Orange oil is a general term that gets bandied around in aromatherapy practice! There are several different types of orange oil – and it is important to know the difference between each one. This week’s post summarizes the differences and similarities between various types of orange oil for aromatherapy use. I wrote the original version of this article for the Natural Health Ezine but have updated it in this post.
Sweet Orange Oil for Aromatherapy
My favorite type of true orange oil is sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil. Sweet orange oil is extracted from a species of orange tree that is smaller than the bitter orange tree (see below). The fruit of the sweet orange tree is larger than the bitter orange variety. However, the sweet orange tree is found in more or less the same places as the bitter orange tree. Sweet orange oil is extracted from the fruit of the tree via cold expression; it is also possible to distill sweet orange oil.
You can use sweet orange oil in aromatherapy for skincare problems, digestive problems and to treat colds and flu. The main difference between sweet orange oil and bitter orange oil is that bitter orange oil is photo-toxic whereas sweet orange oil is not photo-toxic (unless it is distilled). Both types of orange oil are predominately composed of similar chemical components, giving them the same therapeutic properties.
Bitter Orange Oil for Aromatherapy
Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var. amara) oil is extracted from the the fruit of the bitter orange tree by cold expression. The bitter orange tree is an evergreen tree that is hardy and resistant to most diseases. The bitter orange tree is native to the Far East but today it is commonly found in the Mediterranean region and the the warmer states of the United States. Bitter orange essential oil has similar uses in aromatherapy practice as sweet orange essential oil.
Orange Blossom Oil for Aromatherapy
Orange blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara) essential oil, also known as neroli oil, is extracted from the flowers of the bitter orange tree by distillation; it takes its alternative name of neroli from an Italian princess. The flowers of the orange tree produce essential oil in small quantities and therefore this is an expensive essential oil because of the difficulties and labor required to extract it. You can use orange blossom oil in aromatherapy for skincare problems, digestive problems, anxiety, stress, shock – and as an aphrodisiac!
Petitgrain Oil for Aromatherapy
Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the bitter orange tree by distillation. Petitgrain oil takes it name from the “petit grains”, meaning “little grains”, of the fruit of the tree; originally the oil was distilled from the green, unripe oranges of the tree. Petitgrain oil has similar uses to orange blossom oil in aromatherapy, although it is a lighter oil than orange blossom in fragrance.
Petitigrain Sur Fleurs for Aromatherapy
Some distillers combine both petitgrain and neroli essential oil to produce a less expensive oil than neroli – but with the therapeutic properties of both neroli and petitgrain essential oil. This essential oil is often described as petitgrain sur fleurs (literal English translation from the French is petitgrain on flowers). You also have to be aware that this particular oil might have involved the use of solvents in extraction – depending upon the distiller and the true description of the oil.
Other Types of Citrus Oils
Other citrus oils such as mandarin, tangerine and bergamot are sometimes mistakenly confused as orange oil. Although the fruits of these trees are similar in appearance to the orange tree, they are different in both species and essential oil. However, they do all belong to the same botanical family, the Rutaceae plant family.
Cautions for Using Citrus Oils
Citrus oils are well liked in aromatherapy because of their light, uplifting aromas. They are also relatively safe to use with children and the elderly. The main difficulty with citrus oils (extracted from the fruits of the tree) is that they are usually photo-toxic which means that you should not use them if you are going to have prolonged contact with sunlight. Remember to dilute essential oils in a carrier lotion or oil base before applying them to the skin. For further information consult an experienced and qualified aromatherapist.
To learn more about essential oils, consider taking one of the Sedona Aromatherapie courses, such as the Foundation Course in Aromatherapy!
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK:Thorsons
Davis, Patricia, 1999, Aromatherapy: An A-Z UK: Vermilion
Author’s own experience and training