The Orange Tree, a Family of Essential Oils

By Nyssa Hanger , MA, LMT, RYT

The Orange Tree, a Family of Essential Oils

By Nyssa Hanger, MA, LMT, RYT

Do you love the smell when peeling an orange? How about the scent of the wind blowing from a grove of blooming orange trees? Not only does aromatherapy provide us with Orange oils from these wonderful plants, but we also get an oil called Petitgrain. Petitgrain is distilled from the leaves of the orange tree.

Being a native Floridian, the orange tree has special significance to me. As an aromatherapist, it is an exciting plant to work with because we get three different essential oils from the same tree. Well, almost the same tree.

A Lesson in Botanical Names

Only those with an eye for detail (and some knowledge of essential oils) would catch that two of the three oils mentioned above come from the bitter orange tree, while the other is typically extracted from the sweet orange tree. Why is this important? It highlights a lesson that even the greenest essential oil enthusiasts should learn.

The only way to identify a plant in writing is by its botanical name, but most people know plants mainly by their common names. Think of the common name (like Orange, Lavender, Eucalyptus, etc.) as the nickname of the plant. Plants' botanical or Latin names more specifically express their species and the larger genus they belong to, like our first and last names do for us.

For example, both Lavender and Eucalyptus are common oils, but both of them can be obtained from several different species. These species may include different properties, depending on which one is used, so common names do not always ensure what species is used. Eucalyptus is one of the most diverse essential oils.

In terms of the orange oils, they all come from plants identified as "orange" trees, but one is the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium) and the other is the sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis). Though these trees produce different essential oils from different parts of the plant, we will discuss them here together.

Meet the Oils in the Orange Family

Sweet Orange oil is most commonly obtained from the cold-expression of the peel of the fruit. Generally, it is an uplifting scent and carries with it the positive associations of summer. Therapeutically, it can be good for killing germs, use in respiratory blends, enhancing mood, as an additive in sleep/relaxing blends, and it is generally good for use in the air.

The scent of Petitgrain is a good bridge between the fruit and flower oils of the orange tree. It has a floral note that is reminiscent of Neroli, but it still smells fresh, green, and slightly fruity like Sweet Orange oil. It is relatively inexpensive and is great for calming both the mind and the muscles. Read about using Petitgrain as an alternative to Lavender in your massage sessions in a previous article (November 2016) of mine.

Neroli is the essential oil obtained through the steam-distillation of orange flowers. Though we could distill sweet orange flowers, bitter orange flowers are typically used. Why? Because if we use the sweet orange flowers, we can't harvest the fruit. So using the bitter orange blossoms makes the most sense. (They are still quite sweet!) Neroli is one of the most precious floral oils. It has been known to help anxiety and in calming the mind. Considering its high price, use it sparingly. Even just a drop on a tissue can help calm the rest of a client's day—and have them thinking of you after your session.

In Your Practice

Each of these oils can help to enhance your massage practice. If you are a fan of this fruit and its flowers, try some of these ideas:

  • Use Orange in the air to uplift your client's mood
  • Use Orange in the air of your waiting room
  • Use Petitgrain in massage oil to help ease clients' muscles and relax them on the table
  • Use a drop of Neroli on a tissue and give it to a client who's experiencing anxiety
  • Use Neroli in a special blend for a face treatment

There are endless possibilities when it comes to using essential oils in your practice. Always make sure you are properly diluting your essential oils to avoid injury (and save you money). Check with clients about sensitivities or allergies before placing essential oils on their skin.