• All You Need to Know About Bergamot (and a little you don’t)

    Bergamot fruit

    A Little Background on Bergamot

    Most people are familiar with bergamot (pronounced BER ga mot) through Earl Grey tea, as that’s what gives Earl Grey its distinctive taste. But what do you actually know about bergamot?

    Bergamot essential oil comes from a citrus fruit that kinda looks like a green orange with a nub on one end. (I usually see pictures of bergamot with much smoother peels, but could I find them when I was looking for a pic to use for this post? Of course not. So… you get small bumpy bergamots.)  It’s most commonly associated with Italy, but it’s also grown in Ivory Coast, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and southeast Asia. This tree gets around.

    Some people refer to bergamot (Citrus bergamia) as the bitter orange (also known as the Seville orange), but it’s not; that’s Citrus aurantium. Bergamot is, however, a subspecies of the bitter orange so they are at least related. Annd… they’re both used to make marmalade.

    The word bergamot comes from the Italian word bergamotto, which has its origins in the Turkish term bey armut which means prince’s pear or prince of pears. I can’t argue with that; it does look a bit like a citrus version of a pear… especially when the peel is smooth. (Yes, I’m still going on about that.)

    What’s it Good For?

    Like most of the citrus oils, the biggest benefits are found in the emotional realm. Here’s a short list of the best things bergamot is used for:

    • Reduces fatigue (that’s due to stress or anxiety)
    • Reduces stress-induced anxiety
    • Soothes nervous tension
    • Uplifting
    • Calming
    • Reduces situational depression
    • Mood stabilizing

    Blending With Bergamot

    There are very few oils that don’t blend well with bergamot, but here’s a short list of some of my (and other aromatherapist’s) favorites:

    • Sweet orange
    • Bitter orange*
    • Grapefruit*
    • Lemon**
    • Lime**
    • Tangerine/Mandarin*
    • Ylang Ylang
    • Geranium
    • Neroli
    • Cypress
    • Frankincense
    • Nutmeg
    • Jasmine absolute
    • Clary sage

    *These oils are photosensitizing/phototoxic and will cause sunburn if the skin is exposed to the sun or tanning bed after topical application.

    **Only the cold-pressed (i.e. most widely available) version of these oils is phototoxic. If you can find a steam distilled version (they’re out there), they won’t smell quite the same but they’re safe to use on your skin.

    Safety Precautions

    Bergamot contains furo-coumarin which is a strong photosensitizer. This means if you apply it to your skin you’ll burn much faster and deeper in the sun or tanning bed than you otherwise would. If you feel you must use it topically, always use a final dilution of 0.4% or less, or get some Bergamot FCF (furo-coumarin free) and use that.

    An extract from bergamot, called psoralen, used to be an active ingredient in tanning accelerators until it was banned from the products in 1995 because it had the nasty habit of causing skin cancer, malignant melanoma to be exact. So do what you want, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

    Bergamot Trivia

    Genetic research has shown that the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) is likely a hybrid of lemon and bitter orange. The fruit is said to be more bitter than grapefruit, but less sour than lemon.

    The bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) is totally unrelated to the herbs known as bergamot and wild bergamot (Monarda didyma and Monards fistulosa). The herbs are actually in the mint family and are not citrus at all.

    I think I’ve covered everything I wanted to. Time to reward myself for all my hard work with a lovely cuppa Earl Grey. *Puts kettle on to boil*

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Sherryl Acey says:

    So – bergamot essential oil comes from the fruit? Or the leaves of the tree? And the bergamot used in tea comes from the herb? Or?

    • Michelle Doetsch says:

      Bergamot essential oil is made by pressing (or sometimes scraping) the oil out the rind of the bergamot.

      Some Earl Grey teas are flavored with the oil from the rind, but some are flavored with a synthetic bergamot because natural bergamot oil taste and smell varies from plant to plant, season to season, and location to location.