Citrus amara: Neroli (Orange Blossom) Oil
With its haunting, heady, floral scent, neroli oil is widely used in aromatherapy and perfumery. It is the extract of flowers of the bitter orange tree: a small evergreen with dark leaves, small fruit and waxy white fragrant flowers. The tree is native to South East Asia and the subcontinent, but spread over 2000 years ago to the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is now also found in the Americas.
Neroli was first used in Chinese medicine to cure a variety of ills, but was first used in Europe in French folk tradition to symbolise love, joy, courage and purity. The flowers from which neroli is extracted were used to make bridal wreaths, and the oil sprinkled on the marriage bed in order to calm nervous brides. This tradition spread throughout Europe, and neroli began to be used in perfumery in the nineteenth century. It is said that neroli was named after Anna Maria de la Tremoille, a princess of Neroli during the seventeenth century, who loved the oil so much she scented anything she possibly could from it.
In modern day production, neroli is extracted from the bitter orange flowers (which have to be hand picked to preserve the quality of the flowers and purity of the ensuing oil) by steam distillation. It takes 1000kg of bitter orange flower petals to produce 1kg of the oil. As a result of this, neroli is one of the most expensive essential oils in the world, and is usually sold in a 10-20% solution to reduce costs. Sometimes the solution is made with the by-product of steam distillation - orange blosom water. This water can also be used in cookery, and was used as such widely during the early twentieth century. The oil is a pale golden yellow with a watery consistency - more so when made into a solution. The rest of the bitter orange tree does not go to waste: from the rind of the orange comes orange essential oil, and petitgrain oil from the leaves.
Neroli has a range of therapeutic properties. It is effective against depression, low spirits and nervous tension. Much like lavender, neroli can be used in a vaporiser or added to a bath to treat these conditions. It has all-round calming, relaxing properties, and is a mild sedative. As a result, it is also used to treat mild vertigo and insomnia. It should not be used heavily when trying to clear the head for concentration! Neroli also has carminative effects, and so is good for digestive disorders - IBS, colitis and diarrhoea. It should not be taken internally for these conditions, but again used in the bath or vaporiser. Its third set of uses is to treat skin conditions: neroli is both antiseptic and excellent for promoting skin regeneration and elasticity, and so helps heal stretch marks, scarring and acne. Like most essential oils, it should not be used neat on the skin - although it is non-toxic, non-irritant and non-phototoxic.
Neroli blends well with a variety of oils, some of which can be used to enhance the effects of neroli; some of which make pleasing combinations in perfumery. Oils with which neroli blends well are benzion, geranium, jasmine, lavender, rosemary, sandalwood, ylang ylang, bergamot, rose, and, of course, all citrus oils, in particular petitgrain and orange oils. Neroli can be purchased from any good aromatherapy store, at a price, and is found in many pre-blended products - not only herbal remedies, but toiletries and perfumes.
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