Imagine a bunch of fresh, tangy oranges diffusing an energizing and enlivening fragrance through the air as you begin your morning…creating a sense of peace, calmness, and readiness for the day. This is one of the many wondrous benefits of bitter orange essential oil – the zesty facet of the trio of essential oils derived from the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium var. amara), also known as the Seville or Sour Orange. Its fresh, dry bitter citrus aroma comes from the outer peel via cold press while its sister oil Petitgrain comes from the leaves and twigs, and Neroli from the fragrant white flowers.
Bitter orange is much more intense, while petitgrain features a warm somewhat spicy smell, and neroli smells more floral. Known for its affinity with the digestive system as well as antibacterial and antiseptic properties, this essential oil has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
The Hidden Gem of Seville
Citrus aurantium is an amazing tree that is absolutely bursting with natural remedies hidden within the fruit, flowers, and leaves. It is a small evergreen that typically reaches a height of 3 meters (10ft) in cultivation, but may attain up to 6 meters (20ft) when growing in the wild. This plant has considerable tolerance to adverse conditions and can stand frost for short periods, although it thrives best in subtropical and near-tropical climates. The trees can reach a ripe old age, with some trees in Spain being reportedly over 600 years old.1
The fruits of the Citrus aurantium tree themselves are acid-bitter and therefore too sour to be eaten out-of-hand, but are perfect for making delicious marmalade or cold pressing the peel for essential oil. As with all citrus fruits, the essential oil glands are found in tiny pits located within the peel.2 The scent of bitter orange is a cross between the sweetness of sweet orange and the bitterness of grapefruit, resulting in a fresh and uplifting scent that is much fruitier than the standard sweet orange.3
Origins and Folklore
The word “orange” as well as “auran(tium)” derives from the Sanskrit “nagaranga”, that comes from the Arabic “naranj”.4 It is believed that C. Aurantium originated in South-East Asia, later spreading to North-Eastern India, Burma and China, and eventually finding its way via Arab traders to Africa, Arabia and Syria. From these regions, it was taken to the Mediterranean by the Moors, and by the end of the 12th century it was cultivated in Seville, Spain, thereby leading to the common name for bitter oranges, or Seville Oranges.5
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The bitter variety was the first orange to be introduced to the New World, finding its way to Mexico in 1568 and South America later in 1587. The sweet variety was unknown throughout Europe until it was introduced from India by Portuguese traders, eventually becoming the more popular choice.6
Today, bitter orange trees are cultivated for the production of essential oil in several countries including Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Guinea, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Sicily, Spain, Taiwan and the West Indies.7
The dried peel of bitter orange has been used as a medicinal herb in various traditional cultures across the globe in the treatment of many health conditions, including (but not limited to):
- Colds and coughs
- Digestive spasm and indigestion
- Anaphylactic shock
- Cardiac exhaustion
- Fungal infections
- Liver disorder
- Skin blemishes
The rind is both carminative (relieving flatulence) and tonic for treating indigestion, while the fresh rind is used as a remedy for acne. Bitter orange juice is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and haemostatic – causing bleeding to stop by keeping blood within a damaged blood vessel.8
In central and South America, China, Haiti, Italy and Mexico, decoctions of the leaves from C. aurantium have been taken internally as a traditional remedy to utilise their antispasmodic, antiemetic (prevents vomiting), stimulant, stomachic and tonic properties.9
The kind of bitter orange fruits was used in traditional Chinese medicine for relieving abdominal pain, headache, constipation, digestive disorders, weight loss.
The Brazilian folklore medicine used bitter orange and its oil in treating insomnia and anxiety. The ancient Europeans used it as a prophylactic and as a sedative for curing nervous problems, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, sore throat, and gout.
The Chemistry Behind Bitter Orange Essential Oil
Limonene is the primary constituent (up to 95%) in Citrus aurantium and is responsible for the sparkling fresh, tart, fruity green aroma as well as the active constituent making bitter orange an effective mosquito repellant.10
Its other major chemical constituents include:
Benefits of Bitter Orange Essential Oil
The therapeutic properties of bitter orange include treatment of poor digestion, constipation, and clearing congestion of the liver when used in massage blends.
The cleansing, stimulating and toning action of bitter orange essential oil makes it ideal to add to other lymphatic stimulants for treating oedema cellulite or as part of a detoxification program. Varicose veins and facial thread veins respond well to this essential oil, especially when blended with cypress oil in facial treatments. Some aromatherapists have had success treating acne with this oil, perhaps due to its antiseptic properties.11
Health Benefits of Bitter Orange Essential Oil:
Alleviates Stress and Reduces Anxiety
On the emotional system bitter orange essential oil is extremely uplifting and energizing for the body, yet calming to the mind and emotions. You can find bitter orange in MONQ’s personal essential oil diffuser Active. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine as an aid to meditation, and can be extremely helpful in easing stress and anxiety. Diffusing bitter orange oil is said to help dispel tantrums and frustration for both adults and children alike! 12
Add 1 drop of bitter orange oil to your diffuser and feel a sensation of freshness boosted confidence levels. Take an invigorating bath with a blend of 2 drops of bitter orange oil, 1 drop of neroli oil and 2 drops of petitgrain oil for reducing anxiety, lethargy and tiredness. When added to your warm bathing water, especially after a tiring and stressful day, this blend is said to give a new lease of life, augment stress relief, promote relaxation and stimulate positive feelings.13
Treats Skin Problems
Bitter orange essential oil has been proven effective in treating numerous skin problems with its antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties. The rind of this fruit from which its essential oil is extracted contains non-bitter flavonoids, which is known to have considerable properties to help in the drainage of veins.14
It is for this reason; bitter orange essential oil is used in cosmetics for preventing capillary fragility. Bitter orange extracts are also used in the treatment of cellulite as it has the potential to normalize the affected parts and stimulate the cutaneous tone of the skin.15
Bitter orange oil also acts as a natural antiseptic and aids in clearing acne, cold sores, wounds, psoriasis, fungal infections like athlete’s foot and ringworm, eczema and certain other skin problems. You can add 2 drops of bitter orange oil with a refreshing carrier oil like coconut oil to gently massage the affected parts for quicker effects.
Enhances and Stimulates the Digestive System
For more than thousands of years, bitter orange has been used in traditional medicine for treating digestive problems like flatulence, dyspepsia, constipation, sluggish digestion, loss of appetite, intestinal gas, nausea, and indigestion.16
Gently massaging your stomach with 2 drops of bitter orange oil blended with fractionated coconut oil can help you enhance the entire process of digestion. You can also add 2 drops of this oil to your bath for a divine method in aiding digestion as well as boosting metabolism.17
Assists in Weight-loss
Weight loss supplements with bitter orange are the most popular and recent use of bitter oranges in the therapeutic world. Numerous researchers have proven the effectiveness of bitter orange supplements in treating weight-loss .18
Yet another study by the Georgetown University Medical Center reveals, “At present, Citrus aurantium may be the best thermogenic substitute for Ephedra.” 19 It also notes that bitter orange extract and its principal proto-alkaloidal constituent p-synephrine are extensively used in weight management and products promoting sports performance. 20
Due to the presence of the active ingredient synephrine, bitter oranges are used in an herbal medicinal system as an appetite suppressant and as a stimulant.21
Perhaps among the top benefits of the regular usage of bitter orange oil is its amazing capability to restore energy. Through frequent aromatherapy use, you can put a spring within your step and gain extra energy during the day.22 Consider blending with bay, black pepper, citrus oils, clary sage, ginger, sandalwood, lavender, myrrh, neroli, or vetiver for different stimulating variations.
Now we can begin to understand why MONQ incorporated bitter orange essential oil into two of their most popular custom blends – Vibrant and Active. MONQ creates custom blends with essential oils sourced from non-GMO, organically grown, and/or sustainably harvested wildcrafted plants and diffused into an organic coconut-derived vegetable glycerin base.
In the Vibrant blend, bitter orange supports the three prominent oils of ginger, lemon, and spearmint to generate an invigorating blend of natural inspiration. While the ginger induces euphoric states of being and boosts attention, the lemon revives and purifies, and the spearmint restores and stimulates, the bitter orange supports in integrating all of the energy boosting properties with a fresh burst of happiness and sunshine.23
Bitter orange essential oil acts as one of the three main energizing ingredients in MONQ’s Active blend, along with black pepper and sage. The bitter orange clarifies the mind and aids in detoxification while the black pepper generates warm and stimulating feelings and the sage assists with fatigue and irritability. This blend is a synergy of natural energy, motivating you with purpose, passion, and positivity.24
Bitter orange essential oil is also used in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, intestinal ulcers, lowering blood sugar level in diabetic patients, sleep disorders, joint pain, muscular aches, bruises, cold and certain other liver, and gallbladder problems.25
It is also used in making soaps, cleaning products, disinfectants, cosmetics, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, eau de colognes and other household cleaners.
Bitter orange essential oil is used in flavoring baked goods, alcoholic beverages, gelatins, candies, puddings, and desserts. It is also used as a marinade for meat in the Haitian, Cuban, Nicaraguan and Dominican cooking.26
Pure essential oils are highly concentrated, so always use after diluting a suitable carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil. Citrus oils, in general, have a photo-toxic effect so avoid going out in the sun immediately after using it on your skin.
Pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and people suffering from hypertension and glaucoma should avoid using bitter orange oil. Always consult your healthcare practitioner before choosing the right essential oils for your unique individual constitution.27
Although ‘bitter’ may be an unappreciated taste around the world, the truth is that bitter things often have underlying health and wellness benefits. Many medicines and herbs are bitter, yet they pave way for the sweet fruit of health and harmony.28
Since ancient times, bitter oranges and the essential oil cold pressed from the rind of these fruits have carried away the world of medicine with its enormous medicinal values. Bitter orange is used in Ayurveda in the treatment of gout, gastrointestinal problems, lack of appetite, anxiety and digestive disorders.29
Whether you’re looking for an antiseptic to treat wounds, a sedative to calm nerves, a tonic for digestion, a circulation-boosting massage oil, or a sunny rejuvenating citrus aroma to diffuse around the house – bitter orange essential oil provides the secret ingredient from the peel of its tangy fruit.