The bitter orange tree produces three different essential oils, from the rind of its fruit – Orange, from its leaves – Petitgrain and from its fragrant white blossoms – Neroli. The bitter orange is an evergreen tree with dark green leaves, small dark fruit and white aromatic flowers. The tree is native to Southeast Asia from where it spread to India, Persia and the area around the Mediterranean more than 2,000 years ago. Today you will find it growing in these areas as well as in the United States and South America.
The tradition of using orange blossoms in bridal wreaths or bouquets originated in the South of France. It has been said that the flowers signify love, joy and courage. On the other hand when we consider that neroli is excellent in times of stress and anxiety we have some insight as to how this tradition evolved. Apparently this French tradition was introduced into England in the early part of the 19th Century. Neroli is thought to have been named after the seventeenth century Italian Princess of Neroli, Anna Maria de La Tremoille, who loved its aroma and used it on everything she could from gloves to stationery. In the 19th Century, particularly under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, the perfume industry as well as the scented glove manufacture flourished. Neroli was a particular favourite at this time.
A pale yellow to amber oil is steam distilled from the fresh flowers. The flowers have to be hand picked and it takes approximately 1,000 kgs of blossoms to produce 1 kg of essential oil. Taking this into consideration one can understand why neroli is one of the more expensive essential oils on the market. Hydrolates/hydrosols are the by-product of steam distillation and a hydrolate/hydrosol of orange blossom is available usually under the name ‘Orange Blossom Water’. Orange blossom water – the hydrolate has been used by pastry chefs in southern and central Europe for hundreds of years and in the 1920s in particular manufacturers added it to biscuits (cookies) to enhance their crispness. It has the same uplifting and calming actions found in the essential oil of Neroli but as it is a hydrolate and much less concentrated its action is far gentler.
Psychologically neroli can have calming, relaxing, euphoric and uplifting actions, which is why its use is often considered in times of anxiety, fear, unrest, depression, despair, irritability, anger and nervous tension.
While on the physiological level the use of neroli could be considered for use when insomnia, nervous palpitations or high blood pressure due to stress needs to be dealt with.
Neroli has long been used in perfumery. It blends well with many other essential oils in particular with other citrus oils such as orange, lime, bergamot, lemon, grapefruit etc., as well as most florals such as rose, ylang ylang, geranium and lavender. Many aromatherapists enjoy blending the three oils derived from the orange tree together namely orange, petitgrain and neroli as they harmonize very well together.
Peter Holmes, International Journal of Aromatherapy, Vol 7.No.2, 1995
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 101 Course Notes & Aromatherapy 201 Course Notes, 1999.
Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs, Essential Oil Safety, Churchill Livingstone, London, 1995.
Martin Watt, Plant Aromatics Set 4, Effects on the skin of aromatic extracts, London, 1995.