An Indochina native, the bitter orange produces the blossoms used for an essential oil known to aromatherapists and perfumers as neroli. The trees are grown commercially in France, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt and are quite different from the sweet orange that produces orange oil. One story is that neroli was named after a sixteenth century princess from Nerola, Italy, who loved the orange blossom scent.
This scent, which is considered intensely female, became a symbol of purity, chastity, and eternal love. Neroli was thought to influence creativity in other ways, especially in music and writing. Modern aromatherapists regard neroli more as a treatment for depression. The blossoms may be distilled, made into a concrete by enfleurage, or extracted with solvents to create an absolute. A by-product of distillation, “orange flower water,” is used in cooking and as a skin toner.
Neroli is the main ingredient of the original eau de cologne, which was used both as a body fragrance and as a skin toner. Neroli was also a favorite of Marie Antoinette as well as Napoleon, who was said to go through several bottles a day as an aftershave. Distilling the leaves and stems of the bitter orange produces an essential oil called petitgrain that is frequently used in men’s cologne today and often adulterates the far more expensive neroli.
Principal constituents of neroli: Nerol, nerolidol, geraniol, jasmone, dipentene, terpineol, farnesol, indol, l-camphene, pinene, acetic esters, and more
Scent of neroli: The scent is bittersweet, floral, spicy, distinctive, and often unpleasantly strong until diluted.
Therapeutic properties of neroli: Sedative; relieves muscle spasms and cramping, stimulates circulation
Uses for neroli: Neroli’s favored use is for circulation problems, especially hemorrhoids and high blood pressure. It makes a wonderfully fragrant and effective cosmetic for mature, dry, and sensitive skin and is also one of the best essential oils to add to a vaginal cream during menopause. It reputedly regenerates skin cells and has antiaging properties. For the ultimate luxury, add it to your bath to ease tension from PMS, menopause, or life in general.