The bergamot farmers of Calabria, Italy, are a skilled and proud community of agriculturalists. Their belonging and attachment to the land stretches back to the eighth century BC. Discover why bergamot is good for you and why you should have it daily.
Their ancestors migrated to the region during what is looked back on as the major diaspora of ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until the eighteen-sixties that the first bergamot gardens were planted in the villages of Calabria, many of which predated the unification of the modern Italian state.
The ecology and land of this region is a microclimate, a thin strip of Italian countryside tightly nestled above Sicily and bordered to the east and west by the calm, warm waters of the Mediterranean. This climate, perfect for the growing of bergamot, allows the fruit’s skin to develop a unique oil. It is only found in the produce of this particular part of Italy. The bergamot oil, much like an authentic champagne of the Champagne region in France, cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
In the nineteen-twenties, Calabrian bergamot oil became one of the most important ingredients in the manufacturing process of highly sought after, boutique perfumes. It was during this time with, in Europe, the restructuring of social institutions, and across the Atlantic, Great-moonshine-Gatsby fueled prohibition, that perfumes became an unmistakable symbol of fashion, class, and sophistication. To this day even, the bergamot oil resonates with a prestigious tone of premium quality and all the trappings of Europe’s high-society.
Bergamot became one of the most important ingredients in the production of perfumes in those early days. Demand for its oil raised the value of one hectare of bergamot trees to roughly three-hundred and fifty thousand US dollars in today’s terms. As the hardy and fertile bergamot orchards grew, the Calabrian economy followed suit. Demand for bergamot brought prosperous work, where before people had known only hardship.
But the world was changing, and Italy was changing too. It was a time of reconstruction during which many young people left the region and headed north. Riding a train named ‘The Arrow of the South’ the Calabrian youth migrated in search of good jobs, away from a reliance on the land, turning instead to new professions and a stable income. In the orchards of Calabria, only the old remained.
In nineteen-thirty one, the bergamot industry began to operate in this region through a syndicate in which farmers sold to producers and exporters who themselves expanded the distribution internationally. Although some farmers chose to operate independently, the vast majority worked as part of this collective. Although it wasn’t a perfect system, it worked to guaranty the quality while keeping the price stable. Price and quality were the two most important things that the fragrance-house buyers held in the minds.
However, things had become too good to last and in nineteen sixty-five the courts made a ruling that the syndicate held too great a monopoly over the bergamot industry and any operations would thereafter be made illegal. It seemed like a fatal blow and was to all involved, a disaster. The syndicate was forced to fight this decision in the courts over the next four years but eventually, both money and determination had dried up. The farmers, pressed by their families to bring home income began planting vineyards instead.
As the situation progressed the number of bergamot trees in Calabria dropped. By nineteen eighty, two-thirds of all trees had disappeared, replaced instead by lemons or grapes which, despite growing well in the region, didn’t carry with them the same demand as with the bergamot. Those unable to make a livelihood on these alternate crops fell into dire straits, being forced to look for any work they could.
The stewards of the vineyards diversified into raising livestock, mainly horses and goats. But bergamot remained in their hearts, reserving a kind of dignity that appealed to their proud heritage and its place in the perfume industry. A connection these people had forged from their rural setting to the highest places in society where their produce was consumed. It was more than just a business, it was a cultural tradition, and it mattered greatly.
"Bergamot wasn’t just a fruit. For many it was the centre of their whole way of life. Its collapse was both an economic and a social crisis which pulled at the very fabric of local culture."
The revival of the “green gold”
In nineteen sixty-seven, driven by this nostalgic pride, the Giovani family planted one hectare of bergamot orange. Not as a business, but as people. Not really to make money, but just for the hell of it. When Pizza Giovani, the head of the family died in nineteen eighty-nine, his son Ezzio took the reins. And, on that day, January 27, managing their few hectares of trees, Ezzio made a decision and a commitment. He decided he could not stand back and allow everything his father had fought for, everything he had achieved, everything the community stood for and everything that he stood for, to die.
He knew that what they had, the relationship with the earth and with the bergamot tree, was precious. His father taught him as a boy that the bergamot was ‘green gold’. Ezzio knew that if they could all work together again, the farmers, producers and exporters, there was no reason they couldn’t build another golden age.
Working together paid off.
Five years, and much hard negotiating later, Unionberg was brought into being. As you’d expect, each stakeholder had a different agenda but in the end they managed to come to an arrangement with the three major exporters and twenty-one of the producers. If they had not reached an agreement, their bergamot, the highest in quality of oil and provenance would not be with us 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 place and influence of the Unionberg began to grow in the market, so too did a steady increase in the hectarage under bergamot cultivation.
In 2014, the Haggard Consulting group announced that it was conducting the first ever survey to quantify the impacts of the bergamot industries’ rejuvenation on the livelihoods of the people of Calabria. The group says that there is significant evidence of young people returning to the region and, because of this, the family business model is beginning to reassert itself. Five hectares under cultivation needs five family members to remain cultivated and maintained. Because it will now yield that kind of income, bergamot cultivation is again becoming a sustainable way of family life.
Yields have increased and the price is now stable. This means that banks are willing to allow people access to capital that wasn’t previously available to them. Not just to grow hectarage but also to diversify into other related businesses. It gives them the ability to plan in the long term, and not just live day to day.
We can think of the bergamot plant as resilient because it holds true in a number of ways. Most Calabrian bergamot farmers don’t even use pesticides. They’ve certainly grown a livelihood from a seemingly natural economy based on organic produce. 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.
It’s funny, people always say you can’t afford to live in the past. But sometimes it’s only when you allow the past to show you the future that you can afford to live at all.
Today, bergamot oil is found in at least fifty percent of women’s perfumes around the world. Not bad for a hardy little tree.
What are the health benefits of bergamot?
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 health benefits on the heart
In 2013, the International Journal of Cardiology published a report which documented 77 participants taking 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 uncompromised effects.
Why? Bergamot contains a powerful type of nutrients called flavonoids. However, if you think drinking earl grey alone will lower your cholesterol you are sorely mistaken. The amount of bergamot in teas is incredibly low. So only by ingesting a much more concentrated dosage you may see any effect on keeping those levels of cholesterol and toxins low. This pure organic bergamot juice is one option for achieving that valuable high dosage.
Bottom line: The juice of bergamot and the extracts contained may help different areas of cardiovascular health. Within these fall cholesterol, as mentioned, and triglycerides, blood pressure and blood vessel functioning.(5)
Could bergamot 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 rather 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. While still further clinical trials are required before bergamot is recommended as a complement to reduce the dosage of statins, the potential to lower the risk of associated side effects is enormous.(3)
Please note that neither Erbology nor the author are advising you to change any statin dosage before consulting with 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 on immunity
Per 100g of pure organic bergamot juice, you can get more than half of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin C. Whereas 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. There are, within the immune system, several cells with the ability to accumulate and retain vitamin C. Included in these are phagocytes and t-cells. These cells also require the vitamin C to perform their task. Therefore, vitamin C deficiency can lead to a reduced resistance against certain pathogens. Ensuring at least the RDA of vitamin C enhances several immune system parameters.(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 have the option of 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
At Erbology, you will find pure organic bergamot juice 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 smoothie. Bergamot juice is 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. You may also appreciate its distinctive sour flavour in a shot. So, have a go and try it straight!
Here at Erbology, we went a step further and created some delicious bergamot recipes for you. 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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(2) Micaela Gliozzi, et al, ‘Bergamot polyphenolic fraction enhances rosuvastatin-induced effect on LDL-cholesterol, LOX-1 expression and protein kinase B phosphorylation in patients with hyperlipidemia’, international journal of cardiology, 2013, https://bit.ly/2FwItgb.
(3) Clevland Clinic, ‘Bergamot Extract May Lower Your Cholesterol’, 2015. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/bergamot-may-lower-your-cholesterol/.
(4) Cheng-Hua Ni, et al, ‘The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial’, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/927419/.
(6) UHN STAFF, ‘Bergamot Benefits? This Citrus Fruit’s Oils Can Relieve Anxiety and Raise HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol’, university health news, 2018, https://bit.ly/2FDNSRW.
(7) Peter P. Toth, et al, ‘Bergamot Reduces Plasma Lipids, Atherogenic Small Dense LDL, and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Subjects with Moderate Hypercholesterolemia: A 6 Months Prospective Study’, National Institutes of Health, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4702027/.
(8) Yong Cai, et al, ‘Effects of 12-week supplementation of Citrus bergamia extracts-based formulation CitriCholess on cholesterol and body weight in older adults with dyslipidemia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial’, National Institutes of Health, 2017, https://bit.ly/2Hg6cmz.
(9) Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby, Boost your heart health with the benefits of bergamot, The Alternative Doctor, 2013, https://bit.ly/2RS54tf.