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.