Human Flower Project

Neroli Beats Xanax by a Nose

Scientists in Taiwan have shown that the essential oil of bitter orange flowers is a more effective anxiolytic than Xanax. Stop popping. Start daubing.


A study of neroli’s psychic benefits was carried out by/on gerbils; swimming makes them anxious.

Photo: Still Breathing

We’re as socially anxious as the next person, perhaps a little more so. So we sympathize with those who habitually “take the edge off” with chemical power tools.

We also sympathize with those who’ve “tooled” themselves dull (or newly edgy). Good news from Taiwan for us and for all those numb next-people. A group of researchers has found that neroli – the essential oil of Citrus aurantium var. amara or Bigaradia, enjoyed as a relaxing fragrance for more than 400 years - has proven more potent against anxiety than Xanax.

Granted, the experiment was done on swimming gerbils, but it’s still a very hopeful result.

Ying-Ju Chen, a nutritionist at Providence University, Taiwan, and a research team tested the swimming duration and distance of three groups of gerbils: a control group, a group treated with Xanax, and a group that had inhaled neroli fragrance.

The rodents that had sniffed neroli oil swam longer and and less frantically (measured by the distance they covered) than did the control group or the Xanex-fed gerbils. (Being tossed into water tends to make gerbils anxious.)

“This study provides evidence-based data on aromatherapy using neroli in the treatment of anxiety,” Chen et al concluded.


Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium L. (Rutaceae))—its white flowers are steam distilled into fragrant neroli.

Image: wiki

Perfume manufacturers and others have long known that the flowers of bitter orange – both spicy and sweet-smelling —alleviate insomnia, anxiety and depression. Our own very non-scientific experiments with neroli oil have been known to induce woozy smiles and a spirit of carpe diem.

It’s said that one of the first proponents of neroli as a psychoactive substance was Marie-Anne de la Trémoille, one of the most powerful women of 18th century Europe. She was twice widowed before becoming Princess of Nerola (a town outside Rome), where she first enjoyed scenting her gloves with bitter orange flowers.

imageThe Princess of Nerola, credited with making the fragrance of bitter orange blossoms (neroli) popular in late 17th Century Europe. Could those be neroli blossoms on her veil?

Photo: Grand Ladies

In an ongoing effort to retain her influence as her princely husbands fought duels, were banished, or died, she shuttled between France, Italy, and Spain, where she eventually settled in as the Camarera Mayor, ostensibly a kind of nanny to Spain’s young princess but in actuality a true power behind the throne.

In other words, Marie-Anne had much to be anxious about, yet managed to sustain her royal clout, dying in 1722 at the ripe age of 80.

Some souces say that today as many as 30 million people are taking Xanax or its pharmacological relatives in the benzodiazepine family (valium, librium, clonopin, etc.)

As Chen points out in the gerbil study, published 2008 in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, “Xanax has been known to be habit-forming. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if treatment is discontinued abruptly. On the contrary, the essential oil has reduced anxiety in mice without generating side effects in previous reports.” Xanax is also expensive and requires a prescription (or a connection).

Neroli? We bought a ¼ oz. vial for $15 at the Herb Bar about a year ago and have used up less than a quarter of it. We mixed a bit with almond oil and oakmoss as a crude “chypre” perfume and occasionally (like today) daub on a drop or two. Social-Anxiety, be gone.

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Who cares when you’re flush with citrus sweetness. Just don’t forget that the oven’s on, now that you feel like a palace-hopping princess, a long-distance-swimming gerbil.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/06 at 06:02 PM


sign me up!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/07 at 04:14 PM

Interesting that you ended 2010 with a post about oranges, and early in 2011 there’s another citrus post!

Posted by Georgia on 01/13 at 09:19 AM
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