If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea, you’ve enjoyed the lovely scent and flavor of bergamot. One of the most popular teas in the world, Earl Grey owes its unique fragrance to the oil, which is also used in perfumes and cosmetics.
Extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia), bergamot has a reputation for being calming and soothing, and for helping to heal wounds and sores on the skin. Frequently used in aromatherapy and in massage therapy, it’s said to help reduce sensations of pain, decrease nervous tension, and even help you sleep.
It may be hard to believe that oil from what is essentially an orange could do that, but this is a unique fruit. Though called an orange, it’s not the same as the oranges we’re used to. It’s about the same size, but has a more yellowish color, and is shaped more like a pear. It’s named after a town in Lombardy, Italy—“Bergamum”—and comes from a small evergreen tree that blossoms in the winter.
7 Surprising Facts About Bergamot
The bergamot orange is related to the so-called “sweet lemon,” (Citrus limetta), but is not exactly the same, and has an even bitterer taste. The properties of this particular variety are very unique, however, with some active ingredients recently discovered that may hold particularly exciting health benefits.
1. No one knows for sure how it came to be added to tea.
There are a few stories as to how Earl Grey tea came about. All seem to share the idea that the original mixture was of black China tea with a tincture of citrus oil from the bergamot orange.
One says that the British Prime Minister Charles Grey introduced the tea to friends and Queen Victoria. Another goes that a Chinese mandarin presented the Earl with the tea to mask the taste of lime in the local water supply. Still another says that the tea was sent by a Chinese official to Charles Gray as a thank you gift for saving his son.
Researchers have doubts that there was any connection between the Earl and the tea. Instead, the more probable origin may have come from tea makers who used the oil to make their inferior teas seem more fancy, and thus charged a higher price. Yet another theory is that William Grey, a London tea merchant, was the true originator of the tea.
However it got its start, the tea is hugely popular today, and has spawned other varieties, such as Lady Grey tea, which includes lemon and Seville orange in addition to bergamot.
2. The name may come from a Turkish word.
Though the standard story is that bergamot was named after the Italian town, a French company who makes Bergamots of Nancy candies (which have been around for centuries) states that the word comes from the Turkish “beg-armade,” meaning “Lord’s pear.” Remember when we said the fruit was sort of pear shaped?
In fact, look up the word “bergamot” in the online dictionary and you’ll see there that it is a “variety of pear,” and that the word actually came from the Turkish beg-armudi, which meant “prince’s pear” or “prince of pears.”
3. It may help lower cholesterol.
In January 2015, the Wall Street Journal broke the exciting news that bergamot was found to lower cholesterol. The active ingredients were two newly discovered compounds: brutieridin and meltidin, antioxidants that have been studied for their statin-like effects.
In a 2013 study, for instance, researchers gave 77 patients with high cholesterol levels either a placebo, a statin drug, or bergamot extract (at 1,000 mg/daily) plus a statin drug.
Results showed that when bergamot was combined with the statin drug, it enhanced the drug’s ability to reduce cholesterol, and enabled researchers to cut by half the dosage of the drug. Beyond that, however, bergamot also helped boost “good” HDL cholesterol, reduced fatty deposits in the liver, and lowered blood sugar.
On top of all that, it also reduced the side effects of statin drugs. These drugs are known, for instance, to reduce levels of CoQ10, a crucial antioxidant in the generation of cellular energy, and super important to things like heart health and even skin health. Bergamot lowered cholesterol without affecting CoQ10, and also protected blood vessels from free radical damage.
We need additional, large scale studies before recommending bergamot to lower cholesterol, but the findings were intriguing, and suggest that the oil has even more health benefits than we may have believed.
4. Could help you avoid infections.
Bergamot, like many essential oils, has antibacterial properties. A 2009 study reported that it was effective against Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis, both types of bacteria that can be resistant to antibiotic treatment and that are often responsible for urinary tract infections.
An earlier 2007 study found similar results, with bergamot being effective against a number of different bacteria types, including Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli. And in a 2006 study, researchers concluded that bergamot was the most effective of all the oils tested as far as its antibacterial properties were concerned. This time, researchers were looking to see if it could combat typical foodborne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter jejuni, and they found that it came through with shining colors.
They concluded that bergamot “could be used as a way of combating the growth of common causes of food poisoning.”
5. It can help you zap anxiety.
Feeling anxious? Worried? Stressed? Bergamot may be your solution.
Sure, there are many oils that can help you relax. But bergamot may be particularly good at it. In a 2011 study, for example, researchers compared it to diazepam, a typical anti-anxiety drug. They found that both bergamot essential oil and diazepam helped reduce anxiety and even reduced levels of corticosterone, the anxiety hormone.
Oh, and by the way, in the study the subjects inhaled the oil, so the effect was from the aroma.
A 2011 study found similar results. Researchers used a bergamot aromatherapy spray in 54 elementary school teachers, and then evaluated their blood pressure and other measurements of stress and anxiety. They found that after receiving the aromatherapy, participants had significant decreases in blood pressure and heart rate, suggesting that bergamot may be perfect for warding off workplace stress.
6. May help to reduce the appearance of scars.
Bergamot is known to help encourage healing and skin regeneration, and it’s often recommended as a good remedy for scars. While helping skin to renew itself, it also helps to regulate the distribution of melanin, the skin’s natural pigment, reducing the look of dark spots and splotching.
In a 2003 study, for example, researchers studied the oil on skin, and found that it increased the activity of superoxide dismutase—a powerful antioxidant—while also boosting the content of collagen and decreasing oxidative damage, all of which can help stimulate skin healing and restoration. It also promoted the growth of hair!
7. It can get rid of lice.
If you have kids, you may have gone through a lice outbreak. Head lice can be a real nuisance in schools, and though it hasn’t been shown to spread disease, it can be a bear to get rid of.
Would you believe that bergamot may be helpful? Along with other oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, anise, tea tree, and lavender, it can help repel not only lice, but also other irritating pests like ticks and mosquitoes. Mix the essential oils in with the shampoo for natural lice treatments.
Do you have other uses for bergamot? Please share with us.
Tea Forte - The Mysterious History of Earl Grey Tea
SFGATE - Bergamot's Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep
Dictionary - Bergamot
The Wall Street Journal - Researchers in Italy Found Bergamot Lowered Cholesterol
International Journal of Cardiology - Bergamot polyphenolic fraction enhances rosuvastatin-induced effect on LDL-cholesterol, LOX-1 expression and protein kinase B phosphorylation in patients with hyperlipidemia
PubMed - Hypolipemic and hypoglycaemic activity of bergamot polyphenols: from animal models to human studies.
PubMed - Antimicrobial activity of flavonoids extracted from bergamot (Citrus bergamia Risso) peel, a byproduct of the essential oil industry.
PubMed - The effect of lemon, orange and bergamot essential oils and their components on the survival of Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus in vitro and in food systems.
PubMed - Acute effects of bergamot oil on anxiety-related behaviour and corticosterone level in rats.
PubMed - Aromatherapy Benefits Autonomic Nervous System Regulation for Elementary School Faculty in Taiwan
PubMed - [Effects of the extract from bergamot and boxthorn on the delay of skin aging and hair growth in mice].
The blog post Facts You May Not Know About Bergamot Essential Oil was first published on Annmarie Skin Care's Blog