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A Fragrant Journey: Exploring Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)  

This article originally appeared in the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) Journal (Summer 2023.2) and it is re-published here according to the NAHA Writer Guidelines 2024 copyright statement. To learn more about NAHA visit:

A Fragrant Journey: Exploring Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)  

by Tricia Ambroziak, NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist®


Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) bergamot orange, or sour orange is a fragrant green to yellow citrus fruit similar in size and shape to an orange. Most likely, unless you live in Italy, you’ve never actually come across one in your local grocer’s citrus section and if you do, you surely don’t want to eat one. But you’ve probably encountered its aromatics. Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is widely used in perfumery, as well as in cosmetics, foods, and beverages, like Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas. But don’t confuse it with its wily namesake, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) which is a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) that has a citrusy side. This sour fruit won’t stand for it. Italian grocery stores you say? Well, let’s fasten those imaginary seat belts and get our trays in the upright position for a virtual trip to Italy, France, and beyond to learn more about this fascinating fruit and its hydrosol.


Botany and Distribution

C. bergamia is a member of the Rutaceae or citrus family and was first named in 1818 by French botanist Pierre Antoine Poiteau and French naturalist Antoine Risso in Histoire Naturelle des Orangers. Its botanical and geographical origins, however, are not entirely clear. Literature regarding the phylogeny and taxonomy of bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is sparse and often contradictory.1


It may be native to the southern Italian region of Calabria, resulting from a mutation from other species. Or it may have originated from Antilles, Greece, or the Canary Islands and was imported from there by Christopher Columbus, arriving at Calabria from the Spanish city of Berga, possibly giving rise to the name “bergamot.” The name bergamot might also have been derived from the Italian word “bergamotto” either from the Italian town of Bergamo or from the Turkish “beg-armudi” or “prince’s pear.”


The taxonomic data can get a bit confusing but, in general, synonyms of C. bergamia include Citrus × bergamia, C. aurantium ssp. Bergamia, C. aurantium subsp. Bergamia, C. aurantium var. bergamia, and C. bergamia subsp. Mellarosa. The Tisserand institute has an excellent chart that further investigates bergamot’s “identity crisis.”3


Perhaps the confusion arises because bergamot is of hybrid origin. It is thought to be a hybrid or sour orange (C. aurantium L.) and lemon (C. limon [L] Burm. f.), or possibly a mutation of the latter. Others believe it to be a hybrid of sour orange and lime (C. aurantiifolia).4


C. bergamia trees are cultivated almost exclusively in coastal areas of the Ionian Sea in the province of Reggio di Calabria along the southern coast of Calabria, which earned the region the nickname “city of bergamot.” About 90% of the world’s bergamot (C. bergamia) originate from this region.1


Small amounts of bergamot (C. bergamia) also grow in other regions, such as Greece, Iran, along the Ivory Coast, Argentina, Turkey, Brazil, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, southern France, and south-east Asia. 1,2


Four groups of bergamot (C. bergamia) types are recognized: Common, Melarosa (flat fruits), Torulosa (ridged fruits), and Piccola (dwarf cultivars). Cultivars from the common group are commercially cultivated for the essential oil: “Castagnaro,” “Femminello,” and “Fantastico” or “Inserto.” Femminello and Castagnaro formerly constituted nearly all commercial plantings in the world, but have since been replaced by Fantastico, a hybrid of the former cultivars.1


Bergamot (C. bergamia) is a small evergreen tree that reaches up to 12m tall (39 ft). It has a cylindrical, dark gray-brown stem with thin, uneven branches. Its leaves are simple with a pointed end and slightly wavy edges. They are aromatic when crushed, dark green on top and lighter green underneath.1


It flowers from April to May in the northern hemisphere, producing numerous, pearly white, bisexual, fragrant flowers arranged in groups at the ends of its branches. Its fruit is described as a “flattened round,” or “pear-shaped” berry called hesperidium.1 


The fruits can vary from looking like a small, wrinkled pear to a flattened gourd. The aromatic fruits are crushed to produce the essential oil and juice for use in the HORECA (HOtels, REstaurants, CAtering), cosmetics, and fragrance sectors for the unique flavor and aroma it brings. The hydrosol is typically produced from the steam distillation of the fruit.


Calabria, Cholesterol, Cologne, and Bergamotes de Nancy: The Intriguing Life of Bergamot

“The bergamot is an intelligent creature,” explains Antonio Famillari a former schoolteacher who turned to tending bergamot groves that expand from his home to the seas off Calabria’s coasts. “Its arrival is shrouded in mystery, and even though it grows elsewhere, only in this area does it give us the essential oil.” He continues: “This is nature’s gift to Calabria...”5


Beach front property off the coast of southern Italy? Intelligent creature indeed. C. bergamia has staked its claim in the southern coastal region of Calabria and its gift is its beautiful fruit, oil, and hydrosol.


And while its origins are uncertain, its unique aroma and taste are much appreciated in Calabria and throughout the world, perhaps in ways many are not even aware of.


Well before 1750, the fascinating oil was brought to Nancy, the capital of the Dutchy of Lorraine in northeastern France and used by confectioners to create a sweet, translucent, amber candy with a unique taste, the Bergamotes de Nancy.


It was the first confection in France to be awarded a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. In Lorraine there are only four confectioners authorized to create the candies and they must adhere strictly to the production methods.


Bergamot (C. bergamia) essential oil is added to cooked sugar and the mixture cooled on a marble slab. The slabs are cut into sections and pressed into their characteristic shape and finished with a polishing shake to remove any rough edges. The result is a clear amber candy that some describe as “addictive,” “delicious,” and “comforting.”


And not only does C. bergamia offer a unique flavor, but it also packs a phytochemical punch. Traditional use of bergamot (C. bergamia) in Italian medicine includes ability to reduce fever, reduce sore throat and mouth symptoms, and for infections of the respiratory system, help with skin, and urinary tract infections.6


Indeed, citrus fruits have long been associated with supporting immune health and improving cardiovascular health and cholesterol levels.


C. bergamia contains an especially high content of flavonoids.6,7 Research on both the juice and polyphenol fraction derived from it suggest it can lower total and LDL-C cholesterol, reduce inflammatory response and cardiovascular disease markers, protect the lungs from oxidative stress, and offer anti-microbial benefits.6,8,9,10


There is evidence that inhalation of the essential oil can soothe stress, ease feelings of anxiety, and lower heart rate and blood pressure.11,12,13,14 C. bergamia essential oil has also been shown to offer analgesic, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and cooling properties, making it potentially useful for easing digestive discomforts, supporting emotional health, supporting respiratory and immune health, the skin and musculoskeletal system, as well as lifting mood.15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20


The aromatic oil has long been prized for its use in perfumery and is said to be a major component of the original Eau de Cologne or “water from Cologne” created by Italian perfume maker Giovanni Marie Farina in the early 18th century in Germany. The spirit-citrus perfume was apparently launched in 1709. Farina is said to have disclosed to his brother “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain,” It was named in honor of his new hometown in Germany and it was a sensation at the time.22,23


Bergamot (C. bergamia) essential oil continues to be an important component of both fragrances and cosmetics for its refreshing, rich, rounded, citrusy scent. And now that we’ve traveled from Calabria to Cologne let’s focus in on the hydrosol.


Therapeutic Benefits and Uses

In traditional Italian medicine bergamot (C. bergamia), a tea or infusion of dried peel or leaves was used to soothe digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, and gas.


A poultice made from the peels or bergamot (C. bergamia) oil were applied to wounds to promote healing. Teas or steam inhalations of bergamot (C. bergamia) were used to soothe respiratory discomfort. And use of the oil in baths or via inhalation was used to calm the nervous system, and soothe stress, anxiety, and insomnia.


Bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol may not be as popular as some other hydrosols, but it is somewhat easy to find and it’s beautiful. Mine has a lovely citrusy scent and smells much like a delicate version of the essential oil. It tastes delicious, with delightful, light herbal-citrus flavor that is quite like that “flavor” in Earl Grey tea.


Clinical aromatherapist Amy Kreydin describes it as “floral citrusy” with a “mild citrus flavor mellowed by esters.” She ascribes analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antitumoral, stomachic, immunostimulant, and neuroprotective biophysical actions to the hydrosol.23


She notes that bergamot disperses stagnation in the body, and it is useful for digestive wellness plans, flatulence, poor appetite, colic, and dyspepsia. It is useful to address sore throats, tonsillitis, and other oral infections given its immunostimulant and antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.23


Kreydin notes she uses bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and created a “Seattle Fog Latte” to cozy up to during a grey, rainy day. It’s made by adding ½ tsp (2.5mL) of pure bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol to 4-oz. brewed black tea. Top with 4-oz. frothed milk of choice and enjoy (a more detailed recipe is found in her book mentioned in the reference section).23


Although I could not find Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) data specifically for C. bergamia hydrosol, based on its essential oil chemistry and known hydrosol GC/MS data we can make some speculations.


Expressed bergamot (C. bergamia) essential oil is typically richest in limonene, gamma-terpinene, pinene, myrcene, and sabinene (monoterpenes), linalyl acetate (ester), and linalool (monoterpenol), with smaller amounts of other esters, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenes, and aldehydes.24,25


Without GC/MS data we can’t know for sure, but I suspect we’d find linalool and perhaps small amounts of aldehydes (such as geranial and neral) in the hydrosol. The product specification sheet that lists potential allergens for the hydrosol that I have, indicates that limonene and linalool may be present at <1% and <0.5% respectively, although there is no GC/MS data to verify this.26 But it does mesh well with what we see in the essential oil as well as noted therapeutic properties above.


How to Incorporate C. bergamia Hydrosol into Your Routine or Practice

Bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol, unlike the unrectified essential oil, is NOT phototoxic. That means it can be used topically without worry of sun related reactions. The hydrosol is generally regarded as safe (GRAS), is suitable for the use in food, and has no known safety concerns. It reportedly has a long shelf life (twenty-four months).26


Bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol is easy to enjoy in food or beverages for its therapeutic benefits as well as unique flavor (use preservative free). Bergamot (C. bergamia) lends itself to supporting digestive and emotional wellness. It can ease muscle spasms and aches, act as a sedative, boost the mood, soothe the nervous system, fight germs, and support immune health.


To take advantage of bergamots digestive benefits orally try adding 5 -15mL (1 tsp. to 1 Tbs) to 120 -180mL (4 -6-oz.) of water, juice, or tea twice daily to support digestive wellness such as indigestion, flatulence, constipation, or chronic issues. Try a three-weeks on, one week off regimen and repeat as needed.


Such a dose and regimen would also be useful to support the nervous system, boost mood, ease feelings of anxiousness or sadness, and support a good night’s rest.


For more acute issues, add 30 – 45mL hydrosol (2 -3 Tbs) to 120 -180mL (4 -6-oz.) of water, juice, or tea twice daily for three to seven days. This might include acute stressors such as a pending exam, travel induced stress/changing time zones, or addressing a situational stressor of the nervous or digestive system.


C. bergamia hydrosol is a beneficial addition to face, body, or hair products soothing and balancing actions, anti-microbial properties, and refreshing scent. See the blends in this article for inspiration.


As a toner, it can help refresh the skin and minimize the appearance of pores and redness or inflammation. It is suitable for all skin types. Bergamot’s (C. bergamia) cooling properties make it a welcome addition to an after-sun gel or spray.


Its gentle antimicrobial properties and pleasant aroma are perfect for cleaning. To create a cleansing spray, combine 3-oz. of hydrosol (88mL) with 2 Tbsp (35mL) of Castile soap in a 4-oz. spray bottle, cap and shake gently to combine. Use to gently clean surfaces. If you wish to include an essential oil, add the Castille soap to the bottle first, then add 20 - 40 drops of essential oils, mix to combine, then top with hydrosol. Cap and use to clean kitchen and bath.


Use the hydrosol directly to cleanse cuts, scrapes, or abrasions.


Given its uplifting aroma, yet soothing properties, bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol is an excellent choice for a room, body, or pillow spray. It can be used alone or combined with essential oils and other hydrosols as desired. Bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol lends itself to situations where there is a need to reduce feelings of stress or boost low mood, quiet the mind, support sleep, or during times where comfort is needed. 


For example, in a 4-oz. spray bottle combine 3.33-oz. (100- mL) of bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol with 12 drops each of ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora),* green mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and frankincense (Boswellia carterii) essential oils, cap and shake to combine. Use as a room or body spray or pillow mist. Remember to add an appropriate amount of solubilizer to disperse the essential oils. Vary the essential oils to best meet the intention of the blend.


Bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol could be useful as a rinse for canker sores or mouth ulcers. Hold 5mL (1 tsp.) of undiluted hydrosol over the sore for a minute or so then spit out. Repeat five to seven times daily until the sore is gone.


To ease a sore throat, use 10mL (2 tsp.) of hydrosol in 30mL (1-oz.) of water along with ¼ tsp. sea salt and gargle as needed throughout the day.


While bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol does offer antimicrobial properties there may be other hydrosols better suited towards fighting acute colds and flu, but bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol could be a useful ally in supporting the body emotionally and physically during times of illness or during recovery from illness.


Our virtual trip to Calabria, Nancy, and Cologne is coming to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about C. bergamia hydrosol and fruit and enjoy incorporating this delightful and delicious hydrosol into your routine or practice.


*Oils rich in 1,8 cineole should be used with caution around asthmatics, may be too strong for babies and children, and should be used with caution around children aged 5 to 10 years old.


Relaxing and Hydrating Body Mist


With its beautiful uplifting aroma, bergamot (C. bergamia) hydrosol is an excellent choice for body care products. This mist offers an extra boost of hydration with the addition of the humectant glycerin. It would be great to cool off with this mist after a day outdoors or tuck it in your gym bag to refresh after a workout. Or spritz after showering as a lovely perfume or use after shaving to soothe and refresh the skin.


This blend makes 17.6-oz (500g) of product.



·      Scale

·      Two glass or stainless-steel mixing bowls or beakers

·      Spoons, stir rods, whisk, rubber scraper.

·      4 x 4-oz. new or clean glass or PET plastic bottles with spray top

·      Funnel

·      70% isopropyl alcohol

·      Paper towels



·      26.95% (147.5g or 5.2-oz.) distilled water.

·      10% (50g or 1.8-oz.) aloe vera gel or liquid

·      50% (250g or 8.8-oz.) bergamot (Citrus bergamia) hydrosol

·      3 % (15g or 0.53-oz.) glycerin

·      8% (40g or 1.4-oz.) Caprylyl/capryl glucoside (50%) or other suitable solubilizer

·      0.05% (0.25g or 0.009-oz. or 7 drops) Tocopherol (optional but helps to slow oxidation of essential oils)

·      1.5% (7.5 g or 0.26-oz.) gluconolactone, sodium benzoate* (Geogard Ultra/NeoDefend) or other suitable preservative


*Geogard/Neodefend is a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) preservative approved for use in certified organic products by ECOCERT.


Essential Oils:


·      0.3% (1.5g or 0.053-oz. or 42 drops) lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

·      0.15% (0.75g or 0.03-oz. or 21 drops) sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)

·      0.05% (0.25g or 0.009-oz. or 7 drops) frankincense (Boswellia carterii)


To Make: Sanitize work area and tools with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Combine hydrosol, aloe vera gel or liquid, glycerin, and preservative in a beaker or bowl and stir until homogenous and preservative is dissolved. In a separate beaker, combine Caprylyl/capryl glucoside, tocopherol (if using), and essential oils. Stir until homogenous with glass rod or whisk. Slowly add the essential oil mixture to the hydrosol mixture and stir or whisk until the mixture is homogenous, taking care to avoid adding excess air into the mixture. Pour mixture into bottles.


To Use: Spritz one or two pumps onto the body or face (with eyes closed). Can also be used to freshen workspace or as a pillow mist.


Cautions: For adult use only. Sweet orange (C. sinensis) essential oil is prone to oxidation and may cause sensitization in some individuals. Avoid spraying directly onto furniture.



Bursting with Bergamot Gel Serum


Soothing and cooling, this gel is perfect to gently hydrate the skin after a day outdoors or as part of a nighttime routine. This combination of carrier oils and essential oils is beneficial for dry skin and has anti-aging properties. The oils can be modified to suit individual skin needs (such as blemish prone skin for example). Additional actives or botanicals can be added as well, just reduce the water percentage.


This blend makes 8-oz. (225g) of product.



·      Scale

·      Three glass or stainless-steel mixing bowls or beakers

·      Spoons, stir rods, whisk, rubber scraper.

·      4 x 2-oz. new or clean glass or PET plastic bottles with treatment pump

·      Funnel

·      70% isopropyl alcohol

·      Paper towels



·      28.45% (64g or 2.2-oz.) distilled water.

·      10% (22.5g or 0.79-oz.) aloe vera gel or liquid

·      50% (112.5g or 4-oz.) bergamot (Citrus bergamia) hydrosol

·      7 % (15.8g or 0.56-oz.) glycerin

·      1% (2.25g or 0.8-oz.) xanthan gum

·      0.05% (0.113g or 0.004-oz. or 3 drops) Tocopherol

·      1.5% (3.4 g or 0.12-oz.) gluconolactone, sodium benzoate* (Geogard Ultra/NeoDefend) or other suitable preservative


Carrier Oils:

·      0.5% (1.13g or 0.04-oz. or 31 drops) evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)

·      0.5% (1.13g or 0.04-oz. or 31 drops) avocado (Persea americana)

·      0.5% (1.13g or 0.04-oz. or 31 drops) rosehip (Rosa canina)


Essential Oils:

·      0.2% (0.45g or 13 drops) lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

·      0.1% (0.23g or 6 drops) sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)

·      0.1% (0.23g or 6 drops) frankincense (Boswellia carterii)

·      0.1% (0.23g or 6 drops) palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini)


*Geogard/Neodefend is a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) preservative approved for use in certified organic products by ECOCERT.


To Make: Sanitize work area and tools with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Combine water, hydrosol, aloe vera gel, and preservative in a beaker or bowl and stir until homogenous and preservative is dissolved. In a separate beaker, combine glycerin and xanthan gum to form a slurry. Add the slurry slowly to water mixture and stir well to disperse evenly and form a gel. Combine carrier oils, essential oils, and tocopherol in a third beaker. Add the oil mixture to the gel and stir with glass rod or whisk until evenly dispersed. Cover and leave overnight. Give the product a stir the next day to ensure that a smooth, even gel-like serum forms. Pour mixture into bottles.


To Use: Use a pump or two of serum and gently massage onto face and neck area, avoiding eyes.


Cautions: For adult use only. Sweet orange (C. sinensis) essential oil is prone to oxidation and may cause sensitization in some individuals.



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About Tricia Ambroziak:

Patricia (Tricia) Ambroziak is a certified aromatherapist and cosmetic formulator. She has been blessed with 30 years of marriage and is mom to two amazing young adults. She enjoys exploring the wonder and power of plants, herbs, hydrosols, and essential oils and their role in supporting wellness. She is the owner of Aromatic Formulations by Tricia and creates products for several local small businesses and offers products for retail both in stores and online. Tricia has taught science and worked in biological research. She is a former martial arts instructor with a 3rd degree black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do and college basketball player, who enjoys staying active in sunny, Southern California. To learn more about Tricia visit her website at: 



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