Bitter Orange and AromatherapyI first encountered bitter orange when dabbling with aromatherapy. Bitter orange essential oils smell like, well, oranges. The fun part of bitter orange is that oils from the leaves (called petitgrain) and oils from the flowers (called neroli) have distinctly different scents, but are both recognizable as “oranges.” In aromatherapy, bitter orange is used to provide a scent that stimulates and awakens (think orange juice in the morning).
Health Benefits of Bitter OrangeFor the most part, science hasn’t really looked into bitter orange very much. There really haven’t been studies to prove or disprove the claims of bitter orange proponents. There are some reasons to be careful about bitter orange for health purposes. As you’ll see below, the list of cautions probably outweighs the potential (but unknown) benefit of bitter orange, which means you should avoid using bitter orange until more if known.
Bitter Orange: CautionsFirst off, bitter orange contains a substances called synephrine. This substance is similar to ephedra. Ephedra was all the rage for a while because of it’s weight loss effects, but the FDA banned ephedra because of dangers. Specifically, ephedra raises the blood pressure (thereby increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke). It is likely that synephrine does the same thing.
Other uses of bitter orange consist of applying it to the skin. It may make people more susceptible to sunburn when bitter orange oil is on the skin. People taking medications should avoid bitter orange supplements because they may raise blood pressure and other factors. In short, avoid taking bitter orange or putting it on your skin. Smelling bitter orange oils seems to be safe.
Source: National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Herbs at a Glance.