The citrus fruits that nourish our body can also delight our senses. And they can improve our emotional and physical wellbeing – citrus fragrances have been recognised and widely used for their healing effect on our mind and their uplifting impact on our moods. But the stress-relief they offer is perhaps the most needed of all

Isheeta Sharma

Then rain wears out the earth;
Tedious, winter burdens the roofs,
the daylight grows miser - the soul bitter.
Yet, one day through an accidentally open gate
among the trees of a courtyard
the yellow of lemons shows;
and the heart that was frozen thaws,
and into our
breast pour their songs
the golden trumpets of the sun.

I Limoni
Eugenio Montale (Trans. Alessandro Baruffi)

Citrus fruits and their fragrances have delighted us since the beginning of recorded history. They are a part of our daily rituals like tea for millions of people around the world. The refreshing flavour of Earl Grey tea is derived from the dash of Bergamot oil, with which the Black tea leaves have been infused. Quite apart form the connoisseur’s preference, Earl Grey tea is also excellent for stress relief. And that is because of the addition of the citrus oil.

Nearly three centuries ago, in 1753, James Lind, a Scottish Surgeon and Fellow of the Royal Society, proved that citrus fruits could be used to treat scurvy during long sea journeys. Pliny, a Roman author, wrote in his book Natural History (written around 77-79 AD) that citrus juices can work as an antidote to poison when added to wine. In the 4th century BC, Chinese poet Ch’u Yuan used an Orange tree as a symbol of ideal kingship and wrote, “Your leaves green and flowers clean, so delightful is the riotous profusion.” Even in China, there are references that are older still. The Tribute of Yu, written in 700 BC, is the first mention of citrus fruits as being one of the tributes sent to the Emperor.

But the history of citrus fruits and their healing scents is even older than this. It is perhaps the Vajasineyi Samhita, a section of the Yajur Veda, which contains the oldest known reference to citrus fruits in the world. In this Vedic text Citron and Lemon were called ‘jambhila’ or ‘jambhira’.

These Indian and Chinese literary references are the reason that citrus fruits are thought to have originated in Southeast Asia – Burma, South China and Northeast India.

The classical Indian art and science of healing the body and mind – Ayurveda – prescribed citrus scents like Lemon and sweet Orange to balance the three doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha – in our bodies. More recent scientific studies have also proved that citrus scents have positive physiological effect on our minds. Because of their powerful impact citrus scents are also widely used in Aromatherapy, a form of therapy which uses natural, aromatic essential oils to improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Citrus scents include essential oils and extracts of Lemon, Bergamot, Orange, Grapefruit, Tangerine, Petitgrain, Neroli and Orange blossom amongst others. Each fragrance note carries with itself a specific mood. And these moods invoke certain emotions within us. Through techniques such as ‘mood mapping’, researchers have identified the type of mood that a fragrance carries and how it can affect us.  

Each fragrance note carries with itself a specific mood. And these moods invoke certain emotions within us. Through techniques such as ‘mood mapping’, researchers have identified the type of mood that a fragrance carries and how it can affect us.

So, the fresh scent of Lemon can have a positive impact on our confidence level. Grapefruit’s tangy fragrance can help boost metabolism and reduce food cravings. And the fragrance of Clementine, a type of Orange, can help stimulate the mind and reduce stress.

Stress is now an inevitable part of our lives, with work related stress perhaps being the most common. In The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood discusses essential oils and their ability to help us cope with stress, especially at workplaces. And a quick glance through Worwood’s book reveals that the light yet crisp notes of citrus scents are quite useful in offering relief from stress.

Bergamot and Grapefruit essential oils can be used to reduce mental stress. Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange, Petitgrain and Bergamot essential oils are helpful in offering relief from visual stress. To relieve anxiety, Worwood suggests using Bergamot, Neroli or Orange. Essential oils of Lemon and Neroli can also help reduce mood swings. But these powerful essential oils should be used with caution because most citrus essential oils are phototoxic. After application of these oils the skin can become very sensitive and exposure to the Sun can be damaging. Therefore, phototoxic oils should only be used at night or avoid exposure to the Sun after their use.

But you can benefit from the benevolence of citrus scents in other ways too. Smelling fresh Orange peel helps reduce your stress. Moreover, because the Orange peel is so rich in vitamin C (it has almost double the quantity of the vitamin C in the fruit), smelling it can also help in clearing lung congestion as well as boosting immunity.

You can also use a diffuser blend. Mix 1 drop each of Bergamot and Mandarin essential oils with 2 drops of Lemon essential oil to create your own burst of citrus delight. A simple blend of Lemon essential oil and water, approximately 40 drops of the oil to 100 ml of water, can be used around the house as a refreshing disinfectant spray to clean your kitchen slabs, wipe your door knobs or even to clean your phone.

Citrus fragrances offer delight to the senses but also help in healing us. So, include citrus scents in your daily life and personal rituals to offer you a moment of delightful relief from stress and to uplift your mood.