Welcome to our series, Common Scents! Common Scents is a series of articles exploring the history of commonly used essential oils, and how they became so popular in modern day soap and cosmetic crafting.
In this edition of Common Scents, we will take a look at the uplifting history of sweet orange, often referred to simply as orange or orange oil. Sought out for its cheery and mellow scent, sweet orange has a large variety of uses and an extensive history, too.
Ultimately, the word orange derives from a Dravidian language such as Tamil or Malayalem. Through centuries of filtering through different languages including Persian, Arabic, Italian and French, we have the current spelling.
The sweet orange is the fruit of the citrus species Citrus x sinensis, which is part of the family Rutaceae (there is also the fruit of the Citrus x aurantium, which is considered bitter orange). The sweet orange is actually a hybrid between Citrus maxima (pomelo) and Citrus reticulata (mandarin).
Although there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer available regarding where oranges grow wild, it is thought that they originated in either southeastern Asia, southern China, or northeastern India. Oranges entered written history via Chinese literature n 314 BC, and were first cultivated in China around 2500 BC. The Chinese word for orange sounds very similar to the Chinese word for “wealth”, and (along with tangerines) is associated with an abundance of happiness and prosperity in Chinese new year celebrations. The dried peel of mandarin oranges has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat colds, coughs and digestion/abdominal issues.
The orange was introduced to Spain (then called Andalucia), encouraging the construction of then-complex irrigation systems to help cultivate the orange orchards in the 10th century. The sweet orange specifically was unknown to most until the late 15th/early 16th century; both Italian and Portuguese traders brought the first orange trees into the Mediterranean area.
After its introduction to the Mediterranean, the orange attracted the eye of the wealthy. Private conservatories, called orangeries, were essentially orange orchards maintained by those with money and power, who considered the fruit a luxury!
The territory of the orange expanded rapidly as various expeditions brought the fruit to South America, Mexico, and Florida in the mid-1500s. Between 1700 and the early 1800s, orange trees were introduced to Arizona, San Diego, Los Angeles and Louisiana due to their popularity and edible nature. Citrus trees (including orange trees) were also planted by Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish sailors along trade routes to prevent disease.
Modern day Florida orange orchards came into existence around 1892, when farmers received seeds from New Orleans. The United States still produces a large amount of oranges today, third to Brazil and China.
Sweet orange oil is produced using a cold press method on the peel of the orange. This oil can be used for a multitude of products, including flavoring food and drinks, and as a fragrance. Orange oil is also used in furniture polish and many other wood conditioners as well as other household cleaners. It is also commonly used in aromatherapy and as either the solo scent or as a top note in fragrance blends. A few of the uses for orange oil traditionally and commercially:
Household cleaners, furniture polish, wood conditioner
Said to treat: depression, inflammation, digestive aid, skin issues
Also used as a(n): antiseptic, cancer inhibitor, detoxifier
It is important to note: these observations and claims are made by those who have used orange oil. The FDA has not approved orange oil in a medical capacity, and we are providing this information strictly for educational and entertainment purposes. The HSCG does not make medical claims nor give medical advice.
Orange Oil in Soap and Cosmetics
We all know the smell of orange; like any citrus, it has an upbeat and cheerful scent reminiscent of summer and warm weather. Considered a top note in regards to fragrance blending, orange blends well with warm scents such as cedarwood, juniper, clove, frankincense, lavender, sandalwood, and other citrus oils. Like many oils, sweet orange oil is available in natural and synthetic form; be sure to check with your supplier to make sure you buy the desired version.
Sweet orange oil has a long history of bringing happiness and providing a warm, pleasant scent to those who use it in perfumes, soaps, lotions, and even household cleaners. What better way to beat the winter blues than to treat your customers to a fresh, pampering product that will make them feel (and smell) as fantastic as a warm summer day!
Need a little help with fragrance blending? Check out our article, “Fantastic Fragrances and How To Blend Them”, available on the HSCG How-To Library: https://www.soapguild.org/how-to/ingredients/beginners-guide-to-fragrance-blending.php