Orange blossom…..! The name alone conjures up its sweet fragrance, used in perfumery; the sweet orange blossom water, used in French and Middle Eastern cuisine and the long association of this beautiful bloom with weddings and brides.
Orange blossom is the fragrant distillation of the flowers of the Bitter or Seville Orange, C. aurantium (also called subsp mara or bigaradia in the literature), the most aromatic of all citrus varieties. All parts of the sour orange are used in the perfumery industry from the fruit peel (Orange essential oil) and leaves (Petitgrain Oil) to the flowers (Neroli and Orange Blossom Absolute).The latter differ in their olfactory characteristics and method of extraction. Neroli has a fresher, greener, spicier fragrance with sweet and flowery notes, more like Petitgrain Oil, while that of the Orange Blossom Absolute is sweeter, warmer, deeper and more intense, floral scent like that of Jasmine Oil.
Orange Oil Absolute is obtained by solvent extraction as a concrete and using alcohol washing and filtering in the form of an absolute, while Neroli is obtained by steam distillation of freshly picked flowers.
Orange Oil Absolute is used in perfumes, colognes, chypres, ambers, floral bouquets and heavy orientals. Examples include: Fleurs d’Oranger by Serge Lutens; Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom Cologne; Yardley’s Orange Blossom; and Fleur du Mâle by Jean Paul Gaultier.Neroli is also widely used in the perfumery industry and is the main ingredient in eau-de-cologne, as well as having numerous health benefits, especially with regard to the treatment of depression and infection, and they have been described well in: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/essential-oils/neroli-essential-oil.html.
The blooms of the Bitter Orange are also used to make Orange Flower Water, used in baklava, meringues and madeleines. You can find a recipe for making Orange Blossom Water at: https://www.thespruceeats.com/make-orange-flower-water-infusion-method-2394974, while the next two sites have great suggestions for its use: https://boisdejasmin.com/2013/07/10-ways-to-use-orange-blossom-water-perfume-beauty-cooking-recipes.html and https://foratasteofpersia.co.uk/2012/04/ten-things-to-do-with-that-bottle-of-orange-blossom-water-at-the-back-of-your-pantry/.
Orange blossom blooms are also candied or used to decorate baked goods. In Morocco, the flowers are steeped in water with mint and green tea leaves to make a sweet-smelling refreshing drink.However, it is its long association with brides and weddings, which fills most of the literature about orange blossom.Oranges originated in oriental Asia: China, India and South East Asia. In Ancient China, the snow white blooms represented purity, chastity, virginity and innocence, the flowers placed on the gowns of young brides. The fact that flowers and fruit are often borne simultaneously promoted the association of orange blossoms with fertility and the promise of motherhood, while the evergreen foliage represented everlasting love.This tradition moved west into India and Persia, now Iran, where the orange got its name from its Arabian name ‘Naranji’.Oranges were also prominent in Ancient Greek mythology. Gaia, the earth goddess, crowned Hera’s head with a wreath of orange blossom on her marriage to Zeus, while they also play a part in the story of Atlanta. In Ancient Roman mythology, oranges were the golden apple, which Juno, the goddess of women and marriage gave to Jupiter on their celestial wedding day.The introduction of oranges to Europe is credited to both the Arabs (via Spain and Portugal) and the Crusaders on their return home, depending on which source you read.However, it was Queen Victoria, who is responsible for really ramping up the use of orange blossoms in European weddings, when she wore them in her hair on her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. For most of the 19th Century up until its demise in 1950s, orange blossom was in high demand for wedding bouquets, head wreaths, groom’s boutonnieres and on wedding cakes.
Orange blossom represented fertility and luck and increasingly, wealth and status. Being a plant of warmer climates, their blooms were quite expensive in the cooler parts of northern Europe, especially for the lower classes. Their high cost and the fact that they only bloom in Spring, so were often hard to get for weddings at other times of the year, led to the development of an artisanal trade of making wax replicas of the flowers. These were to be destroyed within 30 days of the wedding, the life cycle of the real flowers, to avoid bad luck, hence the extreme rarity of these vintage headpieces and bouquets today.
The growing trend in vintage weddings today has revived the market for both real and wax replica orange blossom flowers for contemporary brides. You can read more about this lovely custom at: http://chicvintagebrides.com/wax-flower-crowns/.
While orange blossoms usually refer to the flowers of Bitter Orange Citrus x aurantium, all the blooms of the Citrus family have a the characteristic form and scent of orange blossoms. The Citrus genus, which belongs to the Rue family, Rutaceae, includes the key species:
C. maxima Pomelo; C. medica Citron; C. micrantha Papeda; and C. reticulata Mandarin Orange and many hybrids including:
C. x sinensis Sweet Orange (probably a cross between C. maxima and C. reticulata);
C. x aurantium Bitter Orange/ Seville Orange/ Sour Orange (C. maxima X C. reticulata);
C. x tangelo Tangelo (C. reticulata X C. maxima);
C. x paradisi Grapefruit (C. maxima X C. x sinensis);
C. x limon Lemon (C. aurantium x C. medica);
C. x aurantifolia Key Lime (C. medica X C. micrantha);
C. x latifolia Tahitian Lime (C. aurantifolia X C. x limon);
C. x citrofortunella Cumquats and C. x tangerine Tangerine.
All the different members of the Citrus genus can be seen at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_citrus_fruits.
There are a number of other plants, which are called Orange Blossom, whose blooms look and smell very similar to Citrus flowers. These include:
Murraya paniculata, commonly known as Orange Jasmine; Orange Jessamine, Mock Orange, Chalcas or Satinwood, is also a member of the Rutaceae family. It is a compact evergreen rounded shrub with shiny dark green oval leaves and clusters of small fragrant white flowers, followed by bright red- orange berries, loved by birds.It loves full sun and warm climates, but unfortunately NOT heavy frosts, so we cannot grow it here in my garden, but an excellent alternative is another cousin in the Rutaceae family, Choisya ternata, also known as Mexican Orange Blossom, due to the similarity of its blooms in shape and form to orange blossom.Choisya ternata is also a rounded evergreen shrub with deep green aromatic leaves and clusters of sweetly scented white flowers, mainly in Spring.Finally, there is my favourite flowering shrub of late Spring and early Summer, Philadelphus, also known as Mock Orange, due to the similarity of its scent, but unlike all the previous plants, this genus belongs to the hydrangea family, Hydrangeaceae. Most of the sixty species are deciduous, but their flower form is variable, ranging from single to semi-double and double. The most common form is P. coronarius (photo above), but I am growing the single Belle Etoile (https://www.tesselaar.net.au/product/10422-philadelphus-belle-etoile) …and double P. x virginalis (https://www.gardenlady.com/i-love-philadelphus-x-virginalis-aka-mock-orange/).I hope you enjoyed this post and it has whet your appetite for more orange blossom in your garden. Next week, I am reviewing an ecletic medley of miscellaneous books from my craft library. In the meantime, Happy Gardening!