Orange blossom water has a long history as a medicine, culinary ingredient and as a beauty preparation. Its roots can be traced back to the 8th century, and by the 14th century it was in widespread use throughout the Middle East and had also made its way to Sicily. From there its use became well established across Europe where it was a must have tonic among the wealthy elites.
Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France was a big fan of orange blossom water. Along with rose water and pigeon water (don’t ask!), orange blossom water was a mainstay of the beauty routine that kept her famed complexion blemish free and radiant, right up until the last days before she met Madame Guillotine in front of the crowd assembled on the Place de la Révolution in Paris.
As an indulged monarch, Marie Antoinette had access to the finest beauty preparations of the day, so her use of something as simple as orange blossom water clearly speaks to its wonderful skin care properties.
In addition to being a great skin treatment, orange blossom water is a general health tonic which can tackle many troublesome problems, and it’s also a centuries old culinary ingredient that has recently gained the notice and favor of foodies everywhere.
In 1888, a New Orleans bartender used orange flower water to create the cocktail that is known as a Ramos Gin Fizz!
What Is Orange Blossom Water?
The practice of distilling the flowers of the bitter orange tree into an essential oil and using the by-product, orange blossom water, originated in the Middle East.
Orange blossom water is also known as orange flower water and neroli hydrosol. A hydrosol is simply a flower water, and neroli is the essential oil obtained from the deliciously fragrant flowers of the bitter orange tree.
In the 17th century the duchess of Bracciano and princess of Nerola, Anne Marie Orsini, introduced the essence of the bitter orange tree as a fragrance, and this essence has carried the name neroli ever since.
Orange blossom water is a byproduct of the steam distillation process that creates neroli essential oil. This clear water, like the blossoms themselves smells amazing. Sweetly floral with a hint of citrus, it perfectly captures the heady aroma of an orange grove as its springtime blooms wake up to greet the warm Mediterranean sun.
This floral water gets its beneficial properties because an estimated 25% of the distillable essential oil in the blossoms remains dissolved or dispersed in the water after the distillation process has finished.
Benefits Of Orange Blossom Water For Your Skin
Cleanses and exfoliates—Orange blossom water contains a natural alpha hydroxyl acid that will gently cleanse and exfoliates your skin without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
Astringent—As a natural astringent, orange blossom water tightens, firms and tones your skin while gently removing excess oils and minimizing enlarged pores.
Anti-inflammatory—Being an anti-inflammatory, orange blossom water calms inflamed skin and soothes sensitive and damaged skin.
Antibacterial—Orange blossom water is antibacterial and clears away germs before they can cause infection and irritation. Its antibacterial action is attributed to its camphene, linalool, limonene and alpha pinene content.
Antioxidant—With powerful antioxidants, orange blossom water combats damaging free radicals and prevents premature aging.
How To Use Orange Blossom Water To Pamper Your Skin
As a cleanser—orange blossom water is a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its natural protective oils. Apply to your skin with your fingertips and massage in, then wipe away with a cotton pad to remove dirt, grime and excess sebum. You can use orange blossom water to cleanse skin that’s troubled by eczema or acne without causing any irritation.
As a skin toner—orange blossom water is so gentle that it is a common ingredient in baby products in France, so it’s perfect for even the most sensitive and delicate skin. Replace your usual toner with orange blossom water, for an all natural and richly scented skin care treat.
To seal in moisture—moisturize with a small amount of moisturizing oil (coconut, jojoba, argan etc.) then apply a small amount of orange blossom water over the top to lock the moisture in place.
As a soothing face mask—orange blossom will cool and soothe inflamed skin, including skin affected by rosacea, acne, eczema, psoriasis, dryness and dermatitis. To calm inflammation, add orange blossom water to a face mask.
- 2 teaspoons of finely ground oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon of raw honey
- A small amount of orange blossom water
Mix the oatmeal and honey together, then add enough orange blossom water to make a smooth paste. Gently apply to your skin and leave for 30 minutes before cleaning off with warm water and a soft cloth.
As a soothing, relaxing body soak—mix 3 cups of slightly warmed milk with quarter of a cup of orange blossom water and 2 tablespoons of honey. Add the mixture to a warm bath, then lie back and relax while your skin is rejuvenated.
To soothe sunburn—keep a bottle of orange blossom water in your fridge in the summertime to have the perfect skin soothing remedy always to hand. Orange blossom water will cool down hot, angry skin and promote cell regeneration, which speeds up healing of the damaged skin.
As an acne treatment—use morning and night on cleansed skin to gently exfoliate those pore clogging skin cells away and clear excess sebum. Orange blossom water soothes irritation and reduces redness. It won’t magic your acne away overnight, but it will steadily improve the condition with regular use. It’s delicious fragrance will certainly make you feel less stressed about the condition of your skin too.
It’s perfect for pimples too—as soon as one rears it ugly head, zap it out of existence with a few drops of orange blossom water.
To protect your skin from premature aging—apply orange blossom water to cleansed skin each night before bed to prevent fine lines and wrinkles.
To replace other products for sensitive skin—neroli essential oil is one of the best essential oils for sensitive skin types and orange blossom water is even milder than the essential oil. You can replace most of your other skin care products with orange blossom water to keep your skin clean and soft without any irritation.
To soothe an itch—whenever you have an annoying, itchy patch of skin, a bug bite or a rash, find fast relief that cools the itch and calms the irritation, with an application of orange blossom water. You can smooth a few drops over the area with your fingertips or soak a cotton ball or pad in a little orange blossom water and then dab onto the affected area.
To smell irresistible—Use orange blossom water on damp skin after a bath or shower to have wonderfully perfumed skin. Dab a little anywhere that you like, but especially your pulse points, and in the summertime splash some on your bare arms and legs.
Other Uses For Orange Blossom Water
Use it to help you sleep—orange blossom water is well known for its calming and comforting properties. Sprinkle a little onto a cotton handkerchief and tuck it next to your pillow. Then climb into bed and let the scent help you to gently drift away.
To destress—if you’ve ever stood underneath an orange tree in bloom you’ll have noticed the calming effect that the fragrance induces. To linger in the morning sun, engulfed by orange blossom is just bliss. And when you have orange blossom water, you’ve got bliss in a bottle.
One of the traditional medicinal uses for orange blossom water was as a tonic to relieve stress and anxiety. Orange blossom water can be added to recipes or drinks, or simply used on the skin to experience its stress busting aromatherapy qualities.
To fill a finger bowl—you can make a wonderfully fragrant finger bowl for your dinner guests to refresh their hands with as they eat, especially if you’re serving finger foods. Just fill attractive bowls with water and add a little orange blossom water.
Make a room fragrance—ditch those nasty, artificial cans of fug that you buy at the supermarket and fill your home with the fresh, floral sweet aroma of orange blossom instead. Add a couple of teaspoons of orange blossom water to a pan of boiling water and let the aroma drift through your house. You can also use it in an oil burner, or just spritz it into the air. Your home will smell gorgeous and the fragrance will brighten your mood and relax you (and your kids and even your pets).
The unfortunate Marie Antoinette filled her rooms at Versailles with orange blossoms and roses to disguise the not so pleasant aromas that permeated the grand palace.
Use it in your steam iron—Freshen your linens and clothes, and make ironing less of a chore, with a drop or two of orange blossom water added to the steam chamber of your iron.
Add it to water as a drink—when you need a change from plain water, you can add half a teaspoon of orange blossom water to a glass of cold water. This produces a subtly flavored and slightly sweet refreshing drink that is perfect on a hot summer’s day.
Use in salad dressings—one of the many culinary uses of orange blossom water is as a salad dressing ingredient. To make your own dressing, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of lime juice, lemon juice or vinegar and half a teaspoon of orange blossom water. Add a touch of salt and pepper and pour onto your salad.
As a tonic to settle an upset stomach—historically orange blossom water was used to relieve upset stomachs—nausea, vomiting, trapped wind and indigestion. It’s still widely used today in the Middle East for this purpose. In Germany where many herbal preparations are routinely used in medicine, orange blossom water has been approved by the governmental regulatory commission known as Commission E. This is the German equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.
Add a distinct flavor to desserts—orange blossom water was used in the past to flavor all kinds of dishes for the nobility of Europe. It was especially prized for the flavor that it brought to desserts. A good way to test the flavor for yourself is to add it to chocolate sauces and chocolate desserts, but use no more than half a teaspoon or the flavor will be too strong.
George Washington was served a dessert of orange blossom water flavored meringues surrounded by a sea of orange blossom infused custard. He was so impressed that he brought the recipe back to the Unites States, and it was a regular on the menu at Monticello. In France the dish was called oeufs à la neige or snow eggs. If you would like to look up the recipe and give it a whirl in your own kitchen, its English name is Floating Islands.
To soothe a cough—orange blossom water can be added to a tea containing lemon, cinnamon and honey. This mixture will suppress a cough and ease a sore throat.
To stop diarrhea—thanks to its high pectin content, orange blossom has antidiarrhoeal properties and can offer relief for that problem. You can also apply the orange blossom water topically to soothe the sore skin that diarrhea can cause.
How To Find Orange Blossom Water
Orange blossom water comes ready made and is widely available online, in pharmacies and at Middle Eastern and Halal grocery stores. Or you can unleash your inner goddess and make your own from dried or fresh orange blossoms.
There are two ways that you can do this. You can employ a very do-it-yourself form of steam distillation, or you can make an infusion. An infusion still contains most of the tonic benefits and retains the intense aroma of the steam distilled orange blossom water.
An infusion is simply a tea. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make orange blossom water.
There’s no need to pay high prices for someone else to make such a simple product for you. And making your own herbal preparations and flower waters is supremely satisfying. It could even be your first step into the ancient healing traditions enshrined in folklore. I won’t say witch if you won’t.
To make an infusion you’ll need
- Bitter orange flower blossoms, dried or fresh
- Distilled water
- Water for washing the petals if using fresh petals
- Mortar and pestle
- Large glass jar with lid
- Small sterilized glass jars or bottles
- If you’re lucky enough to live near orange trees and the trees aren’t sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or insecticides, then you can use those flowers. Otherwise you can find dried blossoms online.
- Pick orange blossoms first thing in the morning before the sun gets too hot. That’s a good rule to follow for any herbal preparations that you might like to make.
- Wash fresh blossoms in cool water to remove any dirt and insects.
- Crush the fresh or dried blossoms using a mortar and pestle and let sit for several hours.
- Place the crushed blossoms in a large glass jar and cover with distilled water. Don’t use too much at first, you can always add more later.
- Pop the lid on and leave the infusion to sit in sunlight on a windowsill for two weeks. Check the scent, if it’s too faint leave it to infuse for another week.
- Strain the blossom water into sterilized jars or bottles with lids. Store in a cool dark location such as the refrigerator.
To make a distillation, you’ll need
- A large enamel or stainless steel cooking pot with a lid
- A very clean brick or flat stone
- Six handfuls of fresh, or 3 handfuls of dried orange blossom
- A bowl or jug that will fit inside the pot—stainless steel or heat resistant glass.
- Ice cubes or a larger block of ice—freeze water in a yogurt tub or similar plastic container
- Put your cooking pot on the stove and place the brick or stone in the bottom.
- Add enough water to the pot to almost come up to the top of the brick.
- Add the orange blossoms.
- Place your bowl or jug on top of the brick.
- Take your pot lid and place it upside down on the cooking pot. It must be upside down or this won’t work.
- Fill the inverted lid with ice.
- Turn on the heat and once the water has reached a gentle simmer, reduce the heat for a further 20-30 minutes.
Here’s what is happening inside your pot. As the steam containing the oils from the flowers rises, it hits the ice cooled lid and condenses back to a liquid. These drops of condensate will travel along the inverted lid to its center, where they will collect and drip off into your jug.
After 30 minutes turn off the heat and carefully remove the lid. 30 minutes is long enough for all of the oils to be extracted from your blossoms.
Sitting inside the jug is your steam distilled orange blossom water. Allow it to cool to room temperature then transfer it to a sterilized jar or bottle.
This floral water will be stable for about 6 months and it will store better in the fridge.
This steam distillation method isn’t just for orange blossoms, you can use it to make any number of herbal and floral preparations. Just be certain that you know the profile of the ingredients that you’re using to make sure that they are safe for your intended use.