Citrus aurantium ssp. bergamiaDownload info sheet
This tree, a member of the Rutaceae family (Citrus), is grown, primarily to obtain essential oil of Bergamot, which is distilled from the peel of Citrus aurantium ssp. bergamia or the bergamot orange. (NB: the bergamot orange is completely unrelated to another herb named bergamot, aka Bee balm or Monarda didyma; which belongs to the Lamiaceae family).
Some suggest that this tree was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who found it growing in the Canary Island, taking it home with him. Other sources say that it resulted from a natural cross-pollination between a lemon and a sour orange in Calabria, a region in South West Italy—Recent genetic testing supports this hybridisation theory.
Once it was popularised, plants were shipped to other parts of the world where there were suitable growing conditions. Cultivation has spread from Southern Italy to Sicily, Western India, the Ivory Coast and even New Zealand. Bergamot has become a very valuable crop.
Identification & Cultivation: The main varieties grown in Calabria are; Castagnaro, Femminello and Fantastico. They grow to become trees of about 4 metres with large deep green leaves. Flowering during the winter, they are very fragrant; the fruit (also fragrant), are about the size of an orange though slightly flatter. They are lime in colour, becoming more yellow and smooth-skinned the riper they become.
Parts used: The essential oil (EO) is extracted from ripe fruit. It can range from pale green to emerald green in colour. It requires 100 bergamot fruit to obtain 85 grams of bergamot essential
oil. Watch out for ‘adulterated products’, as with most essential oils.
Constituents: The essential oil is a very complex blend of volatile oils and other constituents including esters, terpenes, aldehydes, coumarins (including 5-geranyloxy-7- methoxycoumarin, citropten) furanocoumarins (including bergapten, bergamottin), alcohols, γ-terpinene, β-bisabolene, β-pinene, linalool, linalyl acetate, limonene, geranial, neral and heterocyclic compounds. The juice of the bergamot fruit contains melitidin and brutieridin (which have statin-like actions), mitrocin, naringin, miriflin, ponceritin, neohesperidin and neoeriocitrin.
Therapeutic Actions: A group of Italian researchers in 2015 found with initial studies that an extract of bergamot can lower cholesterol with minimal side effects. They also noted it boosts good cholesterol, can reduce fatty deposits in the liver and lowers blood sugar.
Medicinal uses: Bergamot EO has been shown to have antibacterial actions for both protection and treatment. The fragrance is a very fruity, floral scent, which is described as lively and fresh. It is a ‘top’ note oil, which means it is very volatile and the scent is gone within hours. The primary description of this oil is refreshing, uplifting, relaxing and antiseptic. It is considered that citrus essential oils have a relatively short shelf life - about 6 months to a year.
This EO can be used for massage, or, in a vaporiser either on its own or blended with other oils. For a refreshing and antiseptic cold and flu treatment try Bergamot, Thyme, Manuka (Tea Tree) or a relaxing (and massage) blend try the following: Bergamot, Thyme & Lavender. Bergamot, Thyme & Oregano or Bergamot, Palma Rosa & Lavender. Oil Of Bergamot has been shown in research, conducted by Professor Shizuo Torii of Toho University in Japan to decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system— which uses such hormones as adrenaline to stimulate our body’s reaction to stress, fear etc.
Bergamot can aid you to sharpen your senses and to help you to be more directly in control of yourself, with composure and distinction. In response to such findings, the Russian Space programme supplies the astronauts with aromatherapy oils to allay the feelings of emotional deprivation.
Relating to sexuality; Valerie Worwood’s description of Bergamot is that it is original and persuasive. It coaxes you out of depression and enlivens your sex life. It blanks out crises and allows you to get what you want. For lack of vaginal secretions, a suggested blend to apply is Bergamot, Fennel, Nutmeg & Cinnamon. A few drops in a base oil such as carrot, or borage seed oil.
In addition, Bergamot is described as a ‘go ahead, strident’ essence that can assist banishing depressive moods.
For depression, you can use Bergamot oil on its own or blend Bergamot, Rose & Geranium or Bergamot & Geranium.
Bergamot oil is a major ingredient of Eau de Cologne. The original recipe is as follows:
In a 70ml bottle add the following number of drops of essential oils: Bergamot 44, Neroli 4, Lemon 15, Lavender 2, Rosemary 1, Clove 1. Add 50mls of alcohol (Ethyl alcohol 25%proof, or Vodka). Leave 48 hours, then add 12 mls of purified water. Tightly close, shake well and leave to mature for 4 – 6 weeks in a cool dark place.
Another good blend is; Bergamot 4 drops, Lavender 8, Rose 2, Clove 3. In a 25 ml bottle, add 16 mls of alcohol. Leave 48 hours, and then add 6mls of purified water, continue as in previous recipe.
Dosage: Essential oils are not recommended to be ingested! Therefore, the dosage is for topical treatment only (see above) apart from the culinary uses of the fruit.
Caution: One of the constituents of Bergamot oil, as also in other citrus oils, is furocoumarine, which can lead to photosensitivity (light) and can also lead to abnormal pigmentation of the skin. It is advised to avoid exposure to the sun if using citrus based essential oils on the skin, especially in summer. There are some products which have removed the ‘photo-sensitising’ constituents, thereby reducing the risk of harm.
Culinary uses: The rinds contain a lot of essential oils; mostly used for cosmetic and culinary uses. The juice and flesh of the fruit is very tart and sour. It is assessed to be more bitter than a grapefruit and less sour than a lemon. It is not considered ‘palatable’—ideal for making marmalades and curds though. And as most people know it is the distinctive fragrance of Earl Grey tea.
There are quite a wide variety of recipes for using fresh Bergamot fruit;
the zest for marmalade, candied peel and cakes, or juice in salads, dressings or marinades. Then there is a wonderful sounding dessert I found (created by Lucy Vasefirer) for ‘Bergamot Orange Custard Cups’. She also experimented to create some biscuits she named Bergamot Orange Dreams – sounding absolutely delish. Recipe at http://www.hungrycravings.com/2010/01/single-bergamot-orange.html
Other Uses: Bergamot is a well known ingredient in the perfume and cosmetic industries.
History & Mystery: Bergamot is derived from the Italian word bergamotto, which was thought to be derived from Turkish bey armut or bey armudu, meaning ‘prince of pears’. The energy of Bergamot is the sun, ruled by the element of fire. It’s spiritual/inspirational essence is that it is stimulating and helps us trust in our senses, clarifies goals and be more self-assured. When we find ourselves in unfamiliar environments and unsure, it helps restore confidence. Another spiritual energy of Bergamot is to help activate Light Forces. Monika Junemann suggests that whenever we find our plans darkened by the shadows of dark powers, Bergamot will help focus a ray of concentrated light wherever it is needed.
References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergamot_orange; ‘The Land Where The Lemons Grow’ by Helena Attlee; ‘The Fragrant Pharmacy’ by Valerie Ann Worwood.
Prepared for the Herb Federation of New Zealand’s Herb Awareness Month 2022-www.herbs.org.nz
Advisory Note: This text is given as a general guidance. If any adverse reactions occur or symptoms persist, please contact a qualified medical herbalist or medical doctor immediately.