If there is a companion plant to the evergreen that is so characteristic of this time of year, it must be the orange or one of its immediate relatives: the tangerine, the clementine, the mandarin, or even the citron or grapefruit.
The combination of pine with citrus is familiar in Japanese New Year’s decorations, of course. And because tangerines and clementines are winter fruits, they brighten up the white or gray days of chilly winter with their zesty color, scent and flavor. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the vivid orange hue of these fruits is perfectly complemented by the deep green of the pine. Festive, beautiful and delicious, the citrus fruits are like generous New Year blessings: Just looking at them lifts the spirits.
To discover the seasonal spirit of citrus, there are lots of things you can try. There are many uses in natural medicine and beauty for citrus fruits and their derivatives. While the whole fruits are beneficial, the essential oils or the dried blossoms or rinds of these fruits are also used traditionally in folk medicine in many parts of the world.
For most of the essential oils, the modus operandi is to use an oil in minute quantities in a massage oil, or in a diffuser; for the dried plants, teas or baths are most common. Always remember to check with a specialist for any contraindications before trying anything new, as citrus oils can cause allergic reactions on some people.
The oil of neroli, Citrus aurantium, is made from the blossom of the orange. Used to scent the home, neroli will create an atmosphere of calm and lighthearted optimism that is perfect for the new year. The oil is used as an antidepressant, with benefits to the nervous system that include acting to remedy exhaustion, confusion, insomnia, shock and hysteria. After the Christmas rush, there will no doubt be many who will appreciate such a remedy. Used externally, neroli heals scar tissue and soothes the skin. Mix it with a light base oil such as almond oil and use it as a healing moisturizer.
Dried orange blossom is known primarily as a calming, sedative tea. It will soothe any adverse condition that is caused by nervousness or anxiety, such as indigestion, insomnia, headaches and other such ailments. It is also possible to add the dried blossoms to the bath, with similar calming effects. Used this way, it will beautify the skin in the same way as the oil of neroli.
The oil of the mandarin, Citrus reticulata, will also calm one who is nervous or can’t sleep. A warming oil, it is used to treat cold-related conditions like coughs, poor circulation and certain stomach problems. It acts as an expectorant. Use this oil as an inhalation, in a diffuser, or add a drop or two to a base oil for massage.
The oil of grapefruit, Citrus paradisi, is a cooling oil with benefits for headaches and a hot temper or irritability. It also helps mitigate hangovers. Grapefruit oil strengthens immunity against colds. The oil of sweet orange is beneficial to the stomach, and this oil in common with the oils of grapefruit and mandarin may be diluted in base oil and rubbed directly onto the stomach area when there is indigestion, nausea, or minor liver or gall bladder complaints. All very useful for a time of year when overeating and drinking too much are a danger.
In the column to come, we will continue to look at the powers of citrus, and in particular at the Eastern uses of these fruits. In the meantime, eat them, inhale their fragrance, float the peels in your bathtub and enjoy their visual splendor. And have a happy New Year! May your New Year’s dreams be blessed with auspicious color and fragrance, like the fine bright fruits of the orange family.