Name: Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
Otherwise known as: Petitgrain, Citrus Bigaradia
Habitat: A tree member of the Rutaceae family growing to about 10m in well-drained moist soil and native to South East Asia, with bright green, dense, oval-shaped leaves and displaying highly fragrant clusters of white flowers followed by the distinctive fruit.
What does it do: All citrus plants originate in South East Asia and the Pacific islands, and the fruit and leaves have featured in Oriental medicine for centuries. The tree is the source of the essential oils Petitgrain and Neroli: the first is extracted by distilling the leaves and stems, and the latter by distilling the flowers.
Neroli was brought to Europe in the middle ages and has flourished in the Mediterranean region ever since; medieval physicians claimed any number of attributes for it, namely ‘they strengthen the heart and are good for diminishing the coagubility of the blood, and are beneficial for the palpitations, scurvy, jaundice, bleedings and heartburn. They are powerfully anti-scorbutic, either internally or externally applied.’
In Oriental medicine the dried peel is used to treat prolapses of the uterus and anus as well as diarrhea, flatulence and digestive disorders.
The main constituents of the plant are esters such as linalyl acetate, linalool and monoterpenes: principally limonene, myrcene, camphene, pinene, ocimene, cymene, and some aldehydes, ketones, and vitamins. These render the action of the plant anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, choleretic, fungicidal, sedative, stomachic and tonic.
The oils from the plant are very popular in aromatherapy where they are employed in combating various skin disorders such as acne, excessive perspiration, greasy hair and skin, stretch marks, thread veins, wrinkles, and as a skin toner. They are also used to treat palpitations, poor circulation, anxiety, depression, premenstrual tension, insomnia and those recovering from long term illness and surgery. Oil extracted from the seed of the mature fruit reduces cholesterol levels. The aromatic flowers are formed into bridal wreaths and bouquets apparently to allay any apprehension before the newly-weds retire to bed.
Neroli products feature prominently in pharmaceuticals, expensive perfumes, as an essential constituent of ‘eau-de-cologne’, and as a fixative. It also has a limited presence in food and alcohol products.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants