The essential oil bergamot is cold-pressed from the rind of a citrus fruit, Citrus bergamia. Whilst the majority of oil is produces by mechanical means, the finest quality oil is actually hand-pressed. The fruit looks like a small, round, yellowish orange but it is much too bitter to eat as it it, even at its ripest stage. However, the oil that is extracted from it has a citrus aroma.
Bergamot takes its name from Bergamo, an attractive town in northern Italy, where the oil was first sold as a flavouring and cooking ingredient. Legend credits Christopher Columbus with introducing the bergamot tree to Italy and, although it was once virtually unique to the Bergamo region, it is now grown in Calabria, southern Italy and along the north African coast.
Bergamot essential oil is sometimes mistakenly thought to come from the herb Monarda didyma, which is also known as bergamot (bee balm and oswego tea are other names given to the herb). This tall plant with its beautiful scarlet flowers is native to America, but is now often grown in English herb gardens. Medicinal teas are made with its aromatic leaves. It acquired the name bergamot because its small surface roots have an aroma similar to the true citrus bergamot oil.
Perfumes and Pastries
Over the years bergamot oil has been incorporated into a wide variety of products. The rind has been used for hundreds of years to treat all manner of disorders and diseases. The earliest existing record of its use is in a German herbal dated 1677. Today the oil flavours confectionery, cakes and pastries, but perhaps is best known for the unique fragrance and flavour it gives to earl grey tea.
Bergamot has long been valued for its fresh citrus fragrance. The original European eau de cologne often incorporated bergamot oil, with its refreshing aroma making it delightful for hot, sticky days. Commercially, bergamot is still as popular as ever and is widely used in perfumes and bath time products for both men and women.
Bergamot oil was also once the active ingredient in commercial sun-tanning products, as it helps to activate the production of melanin in the skin which increases the tanning process. However, the high photosensitivity of skin treated with bergamot oil is a problem and may cause burning. Using bergamot oil on the skin before going out in the sun is now actively discouraged. However, there are now forms of bergamot oil available without bergaptene (the offending ingredient responsible for photosensitive skin reactions), which are worth looking out for.
On an emotional level, bergamot is extremely good for uplifting the spirits, allaying anxiety and treating depression. It is a good oil to use when someone has got into a cycle of tension and depression surrounding a persistent condition. Major research confirms these benefits and has shown that the effects of the bergamot aroma are to calm the nervous system, as aromatherapists have always observed.
Bergamot also has antiseptic, antispasmodic and deoderising properties. It makes a good skin disinfectant for cuts and grazes. Just put 10 drops in 100ml water (boiled an cooled) and use it to clean a wound before applying a dressing.