There is something about the scent of citrus that energizes and revitalizes the spirit, even as it creates a sense of calm, and wild orange is no different.
One of the most popular of all essential oils, wild orange is similar to sweet orange—the two originate from the same species—although sweet orange is cultivated, while wild orange is its untamed cousin, and has a scent that is similar yet uniquely its own. Because wild orange is an indigenous species, it offers far more health benefits than its orchard-grown sweet orange relative.1
Wild orange essential oil offers many benefits—including anxiety relief—that Vanderbilt University Medical Center diffuses the oil to help relieve stress and increase energy for both staff and patients.2
The History of Wild Orange
Wild orange trees, a type of evergreen, originated in Southeast Asia, but once the fruit’s benefits were discovered, orange growers began cultivating it throughout the world.
A perennial that grows in tropical and subtropical climates, wild orange, or Citrus sinensis, has been used for centuries as part of Chinese medicine.
The scent of wild orange oil was seen as a symbol of good luck in ancient China, where people filled their homes with the aroma of fresh-peeled wild oranges in hopes of bringing prosperity to their doorstep.
Wild orange played a role in Chinese and Japanese medicines as well as in Ayurvedic medicine, but it wasn’t until a scientist discovered the wild orange on a visit to Asia and brought it to Europe and Africa, where he created personal hygiene products using the fragrant oil as a base for shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant, that the rest of the world learned about the amazing secrets that wild orange essential oil had to offer.
Eventually, Queen Eleanor of Castile brought oranges to England. There, the precious fruit was cultivated in greenhouses called orangeries because the climate could not support the tropical tree.
Because of the costs associated with growing the fruit, oranges, once wild, were only affordable to the very wealthy and were given as gifts during the holidays, a tradition that continued in the United States until a few decades ago.
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Wild orange oil was used medicinally in 18th century Europe to treat a variety of different conditions including nervous disorders, heart problems, and asthma.
The fruit was also used by sailors on long journeys to America and the Caribbean to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C that causes weakness, sore muscles, and gum disease.
Wild orange, however, is one powerful essential oil that does much more than prevent an illness common during ship travel. It is one of the most important antioxidants used in skincare products and can relieve anxiety and act as a natural stimulant when used in aromatherapy.
Wild orange essential oil is also an antibacterial that can wipe out pathogens and protect the body from inflammation that can cause a host of diseases ranging from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease to some cancers. It can also boost the immune system, providing protection against pesky seasonal colds and flu.
While many essential oils are steam distilled, wild orange oil is traditionally pressed from the peel, which releases its fragrant, refreshing oil.
Wild Orange Essential Oil Fun Facts
Orange trees are a symbol of love and marriage in many cultures. It is believed that Zeus, the Greek god of the sky, presented his bride Hera with an orange at their wedding.
Florida may be seen as the Sunshine State for its proliferation of oranges, but Brazil is the world’s leading producer of oranges, growing more than twice as many as the United States. Worldwide in 2010, 69.4 million metric tons of commercially grown oranges were harvested. India, China, Mexico, and Spain are other leading producers.
“Wild Orange Essential Oil: Uses, Studies, Benefits, Applications & Recipes” was written by George Shepherd in 2015.
Orange blossoms produce the most nectar of any other plant in the United States and play an important role in the nation’s honey production. More than a quarter of the honey produced in California has its origins in orange groves.
While they began as wild oranges, other varieties of oranges including sweet oranges are now grown commercially worldwide in regions that support the tree’s growth. Once an ancient Chinese secret, oranges are now the world’s most popular fruit.3 Wild orange pairs well with oils in the mint family including spearmint, peppermint, and wintergreen; florals including rose, lavender, neroli, and ylang-ylang; complementary citrus oils including grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, lime and bergamot; and spicy oils such as ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Douglas fir, frankincense, and cedarwood are also good pairings for wild orange, especially around the holiday season.
There are many different active compounds in wild orange essential oil, including antioxidants (vitamins C and A), potassium, and monoterpenes such as limonene, which is a 1997 rodent study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was shown to help prevent the metastasis of breast, liver, and lung cancers. 4
Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are damaged cells that ravage our bodies in search of a molecule they need so the cell can be healed. Free radicals are not picky, but the cells they choose—most often the skin proteins collagen and elastin—will then be damaged themselves, resulting in fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. Antioxidants are superheroes, however, and are able to give up the molecule free radicals need without damage to themselves.
Some other compounds found in wild orange essential oil that boost its health benefits are highlighted below.
Limonene, a monoterpene, is one of the most prominent compounds found in wild orange oil. It has been studied as an anti-inflammatory and an antibacterial that may help speed up the healing of wounds.
Limonene is joined by sabinene, a terpenoid that also helps fight free radical damage.
Myrcene is a monoterpene that gives the wild orange essential oil its ability to ease anxiety. Because myrcene’s molecules are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, it can interact with neurotransmitters that control feelings of well-being, including serotonin and dopamine.
Linalool plays dual roles. The terpene works alongside myrcene to help ease stress, anxiety, and insomnia but also helps encourage the production of vitamin E, a skin-friendly antioxidant that helps protect the skin proteins collagen and elastin, which make up the skin’s structural layer.
Alpha-pinene is a terpene that offers a range of health benefits. Most importantly, it may help protect brain function, including memory, by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme that may damage neurotransmitters that send messages from the brain to the rest of the body. But it, like other terpenes, may also naturally ease stress by interacting with the same neurotransmitters impacted by anti-anxiety drugs in the benzodiazepine class such as Xanax and Valium.
A monoterpenoid, citronellal is an antifungal that also helps fight off insects. It is the main compound in the citronella plant, which is used to naturally ward off mosquitoes.
Uses for Wild Orange Essential Oil
Wild orange essential oil offers diverse health benefits, some of which are highlighted below.
Improves Appearance of Skin
Wild orange is packed with vitamin C, an antioxidant that is one of the most important for skin health. According to the Linus Pauling Institute (Pauling was one of the first to explore the benefits of vitamin C), vitamin C not only protects the skin proteins collagen and elastin from damage caused by free radicals, it also helps lighten dark spots, further reducing signs of aging. Wild orange essential oil also offers linalool, which encourages the production of vitamin E, another skin-friendly antioxidant.
Pomanders made with oranges studded with cloves were not just a holiday tradition. The decorative items served as old-world potpourri, and the aroma of orange helped dispel the dark moods that can come during a long, gray winter. The aroma of citrus is one that both energizes and soothes, and wild orange can help bring peace and tranquility, quieting anxious nerves and easing the symptoms associated with a blue mood.
Speeds Up Healing of Infections
The active compounds in wild orange oil blended with another citrus oil, bergamot, have been shown to be a promising antiseptic. In a 2009 study that appeared in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, wild orange oil demonstrated antibacterial activity against the bacteria Enterococcus, which is similar to strep.5
Studies have suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of orange oil may make it a useful treatment option to control pain, especially associated with headaches, sore muscles, and rheumatoid arthritis. Wild orange essential oil has been shown to be as effective at treating joint pain and inflammation as painkillers or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS). According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, the antioxidants in orange oil interrupt the inflammatory response that causes pain.6
Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
The alpha-pinene in wild orange essential oil may provide a degree of protection over memory by preventing an enzyme that damages neurotransmitters in the brain from blocking messages sent to the rest of the body. A 2009 study by Japanese researchers used several essential oils including orange to determine the effects that aromatherapy might have on dementia. Researchers found that aromatherapy could help improve cognitive function in individuals with certain forms of dementia.7
Decreases Hypertension Risk
The vitamin C in wild orange oil also helps keep blood vessels strong, improving circulation and lowering the risk of high blood pressure.8 Hypertension, which impacts as many as 85 million people in the United States alone, increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Improves Immune System Function
There is plenty of science behind the idea that the antioxidants in vitamin C, one of the key antioxidants in wild orange essential oil, strengthen and protect the immune system, which helps us recover faster from infection and keep diseases at bay. According to Dr. Thomas E. Levy, vitamin C is the “muscle” of the immune system, boosting the production of antibodies, phagocytes (cells that are able to target and kill foreign particles, bacteria, and other undesirable particles), and lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights toxins, viruses and bacteria.9
Eases PTSD Symptoms
In a 2017 study by researchers at George Washington University, orange oil may have helped ease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which impacts as many as eight million adults in the United States. The study found that the anxiety and fear associated with PTSD were relieved in mice studies, opening the door to human research. “Relative to pharmaceuticals, essential oils are much more economical and do not have adverse side effects. The orange essential plant oil showed a significant effect on the behavioral response in our study mice. This is promising because it shows that passively inhaling this essential oil could potentially assuage PTSD symptoms in humans,” said Cassandra Moshfegh, who led the study.
Chronic stress can lead to a host of problems, including type 2 diabetes—the stress hormone cortisol elevates blood glucose levels—as well as inflammation that can compromise the immune system. According to Dr. Michael Greger, the scent of wild orange essential oil could reduce symptoms of anxiety as effectively as drugs in the benzodiazepine family.
If you’re feeling exhausted, the scent of wild orange can be instantly uplifting, reducing feelings of fatigue or drowsiness. It can also help give you an extra burst of energy during your next workout. Just add a drop of the essential oil to your water bottle before hitting the gym.
The antibacterial properties in wild orange oil make it an excellent natural cleaning product. Add a few drops to a spray bottle of water to create a safe, effective cleanser for surfaces. When used in a diffuser, wild orange oil helps eradicate bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens in the air, eradicating germs while giving your space a sweet, citrus scent.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Oxidative stress may play a role in high cholesterol levels, which can damage blood vessel walls by causing them to become stiff and less flexible, so blood doesn’t circulate as it should. The antioxidants in wild orange oil may protect against high cholesterol, protecting blood vessels and reducing the risk of heart disease.10
How To Use Wild Orange Essential Oil
While many essential oils are not to be taken internally, wild orange is not one of them. A few drops can be mixed into a smoothie, added to water to give it a refreshing punch of citrus or stirred into plain yogurt. It can also be added to countless recipes, limited only by your imagination. (Chocolate and orange are a delicious combination!)
Wild orange essential oil can also be used topically: it is an excellent skin-friendly oil, but it can also trigger photosensitivity, so apply the oil at night when skin is most receptive to healing, and you won’t be at risk of sun damage. Experts recommend waiting 12 hours before exposure to the sun.
It can be mixed with a carrier oil and used as a massage oil—especially helpful for soothing sore muscles and joints—or it can be used with equal parts olive or grapeseed oil for a nighttime anti-aging serum.
To benefit from the uplifting aromatherapy benefits, use wild orange essential oil in a diffuser, add a few drops to water and spritz it into the air of your room, or add a few drops to bath water for a relaxing, soothing soak.