If you’ve ever been to the Spanish city of Seville or Athens, Greece, then you will have seen these bitter oranges trees lining the streets. Unfortunately although they look edible, you have a nasty shock if you eat them, as Norah Jones found out on her trip to Athens to sing at the Herodion in 2008. They are mainly used for making marmalade and the peel is used for its oil, as are the flowers, which is valuable to the food and perfume industry.
  Bitter oranges have become popular as a herbal remedy since 2004 when the US Food and Drug Administration banned Ephedra sinica products. It will no doubt come as a relief to the industry that in March 2011 HerbalGram, the quarterly Journal of the American Botany Council. A not for profit research and educational organization announced “based on current research as well as the extensive ingestion of bitter oranges and p-synephrine…the data demonstrate that bitter orange extract is safe for human consumption.” The press had seemingly confused m-synephrine which can have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system with the p form; m-synephrine is not present in bitter oranges.
  Bitter oranges are also called sour oranges and bigerades, and it is believed that they originated in South East Asia  and at some time in prehistory found their way to the Pacific Islands, notably Fiji, Samoa and Guam. The Arabs took them to the Arabian Peninsula and from there they found their way into Europe. They were being cultivated on the Italian island of Sicily by 1002 AD and were being grown in southern Spain by the 12th century. One tree dating back to 1421 is still growing in a tub at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, and in Seville, in Spain there are trees that are reputedly 600 years old. The trees are evergreen and in the Rutaceae family along with lemons, kinnow, citron and other citrus fruits. For 500 years they were the only orange trees that were grown in Europe. The Spaniards took them to North America where they were adopted readily by the Native Americans in the Florida region, and by 1763 they were being exported from Saint Augustine to Britain, where they had failed to thrive due to the cold weather. The orange known as the Bergamot orange is one of these bitter orange varieties.
  Seville oranges are most usually found in marmalade but in Spain they are used in sauces to go with such dishes as suckling pig, as the citrus taste cuts through the fat of the young pig, and with salt cod. In Mexico these oranges are cut in half and salted then spread with a paste made with chilli peppers and eaten. They are also used in cordials and in Yucátan, Mexico they are used like vinegar. In the Pacific Islands, the crushed fruit and macerated leaves are used as a substitute for soap to wash clothes and for shampoo. Petitgrain oil is used to enhance the flavours of other fruit such as apricots, blackcurrants, gooseberries and peaches in food products. Neroli oil and “orange flower absolute” is used in the perfume industry and the fruit is also used in the making of liqueurs such as orange curaçao and Triple Sec. The honey from the nectar of these orange flowers is delicious and the wood is valuable in carpentry and turning. In Cuba baseball bats are made from it.
Athens, Greece
  In traditional Chinese medicine the small, dried, immature fruit are used for ailments which include indigestion, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation and as an expectorant. In Africa the cut fruit is applied to sores and ulcers on the skin and research seems to have shown that the fruit and leaves have antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, although more research needs to be done. In folk medicines the leaves have been used for centuries as antispasmodics, for stomach problems and as a general tonic.  The flowers are often boiled to a syrup and used as a sedative to promote sleep in people suffering from nervous disorders. An infusion of the flowers, an ounce of flowers to a pint of boiling water left to steep for some hours, is said to be a mild stimulant. The oil from the peel has been used in cases of chronic bronchitis, and the dried powdered peel is considered a general tonic.
  The leaves have a high vitamin C content in the form of ascorbic acid, and the fruit is full of this too. The fruit also contains flavonoid-glycosides such as aldehytes, ketone-free acids, esters, coumarins and tetranotriterpenoids (limonin). Synephrine is the main chemical constituent in the fruit flavones naringin and neohesperidin. The fruit contains vitamin A and some B-complex vitamins, with the minerals calcium, iron and phosphorous; amino acids are also present.
  Below is a recipe for orange and ginger marmalade which is one of my favourites.

16 Seville oranges, finely sliced
5 large lemons, finely sliced
4 inch piece of ginger root finely minced
2 sticks of cinnamon
24 cups water

Put the fruit into a non-corrosive pan along with the spices and simmer until tender, for about ½ an hour.
Measure the fruit and juice in cups and add 1 cup of sugar to each cup of fruit and liquid.
Pour everything into the pan again and cook the boiling mixture until it reaches setting point. This is reached when two big drops slide together and hang from a metal spoon (rather like honey does).
Pour the marmalade into sterilized jars and seal.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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