Orange trees, their fruit and the oil found in the peels have a long history. They were originally known as Chinese apples, as they were native to the area. The first written documentation of oranges can be found in works dating back to as far as 2200 BC. Their name that we know today is derived from the Sanskrit for “orange tree”. The color orange was actually named after the fruit and not the other way around, sometime around the 16th century.
Oranges were first cultivated in China around 2500 BC. Europe did not learn about the fruit until the 11th century when crusaders brought oranges with them. Southern Italy began to grow the bitter orange, one variety of the tree, and used it primarily for its medicinal uses, which mostly involved using the oil. The sweet orange variety arrived in Europe in the 16th century via Portuguese explorers where it quickly was deemed a luxury for the upper class. Oranges weren’t available at an affordable price until the middle of the 16th century, when the fruit was finally available to most Europeans.
Christopher Columbus brought the first orange to the Americas on his second voyage in 1493. The explorer Ponce de Leon is credited though for being the first to plant the trees in North America. The first orange tree planted in California was in 1769 by Spanish missionaries led by Father Junipero Serra. Missionaries are mainly responsible for the introduction of the fruit to several areas of North and South America.
One of the main reasons that oranges became a favored fruit by explorers is because of its ability to protect against scurvy, a disease that results from a vitamin C deficiency with symptoms that include fatigue, spongy gums and bleeding from the mucus membranes. Before oranges, full ship crews could come down with the disease on long voyages. Therefore, oranges were always available on Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese ships during the Age of Discovery, a time period of global exploration, mostly led by the Europeans. They would also plant the trees along their trade routes to ensure that they would never be far from the valuable fruit.
Oranges were also viewed as symbolic by many cultures. The Japanese thought the orange blossoms stood for chastity while the Middle East thought that they represented fertility. Oranges in general have been thought by many to symbolize love and happiness and at one time were a popular gift for special occasions.
Where Orange Trees Have Been Grown
Orange trees do best under moderate temperatures and require a lot of sunshine and water to remain healthy. They are also very sensitive to frost and colder conditions. Orange trees are believed to have originated in India or China, which both have the ideal climate. Some varieties started in the southeast area of the country, more specifically on the island of Ceylon. Other varieties may have originated in the forests of the northeastern part of the country or Bangladesh. Some of these varieties have been culinary staples for nearly 7,000 years. Orange trees traveled throughout Chinese farms and there is documentation of China administrators discussing the importance of orchards rather than relying on foraging for food. Nobility in the country were constantly being presented with oranges from different orchards who competed with each other to provide larger, sweeter and more perfectly round fruit.
Orange orchards first popped up the western world in North Africa, Libya and Morocco as early a the 1st century. They were initially owned by Roman settlers and slaves maintained the grounds. Much of the produce was transported to other countries but the wealthy Romans preferred oranges from India. Once the Roman empire fell, these orchards were forgotten about and fell into disrepair.
Orchards were started in Hispaniola in 1493 and soon after in what would eventually be known as Florida. Florida still produces a large percentage of oranges grown today and when you combine their orange production with their other citrus produce, it adds up to a $9 billion industry. Brazil is credited with growing the most oranges for commercial use, producing nearly 36 million tons of oranges each year. California only produces just under a quarter of the world’s oranges but nearly 80% of these oranges make their way straight to grocery stores. Other leading states that produce oranges include Texas and Arizona. In 1987, oranges became the most cultivated fruit tree in the world. Orange orchards have recently begun using canopy-shaking mechanical harvesters to speed up harvest time. The machines use a series of six to seven foot long tines to shake the tree.
Orange Oil Today
Today, orange oil can be found in countless homes where it is used in the kitchen and throughout the home as a natural cleaner. It’s also an ingredient in many homemade medical treatments, ranging from skin moisturizers to an insomnia treatment to a digestive aid. Orange oil is available through credible online essential oil distributors and most health stores. It is also an easy essential oil to make at home. While some orange orchards produce their fruit only for consumption, areas that grow the oranges to make juice and concentrate then use the peels to make orange oil.
Orange oil is also currently being studied as a possible cancer treatment. Limonene, one of the main ingredients in orange oil, is a monoterpene. Monoterpenes have been shown to prevent mammary, liver, lung and other cancers. They also prevent the carcinogenesis process, both at the initiation and progression stages. Many have turned to essential oils, including orange, as a treatment for their cancer and have experienced amazing results. While more testing is still needed, orange oil may prove to be a great alternative to current cancer treatments in the near future.
Orange oil is also being seen more in organic farming. As the population demands that more food be grown without the use of harmful and dangerous pesticides, orange oil is being used more often. It is often an ingredient in green pesticides and is used mostly to eliminate ant colonies.