MAY CHANG – Litsea cubeba

MAY CHANG – Litsea cubeba

Essential Oil Profile

photo of berries and essential oils

May Chang – Litsea cubeba

Background, history, name, use, and essential oil

Jeanne Rose

Summary ~ May Chang, Litsea cubeba, gives us an oil beautiful in name, color, and scent. In a diffuser, it can cleanse the environment, ease breathing and uplift the spirit. Diluted in a blend with a carrier oil (Rice Bran oil is good) is healing and regenerative to the skin and leaves a clean and refreshing scent.

COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL ~ Litsea cubeba, the common name includes May Chang, Exotic verbena, tropical verbena (unrelated to lemon verbena), Kilemo, or Mountain Pepper.

         Family ~ Lauraceae, or the laurels, is a plant family that includes the true laurel, Mediterranean Bay, and its closest relatives. This family comprises about 2850 known species, including Avocado, Bay Laurel, Cinnamon, Clove, Massoia, and more.      

COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS: COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN ~ China primarily produces Litsea cubeba oil. It is also cultivated in Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia.

ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ This species is classified as a ‘Non-Timber Forest Product’ because it produces essential oils from several parts of the tree, such as leaves, fruits, flowers, and bark.

Unfortunately, the raw material for May chang oil has been obtained from natural forests, not cultivation. Continuous exploitation without cultivation efforts will threaten the existence of this endemic species.2.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ Litsea cubeba is obtained from the small peppercorn-shaped fruits resembling the black peppercorns of another plant. Litsea cubeba, the aromatic Litsea or May Chang, is a deciduous to an evergreen tree or shrub 5–12 meters high. It flowers from March-April, and the seeds ripen from August to September. This small tropical tree has lemon-scented leaves and flowers, and the small berries resemble green or black peppercorns. The species is hermaphrodite, which has both male and female organs.1. It is native to the Southern Chinese region, including Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Taiwan and Fujian, and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

SUSTAINABILITY ~ you must examine each of the plants you use for their ability to reproduce before you choose to harvest or wildcraft them. Many plants are in dire straits because of human incursion into their environment. Best to learn to grow what you want to harvest.

PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS, AND YIELDS ~ Berries are steam-distilled to produce the essential oil, sometimes solvent extracted for the absolute. Sometimes the leaves are distilled as well.

         Yield ~ 3-5% from the berries

photo of berries

ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS OF ESSENTIAL OIL ~A pale yellow liquid, clear, not-viscous, intensity 5-6, taste is tart and irritating, with a tart lemon-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 option in terms of therapeutic potential). It has been used to adulterate both Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm (Melissa) oils — both of which have a woody back note, while Litsea does not.

Aroma Assessment ~ The scent of May Chang has been compared to Lemongrass and Lemon verbena, but if you smelled the latter, you would know that it does not. It is considered sweeter and more refined than Lemongrass. It has been used as a possible fragrance alternative to the costly Lemon Verbena (not an alternative in terms of therapeutic potential). It has been used to adulterate both Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm (Melissa), which have a woody back note, while Litsea does not.

  • Color – pale yellow
  • Clarity – clear
  • Viscosity – not viscous
  • Intensity of odor – 5-6
  • Tenacity of odor – 6-7
  • Taste – strong, bitter, aromatic, and sour

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 the high citral level, is mitigated by the presence of the chemical limonene.



May Chang is most valued for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties. Other therapeutic actions are astringent, antiseptic, insecticide, hypotensive, stimulant, and tonic. The oil is used as a scent (especially in bar soap) and for flavoring in its own right. It is also used as a raw material by the chemical industry for the synthesis of vitamin A and for violet-like fragrances.

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

SKIN CARE ~  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. It can be used directly on a cold sore (lip or nose) or wart to kill the virus, but this will sting. Best to always use this oil in dilution.

APPLICATION ~ There have been times in the past when I would develop a cold-sore/herpes outbreak on my lip. This was easily but painfully treated by directly applying a drop of one of three high citral-containing essential oils; Litsea cubeba, Lemon verbena, or Melissa. Litsea is, by far, the easiest to obtain. At the first notice of irritation on your lip, apply the tiniest drop of EO. Yes, it will burn, but it is killing the virus, Apply again about three times per day. Herpes will not develop and will disappear by the 2nd day.

INHALATION ~ May Chang seems to work very well on the respiratory system as it functions as a bronchial dilator and is, therefore, helpful for relieving symptoms associated with bronchitis and asthma. “When given orally or by inhalation (citral), may possess prominent protective effects against bronchial asthma that is induced by inhalation of broncho-constrictors. May Chang oil may inhibit anaphylactic shock when inhaled and has a relaxing effect on the tracheal muscle.” (I am unable to find the original quote to cite)

            •Diffuse/Diffusion – Effect on the nervous system ~  This oil is helpful in the treatment of fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. It should be used in a blend along with limonene oil, such as Orange peel or Lemon peel oil, and with a gentler oil, such as a high linalool Lavender oil.

•Emotional/Energetic Use ~ In a diffuser, Litsea cubeba is a useful addition to a blend as it is emotionally uplifting, clearing, and naturally refreshing. Tone its exuberance with Lemon or Grapefruit oil, and it will clear a room of negative energy and ‘clean’ a space for you.

photo of flowers

Litsea flowers on the tree

NATURAL PERFUMERY & Blending ~ Blends well with Cedarwood, Chamomiles, citrus odors, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Palmarosa, and more, such as Patchouli, Labdanum, Oakmoss, and Ylang. Battaglia recommends using May Chang with the following essential oils: Basil, Bergamot, Geranium, Ginger, Jasmine, Rose, Rosemary, and Rosewood.

It is best used in smaller quantities as a bridge note or connecting note.

Extra information about citral and bridge notes.


basic perfume formula and a formula using May Chang

HYDROSOL ~ I have not had Litsea hydrosol. It might be slightly irritating if sprayed on the face directly, but it would work well as an application to acne sores and/or sprayed on minor cuts.

PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be explicitly distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components, and most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using fresh plant material.

CULINARY AND HERBAL USES ~ The berries are used extensively as a spice by the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan; it is seen as one of the features of aboriginal cuisine.

HISTORICAL & INTERESTING USES ~ Litsea plants are the primary source of traditional medicines, but they also serve as a secondary food source for muga silkworms (Antheraea assama). The silk from the muga silkworms produced from the Litsea plant is very attractive and more expensive than the silk produced from other plants. The silk cocoons fed with Litsea produce a creamy, glossy silk five times more costly than silk produced from a primary source of food plant, i.e., Machilus bombycina King4. [Silkworms mostly eat mulberry leaves. Silkworms eat vegetables mostly, especially mulberry leaves, and they are predominantly herbivores. The quality of food they eat determines the quality of silk they spin].


ABSTRACT/SCIENTIFIC DATA ~ “…The plant [Litsea cubeba] possesses medicinal properties. It has been traditionally used for curing various gastrointestinal ailments (e.g., diarrhea, stomachache, indigestion, and gastroenteritis) along with diabetes, edema, cold, arthritis, asthma, and traumatic injury. Besides its medicinal properties, Litsea is known for its essential oil, which has a protective action against several bacteria, possesses antioxidant and antiparasitic properties, exerts acute and genetic toxicity and cytotoxicity, and can even prevent several cancers. …” 3.

Key Use ~ Oil of Soap Odor

This work is sponsored and supported
by Prima Fleur Botanicals.

photo of two bottles of different Litsea cubeba essential oil from PrimaFleurBotanicals




3.Ethnopharmacological Properties and Medicinal Uses of Litsea cubeba. Y Heryati et al 2022 IOP Conf. Ser.: Earth Environ. Sci. 959 012045



_____.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California:

——. Respiratory Chart. 2002

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

Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose, California: 1992

Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Jeanne, 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Frog, 1999

Webb, Mark A. Bush Sense.2000

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

Safety Precautions

One thought on “MAY CHANG – Litsea cubeba

  1. Truly enjoy all of Jeanne Rose books and the blogs. Studied with her in person, Herbfest Iowa, Chicago, and other events years ago.

Thank you for reading and your comments.