Bergamot Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Bergamot Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Bergamot Oil: History, Benefits, and More

Bergamot oil stands out among the citrus oils, confidently getting its hands into everything from tea to pain relief.

Introduction

Bergamot is not the most popular of citrus fruits nor is bergamot oil the most well-studied of the essential oils—and yet it carries a certain confidence to it that is unlike that of any other citrus fruits or essential oils. 

Heedless of all the others, bergamot does its own thing. 

It grows almost exclusively where it wants to grow, has become a defining ingredient in both the perfume and tea industries, and continues to find new applications in herbal medicine, cosmetology, confectionaries, cuisines, cleaning products, and more. 

Perhaps this has something to do with why bergamot oil is called the “Oil of Self-Acceptance”. If only we could all be as self-possessed in our eccentricities as bergamot seems to be. 

Accordingly, bergamot oil is a friend to the anxious and stressed, popularly used to throw off the pain, weariness, bacteria, and fungi that like to crop up and cramp one’s personal style. 

So what eccentricities, applications, and cautions come with a unique oil like bergamot? Keep reading to find out….

Best Uses for Bergamot Oil

Anxiolytic

History of Bergamot Oil

Bergamot is a unique citrus hybrid made from the Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) and another citrus, likely lemon, lime, citron, or pomelo and it is so popular today that it is called the “prince of citrus”.

Suspected to have first appeared in Calabria, Italy, bergamot fruits were used as ornamental plants in the homes of Italian aristocracy and later adopted into traditional Italian medicine as a way to treat fevers, sore throats, and other conditions.

Bergamot fruits also became indispensable to both the perfume industry and the "Earl Grey" tea industry in Europe.

Today, the fruits are used culinarily and the oil is popular in aromatherapy.

 Bergamot Essential Oil Uses

Mental & Emotional Benefits

Can bergamot oil help improve mood or reduce anxiety?

Maybe. A handful of studies, a few with human test subjects but mostly animal studies, have shown promise (Han 2017, Ni 2013, Cui 2020, Rombola 2020, Rombola 2017, Saiyudthong 2015, Saiyudthong 2010) and a few other studies have shown negative results (Ndao 2010, Graham 2003), so there really is a need for more research to clarify on this one!

One study with human subjects hints at some potential antidepressant effects (Hongratanaworakit 2011) and another at neuropharmacological potential (Bagetta 2010).

Physical Benefits

Can bergamot oil improve sleep?

Maybe. A couple of human studies (Peng 2009, Chang 2011) have shown bergamot oil’s ability to lower the heart rate, which is important for sleep. However, whenever bergamot oil or bergamot aroma has been tested specifically for sleep improvement (Dyer 2016Hongratanaworakit 2011) it has usually been mixed with one or more other oils or fragrances. 

The best-researched essential oil for sleep improvement is probably lavender. 

Can bergamot oil ease pain?

Maybe. A few animal studies show promise for bergamot oil analgesic and antinociceptive capabilities (Hamamura 2020, Lombardo 2020 [bergamot oil without furocoumarin in this study], Katsuyama 2015, Bagetta 2015, Sakurada 2009), but there’s a lot more research to do before bergamot oil can be considered an analgesic for all occasions. 

Can bergamot oil support skincare?

Maybe. Various studies have shown bergamot oil to have antibacterial,  anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties (Karaca 2007,  Romano 2005, Sanguinetti 2007, Gonzalez 2010, Sanguinetti 2007). 

Interestingly, one bergamot oil study shows the oil’s promise in fighting psoriasis (Valkova 2007) and another study shows the potential of bergamot extract in promoting hair growth (Shao 2003). 

Is bergamot oil safe for dogs?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) considers bergamot oil to be toxic to both dogs and cats (1). There will always be those who disagree, but we recommend discussing the subject thoroughly with your veterinarian before attempting to use bergamot oil to support the health or wellness of any of your pets. 

Manufacturing Bergamot Oil

Like most citrus, bergamot trees prefer sunny environments with well-drained soil. Bergamot in particular is typically less hardy than most citrus trees, so it must be protected from cold-weather damage. 

Unlike lemons and oranges that have spread to every continent in abundance, bergamot has, for the most part, stayed put in Italy. Roughly 95% of bergamot in the world grows in the region of Calabria in Italy, where the locals have called it the “green gold” of Calabria. The three-hundred days of sunshine, sheltering hills, and calcareous clay soil in Calabria have turned it into a unique  microclimate. It is said that the distinctive quality and consistency of the bergamot and lemons grown in Calabria are due to Calabria’s microclimate. It would indeed explain why the bergamot industry has stayed so largely in that area.  

The bergamot tree is often propagated by grafting bergamot branches onto a potted bitter orange plant. After about a year as a potted plant, the bergamot tree can then be put in the ground, and two years after that, it will start to bear fruit in the winter months, from November to December, but sometimes through March as well. 

Originally the manual “sponge'' method of gathering bergamot oil was very time consuming and labor-intensive, but with the invention of the Calabrian machine the quality and supply of bergamot increased dramatically, leading to a subsequent expansion of the industry. 

Like any other citrus, bergamot’s oil is extracted through a process of cold pressing—passed through grated cylinders to break open the oil sacks in the fruit rind and then washed out with water. The resultant mixture is then filtered to remove any pulp or peel fragments. Only then is the bergamot oil separated from the water, tested for quality, and then packaged for export. 

Bergamot Oil Varieties

Botanical Name

Cultivar

Description

Citrus Bergamia

Fantastico

Considered by many to be the best for oil quality and quantity

Castagnaro

Smaller leaves, smaller oil yield, and more likely to have a distinguishable style remaining

Femminello

Smaller fruit, high oil yield

 

Cautions

Any essential oil can be dangerous if used incorrectly. 

The three rules that apply to just about every essential oil are: 

  1. ALWAYS dilute according to your distributor’s instructions
  2. ALWAYS apply a patch test before using any new essential oil.
  3. And make sure to ONLY apply your essential oil according to the doses and routes (aromatherapy, topical application, or ingestion) approved by your distributor.

The specific recommendations may vary from distributor to distributor, but the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) recommends that bergamot oil only be used in dilutions that include 0.4% bergamot oil or less. 

Also, as a citrus oil, when applied topically bergamot oil can make the skin more sensitive to UV sunlight. So, to avoid sunburns, make sure not to spend too much time in the sun after applying bergamot oil to your skin. 

And don’t mix bergamot oil with any medications that also increase photosensitivity, such as: 

Amitriptyline (Elavil)

Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)

Gatifloxacin (Tequin)

Levofloxacin (Levaquin)

Lomefloxacin (Maxaquin)

Methoxsalen (8-methoxypsoralen, 8-MOP, Oxsoralen)

Moxifloxacin (Avelox)

Norfloxacin (Noroxin)

Ofloxacin (Floxin)

Sparfloxacin (Zagam)

Tetracycline

Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Septra)

Trioxsalen (Trisoralen)

Conclusion

Bergamot has always been a unique fruit and has always carried a unique fragrance. 

Fortunately, its differences have made it iconic rather than obscure.

As aromatherapists, herbal medicine practitioners, and others continue to rely on it for its assorted benefits, we are eager to see where bergamot’s confidence will take it next! Not to mention where we will go and what we will be empowered to do as we take advantage of such a unique herbal blessing!



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