Citrus Bergamia
Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia)Illustration - Köhlers Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887) (PD)

Bergamot - Botany And History

Bergamot (pronounced either ber-gah-mot or ber-gah-mow) is a type of citrus plant, and subsequently, the fruit and the aroma derived from it which is quite popular in the Levantine areas, some parts of the Middle East, a large part of Europe and some parts of America. It is highly popular for its aroma, and is well known the world over for being the key ingredient in the famed tea blend called 'Earl Grey' as well as a highly popular additive to the food condiment marmalade (and although the latter may employ normal orange or citrus peel in lieu of bergamot, bergamot-based marmalades are nevertheless still prized by connoisseurs of the fruit). Bergamot's famed fragrance is derived from the essential oils which are found in its rind, which is extracted via steam distillation, or otherwise obtained through any number of processes (not limited to infusion, tincturing, decoction, and maceration).

The fruit itself, distinctive for its yellow and sometimes lime-green colouration and its similarity to lemons, is about the size of an average orange (though smaller and larger examples are known), and grows from a moderately sized tree that is distinctive for its pale-white to ivory-hued inflorescence that blooms only during wintertime, and for its broad, glossy leaves. The tree is most notable for the aroma that it exudes when the bergamot fruits are well into maturity. Generally considered to be a native of Southern Italy (specifically Calabria, a small province of Reggio), it is also found throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. The name bergamot itself may point out to a possible point of origin for the earliest varietals of the plant - Bergamo, Italy - although a much more plausible etymological origin would be the Turkish word beg-armudi (lit. 'prince's pear'), as the employment and perhaps the eventual cultivation of the plant itself had been introduced to the Italian community from the Turks, who may have obtained the plant (if not expressly cultivated it) from their trade with the Far East. It is surprising that while the fruit of the bergamot tree is perfectly capable of producing juices (and does in fact contain juice) and a succulent, albeit somewhat tough 'meat', the fruit is chiefly cultivated and largely employed solely for its aromatic skin, and no known mention of its edibility or at least the employment of the fruit solely for general consumption (in its past or in the present day) has been found. [1]

Bergamot has been cultivated since the latter part of the 1600s for its potent essential oil, which is derived chiefly from the skin of its fruit. Earlier mention of the fruit's possible cultivation and usage is vague, as the employment of citrus fruits prior to the Renaissance period were limited only to specific areas. Theoretically however, it is perfectly possible for bergamot to have been employed since the Middle Ages, whether for chiefly culinary or medicinal purposes, although the possibility of a city or town dating from the period to have done so is rare, chiefly due to the fact that bergamot is not consumed as a foodstuff (and its 'meat' is believed to be inedible). This aspect was not at all in line with the practice of the times, which was to cultivate products foodstuffs, and to trade for inedible commodities. The earliest mention of the employment of bergamot as a scent or as a substance employed for perfumery (which is among its more famed purposes) dates back to 1714, yet it can be argued that bergamot may have been employed in its point of origin (Bergamo, Italy) even earlier, though the veracity of such assumptions is at best only theoretical. Bergamot orange may sometimes be confused with other plants which are referred to as 'bergamot' - Monarda didyma and Mondarda fistulosa - two plants of the mint family, which are not true bergamot and not even remotely related to the bergamot orange, but simply plants which have been named after bergamot due to a similarity in its aromatic nature. Bergamot is a popular scent chiefly due to its light aromatic profile and for its versatility. This, alongside its medicinal properties, make it a highly valuable plant. [2]

Bergamot - Herbal Uses

Today, bergamot is chiefly known as an integral ingredient in the famed British tea blend referred to as Earl Grey (first sold circa 1880, with earlier 'prototypes' not associated with the moniker having existed since the 1850s), and its offshoot blend (a relatively modern incarnation at that, having been made in 1996) Lady Grey. Its usage as a flavouring for tea generally comes in two forms - the initial being an integration of the whole fine shaved rinds of the orange into a mixture of fine black tea (with, or without the accompaniment of other fragrant flowers, herbs, or spices), and an incorporation of its highly aromatic essential oil (derived from the rinds) into the tea leaves itself, often with the accompaniment of other fragrant plant matter. Earl Grey tea is named after former British Prime Minister Charles Grey, the Second Earl of Grey, which received a blend of the tea (which he eventually grew to favour and perhaps even patronise) perhaps as a tribute. Apocryphal tales told of how a Chinese mandarin whose son had been saved by the Earl from drowning presented the tea to the Earl in 1803 - a very unlikely origin tale as the Earl himself had never set foot in the Orient. A possible truer origin of the blend is Jacksons of Piccadilly, a tea shop which claims to have obtained the recipe for Earl Grey tea from that prestigious personage himself. The Grey family claim that the tea was expressly blended for them by a Chinese mandarin (perhaps a servant or a merchant), in order to suit the water at their family seat at Howick Hall, Northumberland, which had hints of lime that left an off-taste in otherwise fine tea. It was the Earl's wife, Lady Grey, who had asked if it were possible for the blend to be marketed, to which it is said that the recipe for the blend was given to Jacksons of Piccadilly and (later on) to Twinings respectively, both of whom continue to market the blend to this day. [3]

Aside from its more well-known employment as the primary flavouring agent of Earl Grey tea, bergamot, or, more specifically, the essential oil of bergamot is also employed as a flavouring agent for a number of other foodstuffs and products. In Italy, bergamot rind is a very popular additive to marmalade, and may sometimes even be employed as an additive to confectionary treats, and may even be included in natural candies. The essential oil of bergamot is also quite popular in the Middle East, where it is employed as a flavouring for hard and soft candies, as an inclusive scent to tea, and as a flavouring for the popular confection loukum - better known as Turkish Delight.

Outside of its usage for foodstuffs and beverages, the essential oil of bergamot is also employed as an ingredient in tobacco-based products such as snus and some blends of snuff. While there is yet no known occurrence of bergamot scented or flavoured cigarettes, pipe tobaccos have been flavoured with bergamot essential oil, and some pipe tobacco blends (particularly those to Turkish origins meant to be smoked with a shisha or narghile) may even contain fine to moderately fine particles of bergamot rind.

Bergamot is among the staple essences employed in perfumery, with the earliest usage of the plant dating back to the early 1700s in many of the finest perfume houses of the period, long before it employment as a primary ingredient in Earl Grey tea. Bergamot essential oil is one of the primary constituents of the original Eau de Cologne, which was first blended by famed perfumer Farina at the beginning of the 18th century, and for the famed perfume Shalimar. [4] In traditional and modern perfumery, bergamot is generally employed as a top note, due to its light and refreshing scent. Bergamot is known for its versatility with regards to the number of scents that can be blended with it to create varying levels of depth and aromatic complexity. To this day, bergamot remains one of the most widely employed aromas. In aromatherapy, the scent of bergamot is employed as an anti-depressant and stress-reliever, as well as an energy booster. Perfumes containing bergamot are said to energise individuals, and are reputedly particularly helpful for individuals who are suffering from minor ailments such as nasal congestion, colds, fever, or flu. [5] Bergamot essential oil is also often mixed with carrier oils and use for massage. It is traditionally ascribed skin tonifying and rejuvenating properties, and has been employed to help relieve stress, cure anxiety, and even treat insomnia and restlessness. It is believed that a minute amount of bergamot oil mixed with one's choice of carrier oil and massaged unto the abdomen helps to cure the symptoms of colic, while a combination of jojoba oil and bergamot essential oil makes for an excellent skin moisturiser. [6] Mixed with peppermint essential oil, coconut oil, and oil of cloves, it makes for an excellent antiperspirant and deodorant, while a general employment of the substance for massage is excellent for analgesic and antibacterial purposes. [7]

Bergamot's essential oil is among the few rare essences that can be safely consumed and partaken of orally, although when taken in large amounts it nevertheless poses considerable health risks. Due to the 'edibility' of the essential oil, it is often taken orally to treat a wide assortment of ills. Since the inception of bergamot scented teas, it has been prescribed for everything from indigestion, gastritis, respiratory problems, urinary tract infections, colic and flatulence. When diluted with water, the ensuing mixture can be employed as an all-natural antimicrobial gargle which helps to rid the mouth of cavities and prevent dental caries. Furthermore, gargling with a mixture of bergamot oil and water will help effectively to treat cold sores and canker sores (even the rind of the fruit, when decocted accomplishes the same benefits). Taken internally, it is also believed to be a powerful purgative and vermifuge. [8] When applied to the hair as a wash or rinse, it effectively rids the hair of lice and other parasites, as well as treat common scalp problems such as eczema and dandruff.

The whole rind itself, when peeled and decocted, can be used in much the same vein as its concentrated essential oil. The Native Americans employed the peel of the bergamot orange to treat a variety of different diseases, among them cold, fever, flu, coughs, and parasites. A mild decoction was often dfrunk during and after heavy meals as a digestif, gargled to cure oral problems and sore throat, used as a wash to disinfect wounds and treat various skin diseases, and employed as a skin tonic. [9] Modern oral applications of bergamot in the form of infusions or decoctions (and even the mere consumption of Earl Grey tea) may even help to prevent the accumulation of bad cholesterol, as the active chemical compounds found in bergamot are known to combat the accumulation of bad cholesterol.

Bergamot - Esoteric Uses

When employed esoterically, bergamot is still predominantly used as a perfume scent. It is traditionally ascribed as among the 'Angelic Fragrances', and is associated with either the Archangel Gabriel or the Archangel Raphael. It is often incorporated into oils and salves meant to drive away negativity and help to improve one's overall outlook. Because it is a healing oil, it is often employed as a blessing ointment, and is even used as a charging oil. The rind of bergamot, when encased in a medicine pouch or juju bag is reputed to help attract money and success, while anointing oneself with a mixture of dragon's blood essential oil, bergamot oil, and olive oil is said to increase your confidence and luck. [10]

Bergamot - Contraindications And Safety

While bergamot can be consumed safely in small to moderate dosages (for example as used in Earl Grey tea), and applied topically (diluted) without much risk for allergic reaction, the prolonged employment of bergamot (in whole or oil form) can be detrimental to health, as it may cause photosensitivity, severe muscle cramping, and micronutrient deficiencies. As a rule of thumb, pregnant and nursing women should abstain from the consumption of products made from or containing bergamot (although the limited use of cosmetics containing the essential oil are deemed safe). Small children are also advised to moderate their consumption of bergamot-containing confections, while adults are warned to consume no more than a half-a-litre to a litre of bergamot-containing beverages per day. The essential oils must also never be used in high concentrations or in its undiluted form.

Bergamot - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: foshou gan
Japanese: berugamotto (an onomatopoeia of the English-French 'bergamot')
Hindi: jambhi
Turkish: beg armundi (possible etymological origin, lit. 'prince of pears')
Korean: beleugamos (an onomatopoeia of 'bergamot')
French: bergamot / bergamotier / bergamotte
Italian: bergamota / bergamotto
Spanish: bergamoto / bergamota (adopted from Italian)
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Citrus bergamia / Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia










Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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