By Jeanne Rose
Bergamot is a citrus with a long history of use in fragrance and a fascinating background; it is used in perfumery, skincare, and there are many recipes on how to use this oil and its avatar, the bergaptene-free type.
Common Name/Latin Binomial ~ Bergamot, Citrus x limon (syn. Citrus bergamia (Risso)
Other Common Name/Naming Information and Etymology ~ Bergamot takes its name from an Italian city, that of Bergamo in Lombardy, where the essential oil was originally sold as long ago as 1646. The bergamot orange is unrelated to the herb known as bergamot or wild bergamot, Monarda didyma, and Monarda fistulosa, which are in the mint family and are named for a somewhat similar aroma.
|Old Latin name||Common name||Some uses|
|C. aurantium L. ssp bergamia||Bergamot, bergamot orange – several types||EO inhaled is calming for anxiety and depression, externally used for skin problems as an anti-inflammatory.|
|C. aurantium L. ssp aurantium||Bergamot orange of USA Grown in central California||Interesting local plant.|
|Monarda spp.||Bergamot Mint||Totally unrelated to the Bergamot citrus|
Family: Rutaceae, the Citrus family
Countries of Origin ~ Native of tropical Asia, Bergamot is now extensively cultivated in the southern part of Italy, particularly Reggio di Calabria, Sicily, and Ivory Coast of Africa. There is a type that grows in California.
Harvest Location ~ Calabria region of Italy.
Endangered or Not ~ Not at this time.
General description of Bergamot Plant habitat and growth ~ This small fruit tree (citrus) is up to 16 feet tall, has branches with thorns, flowers white, fruit peel edible when cooked, is about 2-4 inches in length, and is a characteristic plant of the southern Italian landscape. The tree blossoms in winter, and it is cultivated for the skin of the fruit, which is cold-pressed for its oil, flavor, and scent. It’s a small, round fruit, very bitter, and is inedible when raw. It is edible when preserved with sugar. It is a hybrid of bitter Orange and Lemon, a product of cultivation.
Portion of the plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods, and yields ~ Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the cold expression of the peel of nearly ripe fruit of the Bergamot tree. Originally, the oil was obtained by manually pressing the peel against specialized cups, and the oil was absorbed by a natural sponge. Steam-distilled bergamot essential oil is bergaptene-free.
_____Yield of Bergamot citrus (Citrus x limon bergamia) ~ up to 9.7% for hydro-distilled and .5-1.5% for cold-pressed. 100 Bergamot fruit yields 85 grams of oil. 200 kg of fruit are cold-pressed for 1 kg of essence.2
Organoleptic Characteristics ~ Bergamot oil is often colorless, but I prefer the pale green to yellow types that are clear, non-viscous, with a bitter and sour taste and a tenacious but refreshing low-intensity odor very evocative of citrus.
Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment ~ The odor is floral-fruity, a slight spicy back note, that is –predominating floral and citrus, subsidiary notes of fruit with a slight spicy back note. It has a very refreshing effect.
When you purchase Bergaptene-free or decolorized Bergamot oil, you begin to lose the rich floral/fruity/citrus odor, and it becomes less ‘natural and bright smelling’ and more ‘synthetic and mild smelling.’
Bergamot is an important ingredient in high-end perfumery. Without it, many perfumes could not be made. It is considered calmative, antispasmodic, antidepressant, and antiseptic.
Properties and Uses ~ Bergamot oil can be used if highly diluted and dispersed in a medium such as honey as a gargle for sore throat; the EO is used to flavor Tobacco and tea; by application, it can be used in skincare for skin infections, on cold sores, and by inhalation for depression, stress, frustration, anxiety or emotional crisis.
Application/ Skincare ~ Bergamot EO is used in a variety of skincare lines, in lotions, creams, baths, salves, and unguents; in massage oil blends or by direct application to a variety of skin conditions such as cold sores, acne, and skin infections.
Herbal Ingestion ~ Bergamot is grown in Antalya in southern Turkey, where the skin is used to make Turkish marmalade, that is quite delicious and is available in Greek and Turkish stores. The peel is used to flavor tea, and the EO is infused in tea leaves to make Earl Gray Tea.
Diffuse/Diffusion ~ Bergamot EO is best used in a blend in the diffuser (Lavender or Rosemary EO are good additions) to promote relaxation and alleviate stress by stimulating the mind. It helps to resolve your irritable nature, soothe tension, and ease sadness.
Blends Best ~ Bergamot’s light, refreshing citrus scent makes it a good blending partner for just about any other oil. And its use in the perfume industry bears this out. It is of particular importance in a ‘Chypre’ type blend with rich, deep oils like Frankincense, Labdanum, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Rose, Sandalwood, and Vetivert. For a calming blend, try Prima Fleur #6034 with Chamomile extract, Bergamot peel oil, Grapefruit peel oil, and others
Emotional/Energetic Uses (AP or IN) ~ Use Bergamot by inhalation while drinking the Earl Grey Tea (bergamot infused); this is both uplifting and calming.
Ritual Use ~ Ritually, Bergamot oil is used by inhalation for success and comfort as it can help clear the mind of depressing recurring thoughts. I like to add a drop or two to a hanky and put it in my wallet as then my entire purse has a wonderful cheery odor.
HYDROSOL: I love the Bergamot hydrosol and obtain that from Lancaster Creations from a California-grown fruit (Citrus x limon type Bergamot. The hydrosol is wonderful and very soothing and tonifying to the skin.
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components; 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 plant material that is fresh.
Key Use: Perfumery, skincare, and calming.
Chemical Components ~ The chemical composition of Bergamot peel from Tunisia was obtained by hydrodistillation, and fifteen compounds accounting for 98.52% of the oil were identified. The oil was characterized by the high content of limonene (59.21%), linalool (9.51%), linalyl acetate (16.83%), and bergaptene. Bergaptene occurs in cold-pressed oil and is a form of furanocoumarin, which interacts with UV rays to produce chemical burns and skin discoloration. Oxygenated derivatives of the hydrocarbons of caryophyllene, germacrene D, farnesene, and bisabolene contribute to the typical odor of Bergamot.
Bergamot juice contains neoeriocitrin, naringin, neohesperidin, ponceritin, melitidin, and brutieridin. Melitidin and brutieridin, only recently discovered, exist only in citrus bergamot and exhibit statin-like properties.
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Bergamot for anxiety ~ “The essential oil of bergamot (BEO), likewise other essential oils, is used in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is a complementary medicine. Bergamot is used to minimize symptoms of stress-induced anxiety, mild mood disorders, and cancer pain. The rational basis for such applications awaits to be discovered. In vivo and in vitro results indicate that BEO is able to interfere with basic mechanisms finely tuning synaptic plasticity under physiological as well as pathological conditions.” —Neuropharmacology of the essential oil of bergamot. Fitoterapia, Volume 81, Issue 6, September 2010, Pages 453-461
Contraindications: Pure Bergamot is photosensitizing; we recommend that it be highly diluted (less than 2%) when applied to the skin or that Bergamot FCF essential oils be used instead. FCF (furanocoumarin-free) is an acronym that indicates the chemical constituent(s) responsible for extreme sensitization of the skin to sunlight has been removed, in the case of Bergamot oil, the specific furanocoumarin being bergaptene.
Safety Precautions: Bergamot is known to be one of the most phototoxic essential oils and for this reason should be used with care in sunlight, hot climates and with other ultraviolet light. Photo sensitivity is caused by the presence of furocoumarins (furanocoumarin), most notably Bergaptene, in this particular essential oil. Apart from this factor, Bergamot is considered to be a relatively non-toxic and non-irritant essential oil. Photosensitizing. Dilute before using. A patch test should be performed before use for those with sensitive skin. IF you are going to be in the sun, use Bergaptene-free Bergamot oil). When this oil contacts the skin and the skin is exposed to sunlight, the oil of Bergamot causes the skin to discolor. With repeated exposures to sunlight, the discoloration becomes permanent.
Skin Care for Normal skin ~
Jojoba/Almond oil or lotion to fill 1 oz. = add about 2.5% [EO can be reduced by adding more carrier oil]
Apply a few drops in the evening to a clean washed face.
Bergamot – 15 drops
Lavender – 10 drops
Vetivert – 5 drops
SOURCES ~ I am able to get the Bergamot citrus occasionally at the local Farmer’s Market that I can preserve and use as a ‘sweetmeat’ with coffee or tea; these preserved fruits are also available at the nearby Greek and Turkish stores in San Francisco; and the lovely essential oil of Bergamot is available at http://www.primafleur.com.
This work has been sponsored by and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
- Antimicrobial activity of flavonoids extracted from bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) peel, a byproduct of the essential oil industry. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2007.03456.x
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Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol. IAG Botanics. 2015 (supporter of testing hydrosols)
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose. San Francisco California, 1992
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Mojay, Gabriel. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1999.
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Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California.