Brought to the Mediterranean from Asia by the Saracens during the time of the crusades, the familiar sweet orange used in aromatherapy now comes from Sicily, Israel, Spain, and the U.S., each country’s essential oil offering slightly different characteristics. They are rich in vitamins A, B, and C, flavonoids, and minerals. The Chinese, however, correctly warned in the Chu-lu -- the first monograph describing the various citruses that was written in 1178 -- that they can increase lung congestion.
Oranges were considered symbols of fruitfulness, and the Greeks called them the “golden apple of the Hesperides.” The god Zeus is said to have given an orange to his bride Hera at their wedding.
In 1290, Eleanor of Castile brought oranges to England, where they were grown as luxuries in greenhouses or “orangeries.” In northern climates, only the very wealthy could afford oranges, and they were often given as extravagant gifts at Christmas-time. In European courts they were stuck with cloves and carried as a pomander to dispel disagreeable odors and emotions such as depression and nervousness, as well as to bring more cheer into dreary winter days. The essential oil is cold pressed from the peel and lasts only about a year, so keep it cool and away from direct sunlight.
Principal constituents of orange: Limonene (up to 90 percent), with aldehydes, citral, citronellol, geraniol, linalol, methyl anthranilate, and terpineol
Scent of orange: It has a perky, lively, and distinctively orange scent. The related tangerine is brighter and sweeter, while petitgrain is harsher, sharper, and considerably more herby or “green.”
Therapeutic properties of orange: Sedative; relieves muscle spasms, cramping, and indigestion
Uses for orange: Orange’s greatest claim to aromatherapy fame is its ability to affect moods and to lower high blood pressure. In fact, just sniffing it lowers blood pressure a couple points. It is also a good adjunct treatment for irregular heartbeat. Research at International Flavors and Fragrances, Inc., in New Jersey found that orange also reduces anxiety. You don’t even need to buy the essential oil; simply peel an orange and inhale its aroma.
Although not as antibiotic as lemon, it still has some value in fighting flu, colds, and breaking up congested lymph, especially when added to massage oil. The aroma of oranges is a favorite of children, and they will usually be more enthusiastic about an aromatherapy treatment when it is included. Also use the massage oil to ease a bout of indigestion or overcome a light case of insomnia or depression. Cosmetically it is good for oily complexions, although essential oils with more sophisticated fragrances are preferred.
Warnings about orange: The oil is only slightly photosensitizing, but still go easy in baths or any skin preparations since it can burn the skin -- just 4 drops in a bathtub can be enough to irritate and redden sensitive skin. Related oils such as that of tangerine or mandarin (C. reticulata) are milder and safer choices for pregnant women and very young children.