ORANGE (Citrus aurantium sinensis – Rutaceae)

Citrus is a genus which includes many evergreen or semi-evergreen trees and shrubs, originating in eastern Asia, and which is most famous for its fruit. The forebear of all today’s varieties was probably Citrus aurantium, the bitter, sour or Seville orange. The other principal oranges are the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and the mandarin orange (G. reticulata); the rest of the family includes lemons, limes, grapefruit and all their sub-species and crosses. The rue family, Rutaceae, is huge, and only a few members of it, including Citrus, are trees.

Orange trees can grow to a height of 4.5 -10 m (13 – 33 ft), depending on the species and climate. The leaves are large and a glossy dark green and the flowers are white. The fruit can take a year to be formed, thus there is often blossom and fruit on the tree at the same time. In the tropics, oranges are green when ripe, and the characteristic orange colour of fruit grown in sub-tropical areas is, in fact, the tree’s response to a slightly cooler temperature in winter. In temperate regions, oranges have to be greenhouse cultivated although, as with the famous orangeries attached to regal palaces and chateaux in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they can be grown in pots outside in the summer and taken inside in the winter. Oranges and other citrus species can also be grown as house or pot plants.

Oranges were first brought to the Mediterranean by the Arabs, probably in the first century. They did not become a permanency, though, until after the eighth century, when the Moors turned a large part of southern Spain, including Seville, into one huge orange orchard. The Romans, however, did know oranges: they recorded directions for protecting the trees from cold, and an orange-flower water or decoction was drunk to avoid hangovers and indigestion.
Oranges are thought to have reached Britain in 1290 when Eleanor of Castile bought seven from a Spanish ship. Later they became so common that girls sold them in the streets of London, one of them Nell Gwynn who was valued for rather more than her fruit-selling skills by Charles II.

It was Christopher Columbus who took oranges to the New World, collecting seeds and saplings from the Canaries and planting them in Hispaniola in 1493. Oranges are recorded as growing in Florida – a major orange-growing area now – as early as 1539. The trees now grow all over the world – in North Africa, Turkey, south of France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Egypt, South Africa, the USA (especially Florida and California), the West Indies, Brazil and Mexico.

The therapeutic values of oranges and their various oils were first men¬tioned by the Arabs. In France, these values do not seem to have been appreciated until about the sixteenth century, as the fruit was rare and therefore expensive. Called ‘pommes d’orange’ at first, they were viewed as luxuries and given as sumptuous gifts for Christmas and the New Year. By the eighteenth century, however, oranges were recorded as remedies for epileptic fits, melancholia, heart problems, asthma, colic, seasickness, labour pains and nervous illnesses of all sorts. Nearer our own time, Dr Leclerc, Dr Maury and others considered oranges to be stomachic, antispasmodic, and digestive (good for gastritis, flatulence, dyspepsia, indigestion, and the supreme remedy for constipation); oranges also reinforced the immune system, acted as a natural blood cleanser and as a sedative of the nervous system.


Description: Orange oil is extracted from the skin of the fruit by expression. The essence is pale orange and smells very orangey. It is not completely clear as it contains some wax from the outer skin.

The principal constituents: As much as 90 per cent limonene, with aldehydes, citral, citronellol, geraniol, linalool, methyl anthranilate, nonyl alcohol and terpinol.
Dangers: All citrus oils are very difficult to preserve, so store in dark bottles, cork very carefully and keep in the dark. Always buy in small quantities. Orange oil can turn dark brown quite quickly and smell so unpleasant that it has to be thrown away.
Many commercial oranges are sprayed with ethylene to improve the colour and some are coated with an edible wax to retain moisture; for therapeutic use, oranges must, of course, be as natural and untampered with as possible.


In illness and beauty
The raw fruits contain a multitude of healthy properties. They are rich in a particular bioflavoid complex (sometimes known as vitamin P), which fortifies the capillaries and vascular system and in B vitamins and vitamin C. The latter is the most famous health constituent, but only 25 per cent of it is actually in the flesh and juice, and there is more in the peel and pith. The natural sugars of the orange are good for athletes and diabetics. Oranges also contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulphur, a little copper, iron, and zinc, and traces of bromine and manganese.

As the raw fruit is so valuable, so too is the essential oil of the fruit.
I would recommend that you search for essential oil of sweet or douce orange, or bigarade. It has been found to have many properties: it is a tonic for the muscular and nervous systems, it is good for eczema and dermatitis, and particularly good for the skin, helping to rejuvenate the skin and combat wrinkles.

To banish after-sun wrinkles, mix together 10 ml (2 tsp) hazelnut oil, 4- ml (a scant tsp) almond oil, 2 drops good wheatgerm oil and 8 drops sweet orange essential oil. Massage gently into the skin, concentrating on the wrinkles. Use it once a day, two applications, preferably in the evening (it will help you sleep too). Every now and again, you can also use freshly squeezed orange juice. Apply this to the skin, leave to dry for a few minutes, then rinse off and apply the oil as above. If you do this often enough, your skin will regain vitality quickly.

A good way of detoxifying the system after over-indulgence (Christmas, for example), is to go on an orange-only diet – juice and raw – for 1 – 2 days. Avoid bottles, tins and cartons of juice as these lack a large proportion of the natural vitamins and minerals.

Orange oil makes a good mouthwash to heal and cure halitosis, thrush and gingivitis. Put 2 drops in a tumbler of boiled warm water and use to gargle a few times each day.
(See also, fatigue, menopause, oedema, palpitations, pre-menstrual tension and stress.)

In cookery
Needless to say, for both health and beauty, oranges should be eaten raw or drunk as juice as often as possible (although some claim that those suffering from migraine or arthritis should avoid them). Sweet oranges are best for this, but bitter oranges (see Neroli) can be used in cooking. You can, of course, use segments of sweet oranges as garnishes for savoury dishes, or in vegetable or sweet fruit salads (when the juice, like that of lemon, can prevent acidulation of cut fruit such as apples). Oranges can be used to flavour food in many ways. The peel of sweet oranges can be candied, but that from the bitter or Sevilles is better. The vitamin C of the peel can be used as zest in many recipes – above all in the luxury Crepes Suzette. Put some orange juice in the batter for wholemeal pancakes: this gives a wonderful flavour and makes the pancakes very much more digestible.

Other uses
Orange essential oil is used in many industries – in pharmacy to flavour pills etc; in perfumery for its lovely fragrance; in confectionery to flavour sweets; and by many major food and drink manufacture.

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