Bitter Orange Oil

Bitter Orange Oil (Citrus Vulguraris/Aurantium) 

By Hwaa Irfan

Bitter orange essential oil should not be confused with neroli or petitgrain essential oils. Bitter orange essential oil is made from the peel of the bitter orange tree, citrus aurantium, neroli oil is made from the flowers of the bitter and sometimes sweet orange tree, and petitgrain is is made from the leaves and the twigs of the orange tree, with differing qualities. The smell of bitter orange is more intense, neroli smells more floral, and petitgrain has a warm slightly spicy smell. 

The word “orange” and “auran(tium)” derives from the Sanskrit “nagaranga”, which comes from the Arabic “naranj”.  Known as kijitsu, khatta, Seville oranges, Chen-Pi,  bitter orange differs visually from the orange we eat in the leaves, which tends to be heart-shaped, while the fruit holds less juice, and is bitter/sour to taste. Belonging to the plant kingdom of the Rutaceae family, bitter oranges were introduced to the Mediterranean by Arab traders in 10th century, and to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century. It is now cultivated widely for commercial purposes in the Caribbean, Europe, India, Israel, Spain, Madras, the Middle East, North Africa, Portugal, , and, and for the oil in Brazil, the Caribbean, Mexico, Sicily, Spain, Paraguay, Taiwan, and West tropical Africa.

Bitter orange oil is extracted from the peel via cold press, and is difficult to preserve, with a ration of 1/10 in olive oil, preservation is possible. To help preservation, it is wiser to buy bitter orange oil in an amber colored bottle. Good quality bitter orange essential oil is orangey yellow to green-yellow in color, and is thin in consistency. The oil has been used in foods, as well as cosmetics (facials, shampoos, cleansers, conditioners, moisturizers etc).

Like most essential oils, one can find bitter orange oil adulterated with sweet orange oil (citrus sinensis), synthetic orange terpenes, fatty aldehydes, and esters, which undermines the therapeutic value of bitter orange oil. 

Chemical Properties

Bitter orange oil contains many properties all of which have not been identified, and they include:

  • Limonene
  • Limonin
  • Bitter and non-bitter flavanoids
  • Furanocoumarins
  • Flavanoid glycosides
  • Terpeniol
  • Naringin
  • Hesperidin
  • Pectin
  • Carotenoids
  • Isohesperidin
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamins B₁
  • Vitamin C

In the pharmaceutical industry, it has been found that synephrine increases the body’s ability to burn food consumed, and to reduce food intake, therefore playing an effective role in weight loss. However as a dietary supplement it can have a negative impact if one has a heart condition. Synephrine supplement is banned by some sports agencies. Bitter orange oil has often been seen as containing the same properties as ephedra negating its other counter-balancing properties and is therefore banned by the FDA (U.S.), but research at the University of California led by Dr. Christine Haller, has demonstrated that bitter orange alone does not have the same effect, but when combines with caffeine it can be harmful.

Therapeutic Properties

The invigorating aroma helps to relieve the feeling of tiredness, is energizing, yet calms the nerves. It refreshes the mind, and works well as in vapor therapy as a room freshener.

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiseptic
  • Aphrodisiac
  • Carminative
  • Cholagogue
  • Cordial
  • Demulcent
  • Deoderant
  • Expectorant
  • Sedative
  • Spasmolytic
  • Stomachic
  • Tonic
  • Tranquilizer

For glossary see It All Makes Good Scents

This oil possesses a strong synergy with the lymphatic and digestive system. The bitters in bitter orange acts as a febrifuge; thus reducing temperature, and preventing the spread of infections present. Spasms are eased as a spasmolytic, and acts as a strong tonic to the intestines, the vascular system, the lymphatic system, and the liver. It calms the nerves and as a tranquilizer and sedative, induces sleep. Bitter orange oil contains hesperidin, which is a flavanoid glycoside (found mainly in the pith) — the white part of the peel, which acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and as an anticarcinogenic. Hesperidin maintains health capillaries, reduces hay fever by preventing the release of histamine in the body. 

As a cholagogue and carminative, bitter orange oil increases the flow of bile disinfecting the bowels, and expels gas from the intestines, and as a cordial acts as a tonic to the heart.  Bitter orange oil sooths mucous membranes as in the case of chronic bronchitis or any lung infection where phlegm is abundant, and as natural deodorant it destroys unwelcomed odor.

Limonene has anti-carcinogenic affect inhibiting tumor growth in the stomach, lungs and mammary glands. Limonene also increases the flow of liver enzymes, which detoxify carcinogens. Both limonene and limonin stimulate a detoxifying enzyme known as glutathione S-transferase. Research team, Ramadan et al of Tanta University, Egypt, found that orange bitter oil demonstrated strong antifungal activity when it came to infections of the skin.

In Europe, bitter orange oil has been used as a sedative, a prophylactic for veterans, for nervous conditions, sore throat and insomnia. In Chinese folk medicine, dried bitter orange has been used for problems pertaining to the uterus, anus, diarrheas, and for when blood appears in the feces, but whether the related properties transfer to the oil without the natural fiber content is still not apparent. However research shows that bitter orange reduces a distended stomach, and lifts a prolapsed womb or rectum.


  • Digestive problems
  • Constipation
  • Congestion of the liver
  • Sluggish lymphatic, vascular system
  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Acne, pimples, skin infection, dull skin
  • Colds 


Bitter orange oil in general is non-toxic, non-irritant, and non-sensitizing, but to err on the side of caution, there is possible phototoxicity for sensitive skins, so do not apply on the skin if one is going to be exposed to the sun within 6 hours. As a spasmolytic it should be avoided by those who suffer from epilepsy and pregnant women. It and extracts thereof should also be avoided as a supplement, or as an over-the-counter drug for weight loss.


Can be used in the form of vapor therapy in the form of an oil burner, diffuser, or pillow/cushion or a in a relaxing bath as a relaxant and as an aphrodisiac by adding one drop of oil (before adding water the act of which increases dispersion and invigorates the properties.

Can be added to a carrier oil (e.g. almond, wheat germ, sesame, jojoba, grapeseed) for dilution as a massage oil or oil face mask, hand lotion, deodorant or rubbed on the stomach to ease digestive problems as the blend will then be absorbed by the skin, then enter the blood stream which will take it to where the properties of the oil is needed.


Ramadan et al, Oil of Bitter Orange: New Topical Antifungal Agent.”

Wolters Kluwer Health. “Bitter Orange.”

Aromatherapy Series:   

It All Makes Good Scents!

Amber Oil

Angelica Root Oil

Anise Oil

Basil Oil

Bay Oil

Bergamot Oil

Bitter Almond Oil   


Allah’s Medicine Chest: Oranges


2 thoughts on “Bitter Orange Oil

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