A member of the Rutaceae (citrus) family, the sweet orange Citrus sinensis (a hybrid of pomelo Citrus maxima and mandarin Citrus reticulata), is native to China. It was spread across the world the same way as with spices and other precious commodities - brought by Arab traders, from the east, into the Roman Empire, who then spread them across the Mediterranean into North Africa, spreading from there to Morocco and Spain.
With the growing dominance of Portuguese traders during the 16th century, they were able to bring the sweet orange directly from China to Portugal, hence it’s common name the Portugal Orange. Reflecting this, in the modern Persian language, the orange is literally named ‘porteghal’. Interestingly, the English word 'orange' comes the original old Persian word Narangi – ‘anar’ meaning rust-coloured, and ‘rang-i’ meaning colour. This then became 'arancio' in Italian, then 'orange' derived from this in English.
The sweet orange tree was highly valued in many royal courts throughout Europe, for the beautiful scent of the white flowers, and later for the juice of the fruit. Louis 14th revered the orange tree, and built a spectacular ‘orangerie’ in his palace gardens, and had trees placed throughout the rooms in Versailles. Such was its value, that the trees were among the precious items confiscated from his finance minister, when he was convicted of embezzlement in 1664.
As Christianity spread, so did the orange, being brought with Spanish missionaries to Arizona and California. However, it wasn’t until 1840 that William Wolfskill planted the first large scale, commercial orchard near Los Angeles. By this stage oranges were well-known for preventing scurvy, so it was sought-after by those seeking their fortunes during the gold rush, ensuring the success of Wolfskill’s orchard thanks to this boom in trade. Wolfskill called this varietal the Valencia orange, named after Valencia in Spain, a primary grower of these oranges.
Interestingly, the seedless navel oranges we eat today, being unable to reproduce themselves, are all descendants from a mutated tree in a Brazilian monastery either in the 18- or 1900s. This mutation, leaving the fruits seedless, means it can only be propagated by being grafted on to other citrus trees. This orange proved very popular, it was sweet, seedless, and was easy to grow. Today, Brazil is the largest producer of oranges in the world.
Sweet Orange essential oil is bursting with fresh, vibrant fragrance, which helps banish anxiety and depression. As sunny and cheerful as the colour of the fruit, its universally-liked scent uplifts the mind and freshens and purifies the environment, and eliminate sluggishness of mind and body – just what we need after a long, cold winter of hunkering down and hibernating! It is a winter fruit, yet it brings summer to the soul. A gentle oil, it is wonderful for use with children, and also to invoke the child within - by encouraging simple, light-hearted joy.
As always, Peter Holmes describes it perfectly:
‘The fragrance of Sweet Orange is perhaps the closest of all to evoking the eidetic joy of the true, unwounded emotional heart; the joyful, selfless, spontaneously giving expression of a child’s heart’.
Holmes, P. Aromatica, Volume 2. (2019). Singing Dragon
Mirfendereski, G. 2005. Narangi and Porteghal. Accessed 9/9/22.
Weber, J. 2020. Chronological history of oranges. Accessed 9/9/22.