily or acne-prone skin. It works effectively in cleansing the skin and removes excess oil with the added benefit of firming and brightening it up to make the skin more radiant. Litsea helps to balance sebum production while cleaning and toning congested pores diminishing their appearance. A few drops of the oil can be added to your favourite moisturiser, toner or cleanser to enhance its effectiveness. This oil may also be useful for oily, greasy or lank hair so do add afew drops to your shampoo or conditioner if it is needed, it will certainly bring an exultant zing to the scent and uplift your day.
This healing oil has antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and is an effective bacterial inhibitor and bactericide against MRSA; an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that's become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections.
Litsea cubeba is one of the plant essential oils that could gradually replace chemical synthetics that are used as preservatives in the food industry for strong antimicrobial activity. It would add zest and certainly be less harmful.
“May Chang” (litsea) possesses wonderful uplifting and relaxing properties to help ease anxious feelings and low energy, lethargic states. Its refreshing scent revitalises and clears the mind. Litsea oil is considered to be a spiritual oil in Ayurvedic medicine and is used to pacify excess negative energy and rebalance our intrinsic spiritual ecology. In addition, it is said to reduce negative energy and enhance spirituality, allowing the mind to relax and let go of petty stress and unnecessary, obsessive complaining dwelling on adverse outcomes. Litsea diminishes the emotive power of excessive deleterious thought patterns, greatly improves the quality of our sleep and, interestingly, a study in 2012 also found that this calming oil can help us to sleep for longer.