A brief history on its origins, usage, and where to find it.

Orange blossom (زهر البرتقال) reminds me of home. I often spray an orange blossom mist on myself after a long day spent under a 40 degrees-sun at the beach.

My grandmother would also rub my back with blossom water when I was anxious, had a tough day at school, or was sick. It was soothing and left me always more relaxed, thanks to the floral and delicate smells of z’har. 

Nowadays, while orange blossom is still a staple in the region’s traditional cuisine and interior scents, there are many declinations in the market of the products; perfumes, sprays, and toners. Orange blossom is a versatile food and beauty item; it can be turned into a sophisticated product or remind us of the older grandma’s beauty and self-care secrets, z’har flavoured coffees and couscous. 

The History

Orange blossom, also known as “Neroli” or “Bitter Orange,” holds symbolic importance, and its usage spans centuries in our region. One of the earliest mentions of orange blossom in the SWANA region can be found in the history of Arab and Moorish cultures. As Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, orange blossom became popular as a beloved symbol of purity and prosperity.

In ancient Arabic poetry, orange blossom was often used as a metaphor for beauty, love, and sensuality. Its intoxicating aroma inspired artists, finding its way into the verses of love poems and romantic tales. 

During the Islamic Golden Age, from the 8th to the 14th centuries, scholars and scientists in the SWANA region made significant contributions to various fields, including botany and horticulture. They studied and cultivated plants like the Bitter Orange tree, and its flowers became an essential part of traditional medicine and beauty rituals.

Following that, as trade routes expanded between the SWANA region and Europe during the Middle Ages, the allure of orange blossom reached the European public. The fragrance of orange blossom was embraced by European royalty, becoming a symbol of luxury and opulence. The distilled oil of the blossoms, known as “Neroli oil,” was named after Princess Marie-Anne de La Trémoille, the Princess of Nerola, who was a fan of this scent and popularized its use in perfumes.

To this day, the tradition of orange blossom has been kept alive in various SWANA countries, and it is harvested every year in Lebanon, Tunisia, or Egypt. In Morocco, for example, orange blossoms play a significant role during the annual Festival of Roses in the Dades Valley.

How-To?

Here are some ways to use orange blossom in your beauty and self-care rituals:

  • As a toner: There are many available orange blossom-scented toners on the market, but you can also make your own by mixing orange blossom water with distilled water. Orange blossom water helps balance the skin’s pH, tighten pores, and provide glowy skin.

  • Aromatherapy (my favourite!): You can use a few drops of orange blossom essential oil in a diffuser or add a drop or two to a cotton ball and place it near your pillow for a calming and soothing vibe.

  • Orange Blossom Bath Soak: Add a few tablespoons of orange blossom water or a few drops of orange blossom essential oil to your warm bathwater.

  • Orange Blossom Face Mask: Combine orange blossom water with natural ingredients like honey, yoghurt, or clay to create a nourishing and hydrating face mask. Apply it to your face and leave it on for 15-20 minutes before rinsing off for a radiant complexion.

  • Hair products using orange blossom hydrolate:  Orange blossom hydrolate moisturizes and nourishes hair fibres, bringing back vitality and shine to dehydrated hair. Thanks to terpenes like linalool and limonene, its anti-inflammatory properties make it effective in soothing irritated scalps prone to itching and redness.

(Remember to perform a patch test before using orange blossom essential oil or products on your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies. Orange blossom is generally safe for most people, but it’s essential to ensure you don’t have any allergic reactions!)

Where To Find

In the UAE, you can find orange blossom products in various stores. Options include:

Souks and Traditional Markets: Visit local souks and traditional markets in the UAE, such as the Dubai Spice Souk or Abu Dhabi’s Central Market, where you can find authentic orange blossom water and other related products.

Alteya Organics: Alteya Organics offers a range of organic and certified organic beauty products, including orange blossom water, essential oil, and floral toners.

Neal’s Yard Remedies: Neal’s Yard Remedies is a brand focusing on organic ingredients. They offer a variety of orange blossom-infused skincare and aromatherapy products.

Now Foods: Now Foods produces high-quality essential oils and natural products, including orange blossom essential oil and floral waters. Available via this link.

L’Occitane also offers many orange blossom-infused products. A top seller is the Shea Orange Blossom Balm; it offers protection and nourishes the skin. 

Orange blossom fragrances are also perfect for summer. Our selection includes:

Tom Ford, Néroli Portofino: The distinctive Neroli Portofino fragrance, created in 2011, has now undergone a fresh and contemporary transformation, making it more approachable and wearable, according to its creator. The fragrance features a blend of néroli and aromatic citrus with hints of amber, now complemented by adding petitgrain, amber wood, and white musk notes. 

Hermes, Eau de Néroli Doré: This fragrance is a citrus-centric blend featuring an abundance of neroli. The simplicity of its composition is remarkably effective, as it combines the essence of orange blossom with the bitterness of Seville oranges and the warmth of saffron.

Diptyque, L’Eau De Neroli Eau De Toilette: Diptyque presents a familiar interpretation of the delicate yet majestic neroli essence. Inspired by the neroli harvest in Calabria, Italy, the fragrance captures the ambience of the region, where the scent of nearby bergamot crops, pollen, and freshly cut green leaves mingle with neroli.

Yasmine is a Tunisian-Italian freelance writer based in Amsterdam. Her writings are strongly inspired by her North African upbringing and culture, and her thoughts on identity and diasporic nostalgia. You will mostly find her reporting on societal phenomena in the MENA region, often in relation to digital culture, art, and fashion
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