Health and Aromatherapy with Bergamot essential oil – from a South African Perspective

Rutacaea family

Citrus Bergamia is a small tree about 4.5m high with smooth oval leaves. It belongs to the same family as the orange tree. The essential oil comes from the small round fruits which ripen from green to yellow, similar to oranges in appearance. The Rutacaea family is extremely large covering over 30 genera.

Native to Morocco and tropical Asia it is grown commercially in the Ivory Coast and is extensively cultivated in Calabria in Southern Italy. It was first cultivated around Bergamo, from where it takes its name.

History / Traditions:
The fruit has been used for hundreds of years in Italian folk medicine however the fruit was unknown outside Italy and the fruit was not exported until recent times. The oil was primarily used for the treatment of fever and intestinal worms.

The essential oil is produced by cold expression of the peel of the nearly ripe fruit. Although there have been many oils produce by mechanical processes the best quality oil remains that which is produced by hand.

General Description:
The oil is a light greenish yellow liquid with an uplifting citrus aroma and balsamic overtones. On aging the oil turns to a brownish olive colour.
The oil is known to have about 300 components the main being linalyl acetate 30-60%; linalol 11-22% and other alcohols, sesquiterpenes, terpenes, alkanes, and furocoumarins 0.3-0.39%

Aromatherapy uses:
Bergamot oil has a strong affinity for the urinary tract and is valuable in the treatment of cystitis and urethritis. It should be used in the bath or as a local wash at a 1% dilution.
In helping with mental and psychological states Bergamot is most valuable for its uplifting effects. For tension anxiety or depression bergamot should be used in a massage oil or in a dally bath.
The fragrance blends well with lavender, neroli, jasmine, geranium, chamomile, lemon, cypress and juniper. bergamot can be used in the treatment of tensions causing dietary problems such as over and under eating.
The antiseptic qualities of Bergamot make it ideal for the treatment of skin complaints such as acne, oily skin and all infections of the skin.
Bergamot is cooling in feverish conditions and has effective insect repellent properties.
Bergamot has an inhibiting effect on certain viruses in particular Herpes simplex 1 which causes cold sores. Bergamot will also allay the pain of shingles and ease chicken pox in small children.

Other Uses:
Bergamot is used extensively as a fragrance and is also found in toiletries and cologne.

Safety data:
Certain furocumarins (including bergapten found in Bergamot) are photo toxic on human skin. This causes sensitivity and skin pigmentation when exposed to sunlight. Therefore exercise caution when using Bergamot in sunny weather. Bergamot should never be used undiluted on the skin. Severe burning may result.

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