The lemon is one of 16 distinct species in the genus Citrus of the rutaceae family of plants. It's closely related to the lime and to the citron, all of which are "nippled" fruits. Citrus limon are 15 foot trees that produce highly scented lemon fruits and white blossoms year-round. Quite sensitive to cold temperatures and high humidity, lemons are particularly well-suited to the arid, subtropical climates of southern California and the Mediterranean region, where they grow in large, fragrant orchards.
Early forms of the lemon probably originated in China, traveling to Italy and the Mediterranean with Arabian merchants. A fruit that resembles a lemon is depicted in mosaics at Pompeii, although some botanists argue that the lemon wasn't well known to the Roman Empire but began showing up in Europe during the Crusades. Whatever its early history, the lemon didn't become commonplace until the 16th century. The earliest record of the lemon in the New World came from Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic), where it arrived with Columbus in 1493.
Lemon essential oil is pale yellow to slightly greenish yellow, with a refreshing aroma nearly identical to the freshly peeled fruit. Substances used to adulterate and extend lemon oil include synthetic citral, as well as natural citral isolated from plants like lemongrass. Adulterated oils can be identified by their simple, one-dimensional lemon-like aroma or harsh, turpentine-like note. They often have an off-smelling dryout note. Pure lemon oil, on the other hand, will evaporate from a perfume blotter leaving almost no detectable dryout note. The sophisticated nuance of a freshly peeled lemon is the hallmark of authentic, cold-pressed lemon essential oil.
The high temperatures needed for steam distillation would destroy the subtle, fresh aroma of lemon oil, which is better preserved by cold-pressing the fresh peel. Cold-pressing will yield six to seven pounds of oil from one ton of fresh fruit. Following extraction, different batches of cold-pressed California lemon oils are often blended together to produce a more consistent aroma profile, while lemon oils from Italy usually come as individual, small lots from different producers. Italian oils typically have a wider, more inconsistent range of aromatic qualities.
Constituents of lemon oil include limonene, which is responsible for the oil's tangy-fruity aroma, and citral, which is responsible for what we recognize as the lemon note in the aroma profile.
The virtues of the lemon and its close relative, the citron, have been well-known throughout history. The poet Virgil had this to say:
And dulling tastes of happy Citron fruit,
Than which, no helpe more present can be had,
If any time stepmothers worse than brute
have poyson'd pots, and mingled herbs of sute
With hurtfull charmes: this Citron fruit doth chase
Blacke venome from the body in every place.
Writing in her 1931 book on herbal medicine, Maude Grieve says, "The lemon is the most valuable of all fruit for preserving health." This was written in the days before aromatherapy, so Grieve couldn't have had complete knowledge of the importance of lemon essential oil. She wrote, "The oil is not very active, and is used chiefly for flavouring."
Like many essential oils, the constituents of lemon oil have antiseptic properties. What makes these properties noteworthy in lemon oil is that here they're combined with a delightful aroma. Lemon is a great modifier for medicinal-smelling oils like tea tree and eucalyptus. Lemon works synergistically on a therapeutic, aesthetic and emotional level. This is very important when working with blends containing strongly medicinal oils, which may have a tendency to produce a negative aesthetic or emotional effect in aroma-sensitive people.
Lemon oil is uplifting and cleansing. It replaces negative emotions by creating a cheerful atmosphere of freshness and purity. It can help dispel mental fatigue and psychological heaviness. The aroma of lemon can inspire increased concentration and awareness. A Japanese study suggested that after diffusing lemon oil throughout a busy office building, typing errors decreased by 54%.
Because lemon oil is clarifying and aids the decision making process, it's called the rational oil. Lemon is associated with the color yellow, with light and warm, penetrating energy. Simply placing a drop or two of lemon on a tissue can produce marvelous results. It's a great addition to gently uplifting aromatherapy blends, along with other citrus oils as well as lavender and neroli.
Lemon oil is powerfully astringent and antiseptic. Because it can cause skin irritation if used by sensitive individuals in dilutions exceeding 5%, it should not be applied undiluted to skin. Five drops or less of lemon oil should be added to a teaspoon of a carrier oil. Lemon oil can contain up to two percent furanocoumarin compounds, including bergaptene. These compounds act as photosensitizing agents, which can increase the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet light, causing accelerated burning and skin damage. Don't use lemon oil on the skin in the presence of sunlight.
Lemon oil is astringent and detoxifying and is therefore great for blemishes associated with oily skin. Lemon oil also has rejuvenating properties and will brighten dull skin. Slices of fresh lemon placed upon the cheeks can lighten freckles.
Lemon Skin Brightener
Lemon oil is astringent and detoxifying and is therefore great for blemishes associated with oily skin. Lemon oil also has rejuvenating properties and will brighten dull skin.
Uplifting Lemon Blend
This balanced blend of inspiring and relaxing oils can have a gently uplifting effect on the emotions.