Thanks to Bergamot’s sunny disposition, the oil helps people regain self-confidence, and it uplifts and refreshes the spirits. The gentle fragrance, like a bouquet of flowers, evokes joy and warms the heart.1
Suzanne Fisher-Rizzi eloquently describes the way the sweet citrus floral aroma of Bergamot oil makes you feel.
Botany and Origins
Both the botany and origins of Bergamot are a little vague. According to Holmes, the Arabs introduced a range of citrus fruits in Malta and Sicily during the early 10th century and explains that the name “Bergamot” may also originate from the now defunct language of Sicilian Arabic.2
On the other hand, Imbesi and De Pasquale say that several theories regarding the origin of the name exist. They suggest that the most likely theory is that the Bergamot resembles the Bergamot pear, which in Turkish, is referred to as “Beg-armudi” which means “prince’s pear”. They say that Bergamot is a native of India where the fruit was called Limbu in Punjabi, Niboo in Bengali and Neamboo in Hindi. It is still used in these regions against scurvy, dyspepsia and as an antiemetic, antipyretic and antiseptic.3
Holmes says that recent DNA analysis of Bergamot indicates that it is a cross between the bitter orange (Citrus x aurantium) and the sweet lime (Citrus limetta). Therefore, it is considered a hybrid from a partial hybrid. It was cultivated as an ornamental at the end of the seventeenth century. It is believed to be first cultivated for the fragrance of its fruits towards 1750 near Reggio Calabria. The first documented use of Bergamot essential oil in perfumery was in 1693 in Le Parfumeur Francois, printed in Lyon. It was used in a perfume called Essence de Cedre ou Bergamotte. 3
Nowadays, Bergamot is still produced in Calabria in Southern Italy, however it is also cultivated on the Ivory Coast and Guinea.4
Arctander says that only the expressed oil from the peel of the fruit is of interest. He explains that the pulp or juice is of little value as it is not edible and the leaves and
twigs may be distilled to yield a Bergamot-petitgrain oil.4
Method of extraction
Cold expression of the slightly unripe Bergamot fruit rinds.
Bergamot essential oil is a mobile light-emerald to olive-green colour with a warm fruity-sweet aroma and a fresh citrus note. This is followed by an oily-herbaceous and somewhat balsamic body and dry-out. The colour of the oil fades on aging, particularly when the oil is exposed to light.4, 5
Traditional uses Bergamot essential oil is one of the main ingredients used in the original eau de cologne made at the beginning of the 18th century. The medicinal properties of Bergamot essential oil have long been known. The oil was popular in the 18th century in Italy as a cicatrisant to treat burns or varicose veins, analgesic, antimicrobial and for treating furunculosis, pediculosis and dandruff.3
In the second half of the eighteenth century, a few drops of the oil was added to lime tea or coffee as an antimalarial agent. It has long been used as a treatment for scabies. Internally, 2 -5 drops were used as a sedative.3 It was commonly used in the 18th century to improve the smell of medicinal ointments and unguents, to prepare tooth-powder, hair oils and cosmetic preparations. In medicine, it was used in an alcoholic solution or in preparations for massaging in cases of chronic rheumatism, for internal use.3 In 1932, Spinelli provided extensive in-vitro and in-vivo evidence that Bergamot could be used as an antiseptic for use in surgery. It was as effective as a 10% iodine tincture to sterilise the skin on which it was applied. Along with asepsis, there was complete absence of local irritation or symptoms attributable to absorption of the essential oil.3In 1940, it was reported to effectively treat soldiers affected with scabies.3
The typical chemical profile of unrectified expressed Bergamot oil is as follows;
(+)-limonene (27.4 -52.0%), linalyl acetate (17.1-40.4%), linalool (1.7– 20.6%), sabinene (0.8 – 12.8%), γ-terpinene (5.0 – 11.4%), β-pinene (4.4 – 11.0%), α-pinene (0.7 – 2.2%), β—myrcene (0.6 –1.8%), neryl acetate (0.1 – 1.2%).
The non-volatile components that are responsible for the phototoxicity of Bergamot
include; bergamottin (0.08 –0.68%), citropten (0.01 – 0.35%), bergapten (0.11 – 0.33%), bergaptol (0 – 0.19%), 5 – methoxy-7-geranoxycoumarin (0.04 – 0.15%), psoralen (0 –0.0026%).20
Holmes says that the chemical profile of Bergamot gives us a very good understanding of its balancing qualities. Not only is the oil dominated by esters which are inherently balancing, it also includes even more relaxing monoterpene alcohols and the more stimulating monoterpene hydrocarbons.2
Analgesic, antidepressant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, antiviral,carminative, cicatrisant, deodorant, digestive, febrifuge, sedative, stomachic, tonic, vermifuge, vulnerary.5,7,8
Pharmacology and clinical studies
A study found that a vaporised blend of citrus oils (Orange and
Bergamot, 1:1 v/v) was very effective at reducing environmental bacterial contamination. The study found that the citrus vapour reduced vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus sp. (VRE) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA) on stainless steel surfaces by as much as 99.5%. The authors suggest that citrus vapour has the potential for application in a clinical environment as a secondary disinfectant to reduce surface contamination of VRE and MRSA.9
A study using 109 patients found that Bergamot oil was effective in reducing preoperative anxiety. The authors concluded that aromatherapy may be a useful part of a holistic approach to reducing pre-operative anxiety before ambulatory surgery.10 Another study measured the endocrinological, physiological and psychological effects of Bergamot essential oil by inhalation on 41 healthy females using a random crossover study design. The study demonstrated that Bergamot essential oil had psychological and physiological benefits in a relatively short time.11
A controlled, randomised study using 52 subjects identified the benefits of aromatherapy on blood pressure and stress responses for patients with essential Hypertension. A blend of Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Bergamot was used by inhalation once daily for 4 weeks. The results of the study found that inhalation of essential oils was considered an effective nursing intervention that reduced psychological stress responses and serum cortisol levels, as well as the blood pressure of clients with essential Hypertension.12 Bergamottine (5-geranyloxypsoralen) the nonvolatile residue of the Bergamot essential oil was found to have significant antiarrhythmic activity.
The results demonstrated that it possessed the characteristics of an antiarrhythmic drug with calciumantagonist properties (class 4).13,14 Another study found the activity of bergamottine was comparable to that of verapamil.15
A blend of Lavender and Bergamot was used to determine the aromatherapeutic benefits of essential oils following transdermal absorption. Parameters such as blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate and skin temperature were recorded. In addition, subjects had to rate their emotional condition in terms of relaxation, vigor, calmness, attentiveness, mood and alertness in order to assess behavioural response.
Forty volunteers participated in the study. The results found that compared to the placebo, the blend of Lavender and Bergamot caused significant decreases of pulse point, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. At an emotional level the subjects rated themselves as feeling “more calm” and “more relaxed” than the subjects in the control group. The author of this study says that this provides evidence for use in medicine for treating depression or anxiety in humans.16 The effects of Bergamot essential oil on the release of amino acid neurotransmitters in rat hippocampus have been studied by both in-vivo and in-vitro tests.
The researchers concluded that Bergamot essential oil contains volatile fractions of unidentified monoterpene hydrocarbons that were able to stimulate glutamate release by transporter reversal and by exocytosis, depending on the dose administered.17
The effects of Bergamot essential oil on excitotoxic neuronal damage were investigated in-vitro. The study was performed in human neuroblastoma cells exposed to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). The results of the study found that Bergamot essential oil reduced neuronal damage caused in-vitro by excitotoxic stimuli, and that this neuroprotection was associated with prevention of injury-induced engagement of critical death pathways.18
A very interesting study done back in 1995 found that Bergamot oil blended with Lemon and Orange oils was very effective as an antidepressant. The study involved 20 depressed male inpatients who were all receiving antidepressant medication. They were divided into two groups; one group was given antidepressants alone and the other group were exposed to the citrus fragrance whilst having their medication reduced weekly until their depression remitted (within four to eleven weeks).
By the end of eleven weeks, 9 of the 12 patients in the citrus fragrance group had reduced their antidepressant drug intake to zero, whilst the other three had reduced their dosage by 50-75%. On the other hand, all the subjects in the antidepressant alone group still needed their usual doses of antidepressants at remission. The researchers also stated that urinary cortisol and dopamine levels were significantly high in both groups before treatment and both were reduced by the treatment. However, they said that the levels were significantly lower in the citrus fragrance group. They also found that the citrus fragrance caused high values of Natural Killer cell activity to return to almost normal range.
The results suggest that the use of citrus fragrances such as Bergamot may improve the homeostatic balance more than the treatment with just antidepressants. The authors concluded that Bergamot could be of psychoneuroimmunological benefit.19
Bergamot is particularly beneficial for nervous indigestion and loss of appetite due to emotional stress.5
Bergamot inhibits Herpes Simplex I virus that causes cold sores. It is particularly effective in combination with Tea Tree and Lavender for the treatment of cold sores, chicken pox and shingles.5
Holmes says that Bergamot oil promotes emotional stability. He recommends Bergamot for reducing irritability, moodiness, frustration, mood swings and emotional instability. Bergamot oil can also be used to alleviate negative thinking, repetitive thinking, pessimism and mild depression.2
Mojay compares Bergamot to Lavender and states;21
Bergamot oil encourages the release of pent up feelings – feelings that can lead not only to depression but to insomnia, anxiety and sudden mood swings. It helps, in addition, to redirect nervous energy away from unproductive or addictive behaviour, helping us to rediscover spontaneity and optimism. Bergamot oil helps us to relax and “let go”.
Holmes suggests that Bergamot can promote optimism and set the stage for true emotional transformation. He says that Bergamot oil is “exceptionally harmonising.” He describes it as being able to close the gap between mind, body and emotions. He says that it is one of the very few oils that is an autonomic nervous system regulator. It manages to reduce swings between sympathetic and parasympathetic functioning. Bergamot is ideal for treating stress-related conditions with symptoms that fluctuate between hyper- and hypo-functioning. It should be used for all stressrelated disorders involving the upper digestive tract and gall bladder which require relaxation and stimulation at the same time.2
Bergamot’s antiseptic action makes it useful for treating wounds, herpes and acne. It is typically recommended for oily skin types and is often used in skincare preparations as a deodorising agent.5
Worwood describes the personality of Bergamot as young, fresh, caring and considerate. She says that Bergamot types may not necessarily be young in age, but they will always be young at heart and have a joyful approach to life. They do not allow the negative things in life drag them down. They generally are very confident and have a strong positive attitude. They often find themselves in any role in which they can display their charismatic personality or in the caring professions that requires large amounts of energy, skill and enthusiasm. The Bergamot personality is very good with children as their energy levels are very compatible.22
When Bergamot personality type becomes stressed they may suffer from depression, however, they rarely allow anyone to really see just how down they can be or how sad they are feeling. Worwood says that nobody may suspect that behind the mask, a Bergamot may be inwardly crying with emotional pain, only the empathy that they display towards others who are feeling distressed may give them away.22
According to Myers-Briggs personality profile, I would describe the Bergamot personality as Extrovert, Intuition, Feeling and Perceiving (ENFP this is the Champion archetype. ENFP’s are outgoing, lively and spontaneous. They are very enthusiastic and their joy for life can be contagious. They have a rich imagination and active mind. Their thoughts are always wandering and their mood constantly changing. They can be inspiring and charismatic leaders. They are always involved, or in love with someone or something new. They know how to establish instant rapport and make people feel comfortable. They love emotional intensity and enjoy expressing their feelings. They can be charming and flirtatious. They relate with warmth to many people and can appear overly enthusiastic, positive and optimistic.
Worwood beautifully describes the subtle qualities of Bergamot;
It brings eternal youth and happiness, even to those who have put aside their problems, ignoring them until they have become so overwhelming that the person feels that they cannot ask for help… We may cry inside, our hearts aching, but Bergamot will lighten the heart, and dispel self-criticism and blame. To any soul, Bergamot brings freshness and illumination, lifting us from stagnation, bringing an awareness that the light will rescue us and take us ever forward to the realms of peace and joy.23
If your spirit is flat, sad or depressed, Zeck says that Bergamot will help heal and cheer our soul, encouraging us to explore our deep, innermost feelings.24 Holmes beautifully summarises the subtle qualities of Bergamot;
Ultimately, then, we can say that Bergamot’s highest gift is to assist in staying with our own experience and to be ever open, curious and in wonder of each moment of life as it arises, each now as it unfolds – without the burden of previous feelings and concepts. As a lightfilled refresher of the mind and soul, Bergamot simply suggests that to experience life in a balanced way, we need to start by accepting the experience of each moment for what it is, without prior expectations.2
The green colour of Bergamot has an affinity with the heart chakra. It is useful when the heart chakra is affected by grief.5
Mojay says that like all citrus oils, Bergamot is cooling and refreshing. The fresh, fruity, floral aroma contributes to the oil’s gently relaxing, yet distinctly uplifting qualities. He says that the energetic qualities of Bergamot relates directly to its ability to harmonise Liver Qi. This helps to maintain the free and even flow of energy through the body.21
Whenever the Liver Qi is constrained we feel irritable, anxious, frustrated, and experience mood swings.2
Mojay describes the antidepressant properties of Bergamot according to the principles of traditional Chinese Medicine;
Depression due to stagnant Qienergy is therefore the result of accumulated stress or repressed anger – the key emotion of the Liver and Wood Element. Anger and frustration turned inwards oppress the Ethereal Soul (Hun) and blocks the free-flow of Qi, depressing mind and spirit.
He goes on to explain that Bergamot oil helps to redirect nervous energy way from unproductive or addictive behaviour and to help us relax. Bergamot has a strong affinity with the Wood and Fire elements. In Ayurveda Bergamot oil helps to calm excessive Pitta and balance and nourish Vata.
How to use
Typically for a full body bath in a tub, use up to 5 drops of essential oils in the tub of warm water. Foot or hand baths may be prepared by adding 2-3 drops of essential oil to a bowl of warm water.
Use a 2.5% dilution of the appropriate blend of essential oils to the chosen carrier oil. A 2.5% dilution this equates to 5 drops of essential oil to 10mL of carrier oil.
The best way to use essential oils for inhalation is by diffusing them. When you are using essential oils in an ultrasonic diffuser please follow the instructions of the diffuser that you are using.
What I have always liked about Bergamot oil is that, while it has a calming and relaxing influence, it can also be an uplifting and energising oil. It is not surprising that Bergamot oil is one of the most versatile oils in aromatherapy. I love using Bergamot – it complements so many other essential oils. When it is used in combination with Basil, Lemongrass or Rosemary it is mentally invigorating. When it is blended with Lavender, Sandalwood or Ylang Ylang, it takes on a more relaxing quality, and when it is blended with Eucalyptus, Pine or Tea Tree it takes on a more medicinal antiseptic quality.
Fisher-Rizzi recommends using Bergamot oil for balancing those essential oils with good psychological effect but with an odour that some people may consider unpleasant or too strong – Cypress, Rockrose, Everlasting, Frankincense or Yarrow just to name a few.1
Peter Holmes suggests some blends with Bergamot;2
Bergamot + Mandarin: Nervous sedative for all acute or chronic stress-related conditions
Bergamot + Lavender: Nervous sedative in all hyperactive, stress related conditions
Bergamot+ Peppermint: Excellent for indigestion, bloating and flatulence
Bergamot + Lemongrass: Antipyretic for helping reduce fever
Bergamot + Niaouli + Peppermint: Antiviral for shingles and other viral conditions.
Perfect Potion Classics with bergamot
It is not surprising that I have used Bergamot in so many Perfect Potion classic blends. The pleasant, refreshing, citrusy and floral aroma of Bergamot gives it a beautiful uplifting and yet relaxing quality. Lavabre calls Bergamot a blend enhancer.25
A blend enhancer has a very pleasant fragrance and has just enough personality to modify a blend without overpowering it. It really provides an uplifting aroma to rich, earthy blends such as Perfect Potion’s Earth and Eros essential oil blends. On the other hand, it is the heart and soul of our Compassion chakra blend, which is for balancing the heart chakra. It provides much needed balance to the rich, herbaceous aroma of Insight or the deep resin-based aroma of Harmony, which is for balancing the solar plexus chakra. It perfectly complements all the oils in our very complex Green Goddess and Chakra Balancing blends.
Bergamot is one of the most frequently used essential oils in perfumery. As a bridge between woody notes and floral notes, it creates the perfect top note. It is, therefore, not surprising that we have used it in all our Peace Perfumes. In Heiwa and Sohl it works in wonderful synergy with all the other citrus oils while in An, Salam and Shalom it perfectly balances the rich floral and resin oils used.
Once again we must thank Robert Tisserand for debunking a whole lot of goobly dook that is often found on supposedly reputable websites. He cites the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version (NMCDCV) which claims the following safety warning regarding Bergamot;
Bergamot oil is possibly unsafe in children when taken by the mouth in large amounts. There have been serious side effects, including convulsion and death, in children who have taken large amounts of bergamot essential oil.26
However, Tisserand points out that no source was given. This is very disappointing and frustrating as this website claims to be evidence-based. Tisserand points out that there is no known case of child poisoning from Bergamot oil ever reported and that there have been no reports of poisoning or convulsions in either children or adults. Bergamot oil does have a Generally Recognised as Safe status (GRAS). He also cites a study by Opdyke that found the acute toxicity of Bergamot in rats was over 10g/kg. This means that the lethal dose for a 70kg human would be equivalent of 700 grams.26
Bergamot essential oil may be photosensitising. This means that if it is applied to the skin at certain concentrations, burning can occur if the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light. Tisserand suggests that Bergamot oil should not be used at more than 0.4% dilution on the skin, or the person should not go outside during the daylight for 12- 18 hours after topical application.20
Tisserand points out that this warning applies only to ‘leave-on’ products such as perfumes, oils, lotions and balms and that there is no risk from ‘wash-off’ products such as soaps, shampoos and body washes.20
Organophosphorus and organochlorine pesticides, phosphorated plasticizers, chloroparaffins and phthalate ester contamination have been found in Bergamot essential oils produced in Calabria in the crop years 1999 and 2000.27 While this report is from 2004, it does highlight the importance of using only certified organic essential oils. This is potentially a problem with all citrus essential oils.
- Fischer-Rizzi S. Complete Aromatherapy Handbook. Stirling Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 1989.
- Holmes P, Aromatica – A clinical guide to essential oil therapeutics.Singing Dragon, London 2016
- Imbesi A, de Pasquale A, Citrus species and their essential oils in traditional medicine, from Citrus – The Genus Citrus. Edited by Giovanni Dugo and Anelo Di Giacomo, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants – Industrial Profiles, Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, 2002.
- Arctander S, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origins. allured Publishing Corporation, Carol Stream, 1994.
- Battaglia S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.2nd ed, Brisbane, 2003.
- Lawless J. The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils. Element Books limited, Dorset, 1992.
Lis-Balchin M. Aromatherapy Science – A guide for healthcare professionals. Pharmaceutical press, London, 2006.
- Laird K et al, Reduction of surface contamination and biofilms of enterococcus sp. And staphylococcus aureus using a citrus-based vapour. Journal of Hospital Infection, 2012 80(1):61-66. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 3510.
- Ni C.H et al. The anxiolytic effect of aromatherapy on patients awaiting ambulatory surgery: a randomized controlled trail. Evidence-Based Complementary and alternative Medicine, 2013. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 5359.
- Wantanabe E, et al, Effects of bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) essential oil aromatherapy on mood states, parasympathetic nervous system activity, and salivary cortisol levels in 41 healthy females. Forchende Kompleentarnmedizin 2015 22(1):43-49. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 5670.
- Hwang J-H, The effects of the inhalation method using essential oils on blood pressure and stress responses of clients with essential hypertension. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, 2006, 36(7): 1123-1134; Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 5255.
- Occhiuto F et al, Investigations to characterise the antiarrhythmic action of bergamottine, a furocoumarin isolated from bergamot oil. Phytotherapy research 1997 11(6):450-453; Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 517.
- Occhiuto F et al, Cardiovascular properties of the non-volatile total residue from the essential oil of Citrus bergamia. International Journal of pharmacology, 1996 34(2):128-133; Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 462.
- Occhiuto F et al, Anti-anginal and antiarrhythmic effects of bergamottine, a furocoumarin isolated from bergamot oil. Phytotherapy research 1996, 10(6):491-496. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 436.
- Hongratanaworakit T, Aromatherapeutic effects of massage blended essential oils on humans. Natural Product Communications, 2011, 6(8):1199-1204. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 4122.
- Morrone LA et al, The essential oil of bergamot enhances the levels of amino acid neurotransmitters in the hippocampus of rats: Implication of monoterpene hydrocarbons. Pharmacological Research, 2007, 55(4):255-262, Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 2404.
- Corasaniti MT et al, Cell signalling pathways in the mechanisms of neuroprotection afforded by bergamot essential oil against NMDA-induced cell death in-vitro. British Journal of Pharmacology, 2007 151(4):518-529. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 1271.
- Komori T et al, Effect of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive states. Neuroimmunomodulation, 1995 2(3):170-180, Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 614.
- Tisserand R, Young R, Essential Oil Safety. Churchill Livingstone, 2nd ed, UK, 2014. 21. Mojay G. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Healing Art press, Rochester, Vermont, USA, 1999.
- Worwood V. The Fragrant Mind. Transworld Publishers Ltd. London, 1995. 23. Worwood V. The Fragrant Heavens. Transworld Publishers Ltd. London, 1999.
- Zeck R, The Blossoming Heart – Aromatherapy for healing and transformation. Aroma Tours, Australia 2003. 25. Lavabre M. Aromatherapy workbook. Healing Art Press, USA, 1997.
- http://roberttisserand. com/2015/01/bergamot-oil-toxicchildren/
- Di Bella G et al, Pesticide and plastizer residues in bergamot essential oils from Calabria (Italy). Chemosphere 2004 56(8):777- 782. Cited in Quintessential Aromatics Database, ID number 4587.flickr.com/photos/38559542@ N02/8449598086?ytcheck=1 All images licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence, http:// creativecommons.org/licenses/ by/2.0