“This precious product delights the senses and often inebriates the brain with iridescent images which make life beautiful and dreamlike and floods the soul with romantic sweetness.” Sound like a recreational drug, something you can take to help you leave your troubles behind?
No. Giuseppe Sergi, an Italian anthropologist, wrote this statement in his 1925 monograph on the bergamot oranges grown around the southern coastline of Calabria.
Bergamot oil gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor–the tea that reportedly became a sensation in London when Lady Grey (wife of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834) served it. There are many stories about the origin of the tea, but the Grey family claim that a Chinese mandarin (a bureaucrat in imperial China) formulated the tea for them to offset lime in the water at their estate in Northumberland.
A more common use of bergamot oil is in perfumes. The Consortium of Bergamot in Reggio Calabria has a website (available in English) packed with information about the oranges. They claim health benefits and a wide variety of uses for the oil, and provide a recipe for cologne. Bergamot is also used in pastries and confections.
The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail published an article in 2010 about bergamots, the “green gold” of Calabria.
Now, I have finished my cup of Earl Grey tea, which I enjoy for the flavor of bergamot and the reminder of southern Italy.