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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Petitgrain essential oil is one of three essential oils obtained from the orange tree; it has a number of uses and properties in the practice of aromatherapy.

The Origins of the Name Petitgrain

Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) essential oil is very similar to neroli essential oil; this is because they are both obtained from the bitter orange tree.  There a couple of theories surrounding the derivation of the name petitgrain; in the French language, petit grain means little grain, a possible reference to the visible essential oil sacs in the leaves of the tree, when held to the light.
Another theory is that petitgrain owes its name to the tiny, green unripe orange fruit from which petitgrain essential oil was originally extracted from, until this process proved to be too uneconomical.  Today, true petitgrain essential oil is obtained through steam distillation of the leaves of the bitter orange tree, whereas neroli essential oil is taken from the flowers.

Production of Petitgrain Essential Oil

Petitgrain is a member of the Rutaceae plant family; the bitter orange tree is native to the Far East, but is now distributed widely throughout the world with the best petitgrain essential oil produced by France.  Good, quality essential oil is also produced by Paraguay, Haiti and North Africa.  An absolute, made from orange leaves and flowers, is also produced and known as petitgrain sur fleurs.

Uses of Petitgrain Essential Oil in Aromatherapy

Petitgrain essential oil is anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, anti-bacterial, balancing, antiseptic, digestive and a deodorant.  In aromatherapy, petitgrain oil is used to help heal skin conditions such as oily skin, acne and infectious skin diseases; petitgrain essential oil is also used to calm the nervous system, used for respiratory infections, for anxiety and for panic attacks and depression.  It can help ease insomnia, indigestion, constipation and emotional stomach ache symptoms.

Other Uses of Petitgrain

Petitgrain is a classic ingredient of the eau-de-cologne fragrance and has been used extensively in the perfumery industry since the 18th century.  It is often used to replace the more expensive neroli oil.  Petitgrain is also used to fragrance soaps, cosmetics and detergents; it is used as a flavoring agent in foods (especially in confectionery) and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Other Types of Petitgrain

Different varieties of the common petitgrain from the bitter orange tree are also available; the fruit and leaves of the lemon (Citrus limon), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), mandarin (Citrus reticulata) and sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) trees all produce a variety of petitgrain essential oil.  Therefore, it is important to identify the type of petitgrain essential oil used for aromatherapy purposes in order to know how to use it.


- Davis, Patricia 1999 Aromatherapy An A-Z UK: Vermilion
- Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Petitgrain Essential Oil

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

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petitgrain essential oil is distilled from the leaves of the orange tree