A bergamot orange is a citrus fruit the size of a standard orange but slightly more pear-shaped. It is yellow in color. The oranges are known to be bitter and sour, more so than a grapefruit. They grow on small trees native to Asia, although they are also grown in the warmer climates of regions such as Brazil, France, Italy, and the Ivory Coast. With a pleasant, citrusy scent, the bergamot orange is often used as an herbal treatment in tea and aromatherapy, and as a digestive aid.
The bergamot orange is thought to be a hybrid between a Seville orange and a sweet lemon. The tree that produces a bergamot orange is fairly small, measuring about 20 to 30 feet (approximately six to nine meters) tall. As they flourish in areas that don’t often freeze, most of the oranges are commercially cultivated in Italy. This orange is often mistakenly associated with the wild bergamot — the flower — and what is commonly known as bergamot — the herb — although they are not related.
The oil of the bergamot citrus fruit is extracted from the rind for use in the perfume industry. Essential oils containing bergamot orange scents are often used during massage therapy and various forms of aromatherapy. A person may apply the oil topically during massage, skin care, or baths. The oil may also be directly inhaled, and act as an expectorant or decongestant during an illness. Mentality may also be affected during physical or therapeutic herbal treatments with the essence of bergamot oranges. Like other essential oils, bergamot oil is thought to alert the senses and help amend a person’s mood, health, or overall brain function.
The essence is extracted from the skin for use in teas, most commonly Earl Grey. Just like in aromatherapy, the scent of bergamot, when mixed with the tea, is thought to help treat depression and awaken the senses. When someone sipping the tea brings the mug of tea toward his lips, the citrus scent wafts by the nostrils. While drinking the tea, sippers taste a mix of black tea and bittersweet hints of the orange.
Earl Grey is traditionally black tea, although the blend of Earl Grey and bergamot oil dates back to the 1830s. At that time, British Prime Minister Charles Grey — known as 2nd Early Grey — began drinking black tea infused with the citrus-scented oil. Folklore states that a Mandarin man, grateful to 2nd Earl Grey for saving his child’s life, bestowed the gift of bergamot-orange flavored tea upon the Earl. The legend, however, is not true. The London tea house Jacksons of Piccadilly claims to have invented the original Earl Grey blend in the early 19th century, though such claims have been disputed.