Bergamot, an essence indispensable for its sharp freshness and ability to impart a cologne-ish, poetic immediacy to the beginning of all kinds of perfumes, is a fragrant oil derived from a small, pear-shaped citrus fruit native to the city of Bergamo in Italy, and has featured prominently in Italian folk medicine for centuries in various parts of the country, prized for its ability to cure a variety of complaints, according to Paolo Rovesti’s ‘l’aromaterapia dell’essenza di Bergamotta’. With its beautiful smell, something like a marriage of lemon, orange, lime and lavender (the fruit is thought to possibly be a hybrid, in fact, of citrus limetta (sweet lime) and citrus aurantia (bitter orange), bergamot was practically considered a panacea for all kinds of illnesses, both physical and psychological, a potent, refreshing yang citrus essence that is uplifting and lightening to the body and the spirits, yet also calming and relaxing to the senses.




I love bergamot. This was probably the first essential oil that I bought, way back when, possibly for the connection with Earl Grey tea (by far my favourite way to drink black tea), and the fact that, unlike essential oils of lemon, orange and grapefruit, all of which I adore for their sunny, direct simplicity, the smell of bergamot goes one step further somehow – there is something almost mysterious about it.




Perhaps this is why the note is so beloved by Guerlain. Although most perfumes list bergamot essence in their the top notes, for its appealing ability to lift, and scintillate the perfume from within, most Guerlain fragrances feature the essence especially prominently. The spectacular sunlight-on-moss effect of Mitsouko is achieved with the contrast of the sharp bergamot in the top notes with the murkier, chypric forestry beneath; equally, the gourmand, anisic friandise of L’Heure Bleue works because of the startling contraposition between the mouthwatering, irisian, musked thickness of the main body of the perfume and the piquant bergamot opening. Nowhere, however, is bergamot used more prominently than in vintage Shalimar perfume, which is said to contain a staggering 30% of pure bergamot essential oil, the heartmelting ‘cheese cake’ effect that Shalimar achieves so beautifully stemming from the vanilla, opoponax, and balsam base balanced with sensual floral essences, then shot through with that mouthwatering lemon and bergamot in the top.


















Beautiful it may be, but bergamot oil can also have quite significant effects on the body, and I should know. It is powerful stuff. And this last week there have been two incidences that have brought this home quite dramatically to me.





This time of year is one of the busiest for me, and I almost always get run down in body and mind, resulting sometimes in cold sores that I loathe for their face-disfiguring qualities, especially when you are standing up in front of Japanese eighteen year olds who are scrutinizing your every move. When it comes to these hateful viruses, you want to get rid of them, and get rid of them fast, and I find essential oils are by far the best way to achieve this. Tea tree is effective (but I can’t abide the smell); lemon is quite good (but it can burn); eucalyptus I have discovered recently gets the job done, as does lavender (probably the second most effective), but I have discovered this week that bergamot is by far the best. It really is. Not only does it smell gorgeous, and can thus be dabbed on during the day without worrying about whether it is wrecking your scent profile (it is probably improving it), but the bastard virus stands no chance in the face of such a potent, citric life force and can offer no resistance. It quickly disappears.




Which is great. Except that I also used bergamot in a very ill-advised manner this week and am now really suffering with the consequences. Like last year, I have had an ear infection these last two weeks (hell when you are teaching), and the antibiotics I was given haven’t been working. To give them a boost, and seeing the success of the bergamot essential oil on my lip I decided to put some (a lot, this is me we are talking about – if only I could learn restraint) behind my ear, on my throat, and all around the painful area to it to prevent it from getting any worse. Which would have been fine, probably, had I not, then, the next day, obliviously gone and sat on our balcony, gorgeous at the moment, and sat in the sun for an hour or two, forgetting, despite all the years of reading aromatherapy books, that bergamot oil is of course phototoxic, meaning of course that it vastly increases the rate at which the skin reacts to UV light……..





Although I did one of those stupid, but addictive, Facebook personality quizzes the other day (‘How much of a redneck are you?’) and proudly only scored 4% ( I think that I would have probably have got 0% had I chosen ‘salsa’ over ‘guacamole’), I am now, to my chagrin, an actual redneck. A huge red patch on my neck, throat and all round my ears, that looks like a burning red birthmark and right now doesn’t seem to be going down.




I should know better. Because, you know, Shalimar also burns me. Every time. It is just something that I have come to accept. Almost a no pain, no gain thing: I burn through the lemon and bergamot stage, then it goes down and I get to the delicious creamy vanilla beneath and it was all somehow worth it. On this occasion, though, despite my great love for the scent of bergamot, I have now realized that I am going to have to treat it with a lot more wariness. It is fierce, powerful stuff.









































Filed under Flowers

13 responses to “THE POWER OF BERGAMOT

  1. empliau

    My sympathies – I’m three-eighths Irish, and I burn like fire. My summer fashion statement is a broad-brimmed hat and a long-sleeved white linen shirt, because I hate glopping on sunblock, but I need protection.

    True story: in my youth, on a project in the Mediterranean in July, I took an unexpectedly long walk and got an expected burn. The local students had a few amusing days deciding when my skin faded from the color of the tomatoes to the color of the watermelon.

    However, thanks to you, I’ve learned a lot about bergamot! I have no experience of essential oils, except for lavender, which I have used as a mosquito repellent. It worked for me, but may not be scientific. Still, I’d rather slather myself in lavender oil than DEET (except when in areas where tropical mosquito-borne diseases are endemic. Then bring on the DEET!)

    • I have absolute faith in essential oils, and as you may know, modern aromatherapy was apparently reinvigorated by the discovery of a scientist who badly burned his arms in his laboratory. The only thing to hand was some lavender oil which he splashed over one of this arms, and as you can imagine he was astonished how quickly it healed compared to the other arm. Lavender is the bee’s knees. As is bergamot (especially for cold sores or anything mouth orientated: great as a throat gargle) but JUST NOT DIRECTLY ON SKIN! I knew this, but didn’t heed my own knowledge.

  2. Tora

    I also adore bergamot. I put it in my massage lotion with eucalyptus radiata and french lavender. But I buy the bergaptene free version to avoid any skin problems. I think May Chang (Litsea Cubeba) works better on cold sores.

    I am so sorry you got burned. And how weird that Shalimar burns you, too. I had to give my whole bottle away. 😦

    • I am very interested to hear this. It really does burn. I still don’t want tons of IFRA regulations banning perfume ingredients, but this experience with bergamot does help me to understand where they are coming from.

  3. Lilybelle

    This is timely. I was just browsing the essential oils at Whole Foods yesterday, and it was bergamot that captivated me this time. I didn’t buy it – I was looking for rosewater – but now I have bergamot on my mind. I’ll have to go back for it.

    • Just don’t slather it all over your neck and go out in the sun like idiot me!!

      On the lip when you need it, definitely. And the scent is SO refreshing. But I have learned my lesson…..

    • Tora

      Lillybelle, New Directions has a great bergaptene free bergamot. No photo sensitivity.

      • bergaptene free it must be from now on!

        I am still a redneck, replete with lynchings, cowboy hat, slabs’o steak and crates of Bud, but the redness is, fortunately, going down a little, praise be to the Lord.

  4. Lilybelle

    Thank you for the warning! And I hope your burn is better. I’m being careful in the sun this summer. I have a dermatologist appointment tomorrow…keeping my fingers and toes crossed. It was just the scent of the bergamot oil that grabbed me, I’ve never used it medicinally. I suppose it is best used in the gray, dismal time of the year. The scent certainly would brighten things up then. 🙂

  5. Bergamot is the reason I become completement folle in the presence of vintage Guerlain fragrances. Even the more recent Philtre d’amour is rich in bergamot.
    I have not used the essential oil of it, wonder if it works for eczema, but need to look into it. I am a slave to lavender essential oil as it seems to cure all, not to mention it smells soooo clean and sanitized; maybe too sanitized at times. I will be reading up on bergamot now and try to intigrate it.
    Now, you naughty boy, as to your sun exposure. You always need to use sunscreen when out in direct sunlight. Protect that beautiful face and skin of yours, it is yours for life- treat it well. Remember your sunscreen in the future. But to help heal your damaged skin, use a bit of Shea butter. It is very soothing and healing; or even a bit of Waleda Cold Creme will help.
    Do take care of your skin.

    • No I usually do. I am skin care central, seriously (love Shea butter). I suppose I was so desperate to stop the ear infection and I just love the surging power of essential oils, the way you can just FEEL that they kill infections, that I STUPIDLY just slathered it all over my neck. The thing is, it was the next day, so I had forgotten about it, but the books all say that even the next day, bergamot will give you a photoxic reaction. I have certainly learned my lesson!

    • And agree about the Guerlain bergamot thing. It is that splicing of their vanillic, Gallic plushness with the bergamot and lemon up top that gives that essential Guerlainish gorgeousness. It is really quite inspired, actually.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s