The bergamot farmers of Calabria, Italy, are a skilled and proud community. Their relationship with the land stretches back to the eighth century BC. Little wonder, since bergamot health benefits include heart health and lowered cholesterol.February 05, 2021 1:51 pm September 10, 2018 12:46 pm
Once upon a time, in Calabria…
The ancestors of today’s bergamot farmers migrated to the region from ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until the 1860s that the first bergamot gardens were planted in the villages of Calabria, many of which date from before the Italian unification.
Calabria has its own special microclimate. A thin strip of countryside nestled above Sicily and bordered to the east and west by the calm, warm waters of the Mediterranean, it’s perfect for growing bergamot.
Only a climate like this allows the skin of the bergamot fruit to develop a unique oil, which is prized the world over for its aroma. Much as the Champagne region in France lays claim to the finest wines, Calabria has a monopoly on precious bergamot oil.
In the 1920s, Calabrian bergamot oil became one of the most important ingredients in boutique perfumes. During a time when Europe was undergoing huge changes in terms of social institutions and culture, perfume became an unmistakable symbol of fashion, class and sophistication. To this day, bergamot oil lends a certain prestige to many high-quality fragrances, evoking the high society parties of generations past.
Thanks to perfumery, demand for bergamot oil soared in the twentieth century. It raised the value of one hectare of bergamot trees to around $350,000 in today’s money. Fertile Calabrian soil ensured that the hardy bergamot orchards continued to grow, as did the local economy. In a region where the locals had sometimes struggled to make ends meet, the sudden boom in bergamot came as a blessing.
However, times were changing. Many young people left the region, boarding a train called ‘the Arrow of the South’ to seek their fortunes in the city. Like so many others in Europe, they believed that working the land was a life of hardship. A city job, meanwhile, would provide a stable income and an easier way of life.
In 1931, the Calabrian bergamot industry began to operate through a syndicate. Farmers sold their bergamot to producers and exporters who could sell the oil on an international scale.
Although some farmers chose to operate independently, the vast majority worked as part of this collective. While it wasn’t a perfect system, it helped the farmers to guarantee the two things that perfumers were most interested in: exceptional quality and a stable price.
The bergamot monopoly
The syndicate brought prosperity to the region, but it was too good to last. In 1965, the courts ruled that the Calabrian syndicate held too great a monopoly over the bergamot industry. It came as a huge blow and the syndicate fought the decision in the courts for the next four years.
However, the money to finance such a legal battle, and the region’s fighting spirit, eventually dried up. The farmers needed to provide for their families and took to planting vineyards instead.
The number of bergamot trees in Calabria began to dwindle, and by 1980, two-thirds had disappeared. They were replaced by lemons and grapes, which also grew well in the region. However, demand didn’t match the opportunities that bergamot had offered.
Some formerly successful bergamot farmers were unable to make a living off the new crops and fell into dire straits, scrambling for any work they could find. Some were better able to adapt to the new situation and began raising livestock like horses and goats.
However, nothing captured the heart of the region like bergamot. Like the scent of the oil, the fruit had infused their heritage and culture. Linking their orchards to the highest echelons of society, bergamot was not simply a business opportunity. It had become part of the Calabrian identity.
"Calabria has its own special microclimate. A thin strip of countryside nestled above Sicily and bordered to the east and west by the calm, warm waters of the Mediterranean, it's perfect for growing bergamot."
The revival of the ‘green gold’
In 1967, the Giovani family planted one hectare of bergamot orange. Pizza Giovani, the head of the family, wasn’t really looking to make money from his bergamot. It was more out of nostalgia for a time gone by, and for love of the fruit.
When Pizza passed away, his son Ezzio took over. Looking out over his father’s orchards, he decided that he couldn’t just let all that effort – and all that heritage – go to waste.
As a boy, Ezzio’s father had taught him that the bergamot was ‘green gold’. Calabria had a special relationship with this precious fruit. He knew that if he could get the farmers, producers and exporters to work together again, they could build another golden age.
Working together paid off
Five years later, Unionberg was born. It took a lot of hard negotiating to build a relationship between 21 producers and three major exporters. Luckily for us, they finally reached an agreement. Had they failed to do so, Calabrian bergamot, the best in the world in terms of provenance and the quality of the oil, would not be on the market today.
The agreement held and turnover increased dramatically, with Unionberg successfully stabilising the price both nationally and internationally. This gave the banks confidence to finance investment in the necessary science for producers to not just guarantee quality but to work with fragrance houses regarding standards and regulations.
For the first time in a generation the industry began to work together again. As the influence of the Unionberg began to grow in the market, so too did the land dedicated to growing bergamot.
Thanks to the resurgence of bergamot, young people are returning to Calabria and the family business model is making a return. Five hectares of bergamot trees need five family members to cultivate them. Now the bergamot can yield a good income again, farming bergamot is becoming a sustainable family business once more.
Bergamot has also provided a great economic base for the region. Yields of bergamot have increased, stabilising their price. Thanks to the reliability of the industry, banks are more willing to loan the farmers money to increase their hectarage. They can also diversity into other related business. Finally, they can plan for the long-term.
It seems that the bergamot tree is the perfect symbol for Calabria. Perfectly suited to the Calabrian environment. It has no need for the chemicals and pesticides of modern farming; most Calabrian bergamot farmers don’t use them at all. When allowed to grow, it produces an incredible bounty that has helped secure the future of the region.
Most of all, it’s a tough plant, and some of that grit seems to have rubbed off onto the farmers themselves. Perseverance is in the blood and spirit of the land and its people.
Today, bergamot oil is found in at least fifty percent of women’s perfumes around the world. Not bad for a hardy little tree. But you may not know that this aromatic fruit actually has many impressive benefits for your health, too.
Bergamot lowers cholesterol
Bergamot is commonly used to give both earl and lady grey tea their flavouring. In addition to adding that zesty taste, a recent study reported by the Wall Street Journal showed how the Italian citrus successfully lowered cholesterol.(1)
This is just one of four studies to be published, all of which show the same cholesterol-lowering results.
Bergamot has health benefits for your heart
In 2013, the International Journal of Cardiology published a report which documented 77 participants who took 1000mg of bergamot oil daily over the course of 4 weeks. The average drop in the participants’ cholesterol level was from 278mg per decilitre of blood to just 191mg.(2)
The same study also showed that adding the bergamot to subjects’ daily intake allowed cholesterol-lowering drug Rosuvastatin to work with 100% efficacy on just half the dosage. This means that participants using the drug could consume just 50% of their full dose while still enjoying the same effects.
Why? Bergamot contains a powerful type of nutrients called flavonoids. Unfortunately, teas like earl grey can’t help you here; you’d need a higher dosage, This pure organic bergamot juice is a great way of getting those helpful nutrients into your system.
Bergamot juice may help different areas of cardiovascular health. Within these fall cholesterol, as mentioned, and triglycerides, blood pressure and blood vessel functioning.(5)
It might help reduce the side-effects of cholesterol medication
Those of us who have been prescribed with cholesterol-lowering medication by our general practitioners know that statins can have some inconvenient side effects.
The widely used family of drugs can cause muscle pain and weakness. Statin has also been linked to spikes in blood glucose that can increase the risk of diabetes.
Further clinical trials are required before bergamot is recommended to help reduce the dosage of statins needed, However, they seem to have great potential to lower the risk of associated side effects..(3)
Of course, don’t make any changes to your statin dosage without consulting your GP.
Bergamot may help calm your body and mind.
A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined the effects bergamot had on reducing anxiety in people undergoing surgery later that day.
Researchers exposed 109 individuals, randomly selected from a sample group, to bergamot essential oil aromatherapy for 30 minutes. The results showed that they experienced lower levels in anxiety scores, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The remaining participants in the study who received a placebo had a significantly higher baseline.(4)
Bergamot health benefits for immunity
Per 100g of pure organic bergamot juice, you can get more than half of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C.
While you can source vitamin C from many foods, pure bergamot juice avoids the high sugars associated with citrus fruits such as orange or grapefruit. Erbology Pure Bergamot Juice contains 3.5g of naturally occurring sugars compared to 8g in orange juice and 9g in grapefruit juice.
The nutrients we take heavily influence our body’s immune system. Several types of immune cells are able to accumulate and retain vitamin C. These include phagocytes and t-cells., which also need vitamin C to function properly.
Because of this, vitamin C deficiency can lead to a reduced resistance against certain bugs. Making sure you consume at least your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C will help keep your immune system functioning well.(11)
For further reading on bergamot see references (6), (7), (8), (9) and (10).
How can you reap the health benefits of bergamot for yourself?
If you’re looking to reduce stress and anxiety, you might like to experiment with using bergamot essential oils in aromatherapy.
It’s very important to purchase 100% pure essential oil and not a synthetic “fragrance”. You’ll also need a way to vaporise the oil and get it into the air around you in order to breath it in. For this, you can use a basic oil diffuser.
Erbology Pure Organic Bergamot Juice
For those looking to support their immunity, or simply to boost their vitamin intake, we recommend our pure organic bergamot juice. The juice is extracted from the fresh fruit, allowing this powerful citrus booster to remain rich in bio-active flavonoids and vitamin C.
Our bergamot juice naturally contains small amounts of precious essential oil. It will charm you with its invigorating aroma and zesty flavour. Erbology Bergamot Juice comes in our much loved 40ml (1.4 fl oz) daily shot, which is a perfect travel size. Drink it in one go or dilute in water, tea, or a smoothie. It’s also an excellent ingredient for salad dressings.
It also comes in a 250ml (8.5 fl oz) bottle, ideal for the entire family. Alternatively, you can keep it refrigerated for up to a week and take two to four tablespoons daily.
Bergamot juice recipes
Erbology Organic Bergamot Juice has a zesty citrus aroma and taste. It can instantly calm your mind, revive your senses and awaken your body. It is beautifully refreshing when simply diluted in water, and we love it mixed with sparkling water for a grown-up apéritif.
If you love citrus flavours, you might also enjoy drinking one of our shots neat. It’s a great way to energise yourself first thing in the morning, and get ahead of your RDA of vitamin C.
However, bergamot also pairs very nicely with lots of other flavours, making it an impressive and unique recipe ingredient. Here are a few of our favourite ideas…
This Bergamot and carrot cocktail is made with just five ingredients. Your skin will love it for its hydrating and nourishing properties. This delicious drink is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Got no time and want to make something that’s wholesome and tasty quickly? Check out this vegan Chickpea salad with bergamot dressing recipe. It only takes fifteen minutes to make and tastes amazing.
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