Bergamot has been my most favourite essential oil since I was a teenager. Its aroma never fails to lift me up and calm me down – what a perfect combination of effects! It is why this oil is commonly used in blends for emotional support. Evidence of its benefits for emotional wellbeing can be found in many journal articles, and the use of bergamot oil for other medical applications are also well-researched. The research supports what has been known in folk medicine and Aromatherapy for a long time - bergamot truly is a most valuable essential oil.
The origins of Bergamot Essential Oil
There is some confusion over the botanical name for the bergamot plant, with some taxonomists referring to it as Citrus aurantium L. subsp. bergamia and others calling it Citrus bergamia. Let's keep it simple here and just refer to it as bergamot! Like other citrus essential oils, bergamot oil is cold-pressed from the fresh fruit rind. It is largely sourced from Africa and Brazil but is most famously grown in the Calabrian region of Southern Italy.
The aroma of Bergamot Essential Oil
Bergamot's beautiful aroma comes from the interesting chemistry of its oil. Like other citrus oils, the characteristic citrus top note is due to the d-limonene component. However, bergamot has a sweet and softer middle note from the linalool and linalyl acetate, which are herbaceous smelling chemicals also found in lavender. These different facets of its aroma and its versatility in blending lead this oil to be used across the perfume industry as well as for aromatherapy. It is an essential component of 'Eau de Cologne' type fragrances. Bergamot blends beautifully with floral and herbaceous oils. I recommend combining it with geranium, rose, jasmine, neroli, lavender or clary sage.
The chemistry of Bergamot Essential Oil
The oil's chemistry provides for its medicinal properties as well as its aroma. I previously discussed the effect the oil has on calming the emotions. Bergamot essential oil has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation while relaxing smooth muscles. Therefore, it can be a great addition to aromatherapy preparations (such as topical creams) to be used for muscular tension, respiratory issues (e.g. persistent coughing) or digestive problems such as abdominal cramping. Bergamot oil has demonstrated immune-stimulating effects as well as anti-microbial properties, so it can be used for both infection control and tissue healing. The latest research indicates that bergamot oil has shown cancer cell growth inhibition and cytotoxicity - the findings suggest future treatment development using bergamot oil has potential.
The chemistry of bergamot oil means that there are also some important safety considerations for its use. Like other citrus oils with high levels of limonene, bergamot oil becomes easily oxidised when exposed to air or heat. A bottle of bergamot oil will have a shelf life of 1-3 years if stored correctly. Oxidised oils can cause skin irritation and sensitisation.
Safety when using Bergamot Essential Oil
The second safety aspect to using bergamot oil is the risk of phototoxicity. Even though bergapten is a chemical component found in trace amounts in the oil, this chemical can lead to severe burns if bergamot is applied to the skin and then the skin is exposed to sunlight or other sources of ultra-violet radiation such as tanning beds. To safely use bergamot oil in skin preparations when UV exposure is possible, according to Tisserand's Essential Oil Safety, the oil must be diluted to no more than 0.4% in a carrier oil or lotion.
If you exercise caution in the use of bergamot oil, you will be safe from burns. Alternatively, you can simply inhale the beautiful aroma of the oil to bring about relaxation. Check out Titch Haven's website and social media posts for suggestions for diffuser blends using bergamot oil and other recipes to put bergamot to good use.