So while the floral oils are useful for soothing the nerves, inducing euphoria, and reducing stress the citrus oils have very different constituents and effects. We’ll review Mandarin, Bergamot, and Lemon.
Mandarin (Citrus reticulate) contains mainly terpene hydrocarbons and esters. The terpene hydrocarbons, principally limonene, promote antiviral and antiseptic effects that in a subliminal way offer a sense of fresh liveliness. These components are said to be stimulants and “general tonics” (Battaglia, 2007. p. 76). Mandarin’s ester content is unique as it comes from a particular source, anthranilic acid ester, which has a strongly sedative effect that is safe for use even with children (Schnaubelt, 1998, p.77). Mandarin, along with lavender, is considered by many aromatherapists the “children’s remedy” for restlessness, anxiety, nightmares, and worry.
Bergamot (Citrus aurantium ssp. Bergamia) is composed principally of terpene hydrocarbons, alcohols, and esters. The balance of stimulating hydrocarbons with sedating alcohols and euphoric esters makes this an ideal adaptogen or balancer. Bergamot has been used traditionally to refresh and relax thereby inducing a state of focused calm. In a Korean study the combination of Bergamot, Lavender, and Frankincense (1:1:1) in sweet almond oil massaged on terminal hospice cancer patients showed statistically significant improvement in both pain and depression scores (Chang, 2008).
Lemon (Citrus limon), like mandarin and bergamot, is composed primarily of terpene hydrocarbons with their antiseptic, stimulating effects. A study at Ohio State University “provided robust evidence that lemon oil reliably enhances positive mood compared to water and lavender regardless of expectancies or previous use of aromatherapy” (Kielcot-Glaser, Graham, Malarkey, Porter, Lemeshow, & Glaser, 2008).
So the citrus oils’ gift to a depressed individual is gentle, calm stimulation without the jittery effects common with over-the-counter drugs and caffeine. Each citrus has its own character so someone who indicates a need to balance will prefer bergamot whereas someone who is prone to hysterics may do better with mandarin’s sedative calm. And yet another person who simply needs to feel emotionally lifted may be drawn to lemon’s specific positivity.
There are still a few more essential oils left on Worwood’s comprehensive list. Geranium (Pelargonium odorantissimum), an herb, is composed mostly of terpene alcohols with a significant (approximately 25%) number of esters. Like neroli, geranium has a significant citronellol content, which allows for its alert yet calming effect. According to Schnaubelt the mix of tonic alcohols and sedating esters give geranium a unique character that makes its effects very individualized (1998, p. 70). Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), another herb, is composed primarily (up to 75%) of esters, which are known as euphoric sedatives, making this oil beneficial in the treatment of any condition related to lifting mood (Battaglia, 2007, p. 188). Frankincense (Boswellia), a resin, is mostly terpene hydrocarbons, which stimulate and tonify the entire system (Battaglia, 2007, p. 204). And finally Sandalwood (santalum album) is composed of 75% santalols, an alcohol that is said to have a calming, sedative effect (Battaglia, 2007, p. 264).
Our survey of the primary chemical constituents of Worwood’s traditional oils to treat depression indicates flexibility within a standard list. Each of the suggested essential oils has clear benefit for some type or symptom of depression. A possible remedy for someone with jittery nervous exhaustion would be: ylang-ylang, mandarin, and sandalwood. Someone who has lost her will may prefer a more euphoric jasmine, clary sage, lemon, and frankincense blend. And yet another who wishes to balance out mood swings would lean towards neroli, bergamot, geranium, and sandalwood. The options are diverse but therapist understanding of why particular oils are indicated for depression streamlines the art of blending and places sound science in line with a beautifully pleasing art.
Battaglia, Salvatore. (2007). The complete guide to aromatherapy. Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Chang, SY. (2008). Effects of aroma hand massage on pain, state anxiety and depression in hospice patients with terminal cancer. Department of Nursing, Keimyung University, Jung-gu, Daegu, Korea. Abstract obtained from http://www.pubmed.gov.
Kiecolt-Glaser Jk, Graham JE, Malarkey WB, Porter K, Lemeshow S, Glaser R. (2008). Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune function. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008 Apr:33(3):328-39. Abstract obtained from http://www.pubmed.gov.
Schnaubelt, Kurt. (1995). Advanced aromatherapy: the science of essential oil therapy. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
Worwood, Valerie. (1996). The fragrant mind: aromatherapy for personality, mind, mood, and emotion. Novato, CA: New World Library.