Bergamot, the wonderfully tangy , spicy and exotic fragrance which is the signature scent of Earl Grey tea, is the product of a tree produced by cross-breeding lemon and orange trees. The resulting fruit is shaped like a pear but is yellow in color. When you cold press the rind of the ripe fruit, you get bergamot essential oil. Bergamot received its name from the town where it was originally sold – Bergamo in Lombardy, Italy. But it is also produced in other warm climates such as Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, Turkey and Ivory Coast.
Bergamot has many wonderful uses. The fruit itself has many culinary uses, including to flavor a tobacco called “snus” in Sweden and Norway, to flavor marmalade in Italy, and in Turkish Delight candy as well as Earl Grey tea. In some areas of the world, bergamot trees are grown near vegetable gardens, as the scent of bergamot is a pest repellant as well. But even though pests find the scent unpleasant, humans generally love it. Bergamot essential oil is a major component of the famous 4711 Eau de Cologne (from Cologne, Germany). It blends well with many other essential oils and is frequently used in products in conjunction with cedarwood, citronella, clary sage, geranium, lavender, neroli, palmarosa, lemon, tangerine and ylang-ylang essential oils.
The light yellow-green bergamot essential oil contains many powerful chemicals such as a-pinene, limonene, nerol and a-terpineol. In tests, topical sitz baths with bergamot essential oil have been found to have antibacterial properties against vacomycin-resistant strains of enterococcus bacteria (Journal of Applied Microbiology, April 2009). Italian researchers also reported in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (June 2008) that bergamot essential oil showed antifungal properties when used topically against candida fungus strains – and aromatherapists use it to reduce anxiety and stress.
All citrus-derived essential oils (lime, orange, lemon, etc.) increase photosensitivity and can lead to extreme sunburn and other complications when they are applied to skin before sun exposure. Bergamot is a particularly strong photosensitizer due to its bergamottin and bergapten content, and is best used in products applied to the skin overnight and/or with a strong sunblock.