Bergamot, of Earl Grey Tea Fame
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)—the essence of Earl Grey tea—has been grown in Italy for ages, although the plant may have originated in Berga in Catalonia, northeast Spain, where the Bergistani were an Iberian tribe overtaken by the Romans, and possibly the source of the bergamot name.
We do know that bergamot has been grown in Calabria in southwest Italy for centuries. Although this region was ruled by many powerful peoples in antiquity, such as the Greeks and Arabs, it remained fairly isolated, which allowed its subsistence culture and customs to be maintained and eventually documented.
Thus, we know that bergamot was grown for its wood at first (to make snuff boxes), and then, in the early 1700s, was cultivated for its fruit and peel, used in perfumes.
The Calabrians also used bergamot to heal wounds; to reduce fever; and as an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti-parasitic. And many of these traditional medicinal uses have been validated by modern medicine.
Bergamot, of Value beyond Tea
As far as bergamot oil (extracted from the fruit’s peel) and bergamot juice go, they are valuable for myriad reasons, especially because bergamot has both a unique composition of beneficial flavonoids and a lot of them. (Flavonoids are also abundant in tea leaves.) In research studies, bergamot has been shown to:
- Decrease total cholesterol and triglyceride levels (as statins do) while increasing high-density lipoprotein, a bonus.
- Play a role in decreasing cancer cell growth, including liver cancer cells.
- Act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic.
- Promote wound healing.
- Play a part in UVB-induced oxidative stress and photoaging and therefore may be valuable in skin-care products.
- Protect the function of neurons and reduce damage to neurons.
- With morphine, work to alleviate chronic pain.
- Alleviate anxiety and depression.
- Modulate markers of autophagy and thus may be valuable for drug development.
Earl Grey Is Not Earl Grey without the Bergamot
Bergamot has long been added to tea, with researchers finding that it was added to tea as early as 1824. However, it originally was used to doctor up low-quality tea. But somewhere along the way, the flavor was embraced and the blend of black tea and bergamot oil stood on its own merits.
Today, there are various blends of Earl Grey tea, including the traditional blend, green tea versions, and first-flush Darjeeling-based. TeaHaus offers its unique Haus-blend version that adds lavender, rosemary, and rose blossoms to the mix!
Note, however, that a high-quality Earl Grey does not taste like orange (the bergamot orange itself has a very bitter taste), nor does it depend on flavor crystals. Rather, an excellent Earl Grey is made with bergamot oil, which is extracted from the fruit’s peel—and this unique combination of tea and oil offers plenty of health benefits!
–Di Donna, L. et al. “Hypocholesterolaemic activity of 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl flavanones enriched fraction from bergamot fruit (Citrus bergamia): ‘In vivo’ studies,” Journal of Functional Foods 7:558–68. 2014.
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–Filocamo, Angela, et al. “In vitro effect of bergamot (Citrus bergamia) juice against cag A-positive and-negative clinical isolates of Helicobacter pylori,” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 15:256. 2016.
–Filomena, L., et al. “Inhibition of spinal oxidative stress by bergamot polyphenolic fraction attenuates the development of morphine induced tolerance and hyperalgesia in mice,” PLoS ONE 11(5). 2016.
–”Investigators at University of Messina detail findings in hepatocellular carcinoma (NF-kappa B mediates the antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects of bergamot juice in HepG2 cells),” Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week 5 Mar. 2016:1123. 2016.
–Passalacqua, N. G., De Fine, G., and Guarrera, P. M. “Contribution to the knowledge of the veterinary science and of the ethnobotany in Calabria region (Southern Italy),” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2:52. 2006.
–”Researchers from University of Catanzaro Magna Graecia describe findings in chromosome structures (Telomere and telomerase modulation by bergamot polyphenolic fraction In experimental photoageing in human keratinocytes),” Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week 7 Nov. 2015:1703. 2016.
–Russo, R., et al. “Role of D-limonene in autophagy induced by bergamot essential oil in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells,” PLoS ONE 9(11). 2014.