Petitgrain is an essential oil, popular as an aromatherapy treatment and widely used in perfumes and cosmetics. It is a thin oil, no more viscous than water, and it ranges in color from clear to pale yellow. The scent is usually described as woody, tinged with slight floral and citrus undercurrents.
Manufacturers extract the oil from fresh leaves and twigs of the orange tree, most often the bitter orange, though other varieties are sometimes used. The oil is extracted through steam distillation. Petitgrain is one of three essential oils produced by the orange tree. Orange blossoms also can be used to produce neroli, and the fruit rinds are used to make orange oil.
Once, unripe fruits were picked when they were about cherry-size and were used to make the oil. The name "petitgrain," or "little grain," is derived from this process. Other unripe citrus fruits such as lemons or mandarins were sometimes used. This method, however, severely reduced the crop of mature fruits and was abandoned in favor of the more profitable leaf extraction.
Cosmetic products often use petitgrain for its scent, and colognes are especially likely to contain this oil. Other perfumes and beauty products use it as a substitute for neroli oil, which is considerably more expensive. It can also be used as a food additive, providing an orange flavor without adding sweetness.
Skin care products used to treat acne or greasy skin often contain petitgrain. It has antiseptic properties that can help clear the complexion, and it can be used topically as a traditional treatment for problem skin. Shampoos made to treat greasy hair might also include this oil.
Stomach complaints traditionally have been treated with petitgrain as well. Flatulence, bloating and upset stomach have all been treated through with this oil. Its reputed calming effects might also be responsible for this reputation as a cure for stomach discomfort.
Aromatherapists most often use petitgrain to reduce stress and anxiety. Burners and vaporizers can be used to release the scent into the atmosphere. It also can be used as massage oil, or a few drops can be added to the bath for a relaxing soak.
Advocates recommend this oil to treat anxiety, panic, insomnia, depression and other forms of emotional distress. Treatment might help individuals to relax, but its effectiveness for this has not been clinically proved. In cases of severe or chronic symptoms, aromatherapy is recommended as a complementary treatment, not a substitute for professional medical care.