Notes from the Apothecary: The Orange
Oranges: juicy, bright globes filled with vitamin C and sunshine. The orange is a citrus fruit that’s one of the most cultivated fruits in the world, and may have been cultivated by humans for around 2,500 years. The sweet orange as we know it today is a hybrid of mandarins and pomelos, and is very different from bitter oranges, the likes of which often line the streets of towns in Mediterranean countries. I once made the mistake of plucking and peeling a juicy looking orange while in Spain, only to have my mouth shrivelled by the intense bitterness! Sweet oranges, in comparison, are eaten worldwide for their flesh and juice – and their immune-system boosting vitamins.
The Kitchen Garden
Growing your own oranges may be possible if you have the right climate, which is sunny and not too cool. If you live in a climate prone to frost or a lack of sunshine (like I do!) then you may be able to manage with indoor plants or a greenhouse. I’ve currently got two citrus plants growing on a sunny windowsill. I did have a baby orange tree, but I didn’t water it enough and it died, so learn from my mistake! Lots of sun and lots of water, but don’t let it stay sodden so that mould or fungus can grow on the soil. I’m considering trying to grow one from an orange pip next time we get fruits from the market, so I’ll report back on how that goes.
Orange blossom is one of my favourite scents, and even if you don’t grow oranges, you can often get products fragranced with orange blossom. You can even get culinary orange blossom oil, to add floral-orange notes to cakes, biscuits, cookies, and icing. In our garden, we have inherited a sweet mock orange (pictured), which has a fragrance so close to true orange that it’s incredible. However, it doesn’t boast the sweet fruits that the real orange tree does.
One of our favourite things to do with a big bag of oranges, as we sometimes get from our local food waste initiative, is to make a batch of marmalade. This sticky, orange jam is a big hit with everyone in our house.
It’s well known that oranges are a fabulous source of vitamin C. Interestingly, despite their good rep, oranges are not the fruit highest in vitamin C. The Kakadu plum has that honour, and other fruits like the guava and strawberries have more vitamins C per gram of fruit than oranges. The other drawback to filling up on oranges is that they contain so much sugar that they aren’t always considered conventionally “healthy”. If you’re going to use orange for your daily vitamin C boost, it’s best to eat the fruit rather than chugging a litre of orange juice, as the high fibre content of the fruit’s flesh is missing from even the freshest juice.
Eating oranges and other vitamin C-rich foods stop the breakdown of tissues, which used to be known as scurvy and was, for many years, the scourge of sailors on long voyages. Extended periods without vitamin C leads to sores, bleeding, brittle bones, and eventually death. Unlike many animals, humans can’t produce vitamin C, which may be due to our ancestors genetically “forgetting” how to due to being primates that regularly fed on exotic fruits.
The Witch’s Kitchen
The orange originated in the east and the first written records mentioning cultivated oranges are from China around 300 BCE. Oranges may not have reached Europe until the 10th century CE, and Spanish colonists brought the fruit to America, probably in the 15th century. That means most western folklore around the orange is relatively modern, however that certainly doesn’t make it any less compelling or powerful. Oranges may be associated with:
- Success in money or love
- Social status
- Sunshine and summer
- Triumphs and achievements
The negative aspects of oranges could be egotism or narcissism, prioritizing wealth over what’s really important, or wallowing in failures rather than reaching for the next opportunity.
It’s possible that the golden apples of Greek mythology could actually be oranges, but that’s open to interpretation.
Home and Hearth
Add orange peel to any incense to boost its effectiveness by imbuing it with the power of success. Plus, it smells amazing! For the best results, carefully dry out your orange peel before burning it. You can do this by removing all the pith (the white substance) so just the oily, orange peel is left. You can cut the peel into strips and place it on a rack in a cool oven (about 200 F) for half an hour. Check frequently to ensure the peel doesn’t brown or burn.
Alternatively, place the strips of peel on a rack in a sunny or heated but not humid area, with good ventilation. You don’t want moisture to settle on the peel as it can go mouldy, making it unusable. Air drying takes about 48 hours and leaves enough orange oil remaining in the peel to naturally preserve the peel and make it fragrant for burning in incense or using in pot pourri. Chop finely and mix with your favourite incense or use the strips whole mixed into pot pourri or in a small, porous bag to fragrance a room or a drawer. It’s possible to also dry out whole slices of orange for a more dramatic look.
I Never Knew…
In Chinese medicine, the orange is considered a Yin food, which is cooling and good for fevers and coughs.
*Images copyright free via Unsplash except for Mock Orange, copyright Mabh Savage 2021.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.