Like lemons and oranges, the bergamot orange is a member of the Rutaceae family of plants. It is though to be a hybrid of the Seville orange (bitter orange) and either citron, Citrus medica or the lemon tree, or Citrus limetta, the latter would account for its slight pear shape. It is cultivated for its essential oil found in its peel rather than to eat. It is somewhat confusing because bergamot oil is also the name given to the essential oil obtained from bee balm, Monarda didyma, a member of the mint of Labiateae family, and not related to this citrus fruit.
  It is actually a native of tropical Asia, and appeared in Italy sometime before 1700, where it is now cultivated in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy and to a lesser extent in Sicily. Some say that Christopher Columbus took it to Italy from the Canary Islands. It has been used in Italy in the regions in which it grows, at least since 1725 in folk medicine, to treat tonsillitis, sore throats, respiratory and urinary tract infections. It is also used for oral problems including halitosis and for skin. It aids wound healing too.
  If you have drunk Earl Grey tea or Lady Grey you will have experienced the taste of bergamot oranges as this is what gives Earl Grey in particular its distinctive flavour. It is also used in ice cream, liqueurs and soft drinks.
  Today it is cultivated in Greece in the Vlachata region, the Ivory Coast, Morocco and Iran, but Calabria has the biggest share of the world market. In Greece it is used as a preserve with the peel being boiled in sugar syrup; this is also eaten in Turkey and Cyprus. In Sicily it is used to make marmalade too.
  It is not known if the fruit is actually eaten, although it is nutritious. It is bitter and acidic, more so than a grapefruit, and a little like a bitter orange, which is only used in cooking not eaten raw.
  In aromatherapy the essential oil is used for depression and stress and it is used in the perfume industry although 100 oranges yield only 3 ounces of bergamot oil. This contains two types of flavonoids, flavones and flavanones with the main components being linalool and limonene.
  Research has shown that the oil has antiseptic, and antibacterial properties as well as anti-fungal and antioxidant ones. It may also protect neurons from excitotoxicity according to a report (13th September 2011) from the European Medicines Agency and research into the oil is ongoing.
  The roots are aromatic and seem to protect neighbouring plants from having their roots attacked by pests, so it is good in gardens as a companion plant. It can be found in sun creams and lotions as it has cooling properties and new research has suggested that it may be of use for sickle cell anaemia sufferers and it could also be cholesterol–lowering and so protect the heart.
  In some Scandinavian countries the peel is used in snuff and in smokeless tobacco, apparently.


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