Petitgrain Essential Oil and/or Hydrosol Profile

By Jeanne Rose ~ 3-17-16

Petitgrain is a particular EO and not a species; leaves and twigs from any citrus when distilled are called Petitgrain (small fruit) and depending on terroir the scent is different. Includes formulas and recipes.

Common Name/Latin Binomial: Petitgrain is the name of a particular essential oil and is not a particular plant species, it is the results of distilling the leaves and twigs of citrus and can be made from any citrus. Normally, it is from Citrus x aurantium (L.).

Other Common Name/Naming Information: Originally, Petitgrain which means “small seed” was actually distilled from the immature and small round green fruits of the Citrus trees.  Of course, if you distill the fruits then there will be no mature fruit to eat or preserve.  So eventually, the distillation was limited to the leaves and small branchlets but the oil is still called Petitgrain.

Blossoms of the true bitter (sour) orange tree, Citrus x aurantium Linnaeus, subsp. amara L., on being distilled yield Neroli bigarade oil. If, on the other hand, the leaves and petioles (leaf stalk) are distilled, oil and hydrosol of Petitgrain bigarade is obtained.

Petitgrain oil and hydrosol is thus produced from the Bitter Orange tree after the harvest of the flowers (for Neroli); leaves and stalks are freshly picked in July-October and freshly and immediately distilled for the best product.

It should be emphasized that American producers wishing to produce Petitgrain oil and hydrosol be very careful as to the citrus variety they use, time of harvesting and the type of distillation.

Family: Rutaceae

Countries of Origins: Oil of Petitgrain was originally distilled in Paraguay and is now distilled in Egypt, France, Italy, Morocco, USA and still also distilled in Paraguay.  However, in Paraguay the plant that is distilled is a hybrid of the sweet and the bitter Orange that has gone wild and thus the oil and hydrosol is of lower quality.  Main producing areas are the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Corsica, Sicily, etc. and California, Florida and South America, each of these countries produce citrus oils that are organoleptically identifiable.

Gathering Petitgrain leaves 1919

Gathering Bitter Orange leaves in 1919.

Eden Botanicals Harvest Location: Egypt and Morocco

 Endangered or Not: Not at this time.

 General description of Plant habitat and growth: Citrus is grown in tropical and subtropical areas, including various southern areas in southern USA. They are found in sunny, warm areas throughout the world.  The tree is a small evergreen tree, somewhat cold-hardy and tolerant of drought, but if Mandarin the fruit itself is very delicate and sensitive to the cold.  Citrus blooms in winter months, produces small green fruits in spring, fruits ripen in fall. grows at a pH of 6 to 8.  They do not, however, grow well in soils with a high salt content. Leaves are harvested late June to October for distillation.

Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields: Petitgrain is produced by steam distilling the leaves and small branches of certain citrus trees.  The yields are 0.25-0.5%.  The most important of the Petitgrain oils comes from the Bitter Orange tree. Paraguay is a big producer of lower-priced Petitgrain.  Higher quality Petitgrain comes from France and Italy, Egypt and Morocco.

True Petitgrain oil and hydrosol should originate exclusively from the true bitter Orange tree. These distillations show that the oil will have a relatively high laevorotation and the presence of leaves from sweet Orange trees will result in oils of lower laevorotation, or even dextrorotation.

The quality of Petitgrain depends on various factors:

  1. The leaf material should originate exclusively from the bitter or sour Orange tree.
  2. The leaf material should not contain any wooden branches, nor any small unripe fruit (in spite of the name).
  3. The leaf material should be distilled rapidly and with direct steam that is generated in a separate boiler. The leaves must not be immersed in water, as this will cause hydrolysis of the linalyl acetate which is the most important constituent. Properly distilled the oil and hydrosol will have a high ester content.
  4. The plants of Southern France bloom in May and June and these flowers used for Neroli production. While the leaves and petioles for Petitgrain are harvested from the pruning after the Neroli harvest which is from late June to October.

Organoleptic Characterstics

 Petitgrain absolutePetitgrain Bigarade-organicPetitgrain Mandarin-organicPetitgrain Sur Fleurs-organic
Color:Dark YellowVery pale yellowPale yellowColorless
Viscosity:Non-viscous Non-viscous Non-viscous Non-viscous
Intensity of Odor:
Scale is 1-10 with 1=lowest

Bergamot & Amber =2; Rose Geranium = 4; Tea Tree= 6; Cinnamon = 8; Wintergreen & Cloves = 9

Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment: Petitgrain has a strong, bitter-sweet, floral and somewhat woody odor, sometimes vegetative (bad), dry and a bit leathery. The woody smell is from the sesquiterpene alcohol, spathulenol.  Aldehydes contribute to the odorous principle, even though they are in small amounts.  Another important constituent is the pyrazines with their Galbanum-like green notes. It is important to mention that the trace components in Petitgrain leads to a good scent and especially in perfumery where they are important when the scent needs to be reconstituted.

[see the Circular Vocabulary of Odor© at the end for an analyses of each Petitgrain sampled]


General Properties: Antispasmodic, tonic and astringent

Properties and Uses: Inhaled to ease the nervous system and soothe nerve that stimulate the muscles; used in skin care properties for excessive acne, to reduce excessive perspiration and in shampoo and soap for greasy hair and skin. It is a great toner to all body care products. Wonderful in woody or fougére perfumes.

What does Jeanne Rose use this EO for?  I like to take a tablespoon of unscented cleanser or oil and add 1 drop of Petitgrain EO, especially the low intensity oil, such as Bigerade and mix these and apply to my skin. Then I take a warm wash cloth and touch it to my face to warm the skin, and then rinse, rinse, rinse with warm water. My skin feels clean and ready for the day.

Application/ Skincare: A useful antiseptic, it kills bacteria on the skin and works well in cleansers. It can leave the skin feeling clean and reduces acne.

a Jeanne Rose Recipe for the skin.

Aftershave Therapy for Men

  • 4 drops of Lavender oil
  • 4 drops of Bergamot
  • 4 drops of Petitgrain
  • 3 drops of Atlas Cedar oil
  • Make your synergy and succuss.
  • Dilute to your specifications or as follows,
  • Add 45 drops carrier oil, lotion or alcohol to dilute to = 25% EO

Diffuse/Diffusion: Petitgrain can be diffused by itself or in any blend. It lends a tart citrus or green quality and the air feels clean. It soothes the nervous system, is antispasmodic and is inhaled for “nervous exhaustion or stress.” — 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols, p. 127

Jeanne Rose’s experience with this EO: Orange Flower and Petitgrain Distillation. At the end of March 2003, I had the opportunity to distill 5 pounds of pure Orange Flowers for Sweet Neroli Hydrosol obtained from a sweet naval Orange, variety Atwood. The balance of the leaves and flowers was then sent to another distiller for the Orange Flower and Petitgrain hydrosol.

The trees were grown in the foothills edging the great central valley of California near the town of Lindsay. The trees are grown organically, at 500 feet with a west exposure in full sun and the area is certified organic. The area is irrigated via the San Joaquin river. The soil is USDA Porterville cobbly clay. There is about 12 inches of rainfall per year. The harvest was on Wednesday 3/25/03 from about 15 trees. Harvest weather was overcast to full sun, about 75º F 30% humidity.  It took 6 hours for two persons to fill 13 five-gallon buckets with twigs and flowers. This was transported to San Francisco and arrived on Thursday. Each tree produced about 1 bucket (3.3 lbs./bucket) of easily available twigs with flowers.  This effectively gently pruned the tree of excess flowers and will leave it able to produce more and tastier Oranges.

We started with 43 pounds of twiglets that had blossoms and buds attached. It took 3 man hours (1 hour for 3 persons) to pick off the flowers and to accumulate the 5 pounds of just-opened flowers.  The fragrance was sweet, intense, floral and fruity with some green back notes. The balance of the leaves and flowers (38 pounds) was sent to the larger stainless steel unit, 1-hour north. A 4-inch copper tube was added to the gooseneck. Two hours of distillation produced 12 gallons of hydrosol. pH began at 5, the scent being green and citrus and as the distillation continued, pH became more acid to 4.4, the scent becoming more rich, citrus and spicy. 3 ml of essential oil was produced from the 38 pounds of twigs and flowers.


Emotional/Energetic Use: Inhaled for nervous exhaustion, fatigue or stress.

Key Use: Inhale to soothe panic and outside for clean skin, that is, body-care products and inhaled for the nervous system.

Physiochemical Properties:

The quality if Petitgrain oil can be evaluated by its physicochemical properties. Here are the properties of genuine Petitgrain distilled in Southern France as outlined in Guenther’s work.

Comparison of Main Components: The high amount of ester in the form of linalyl acetate lends the fruity odor to the oil while various amounts of the other components lend the personality to each of the different type of Petitgrain.Chemical Components: 80% of the yield is made up of linalyl acetate and linaloöl in a proportion of 2:1 and limonene, dipentene, citral and others.

Linalyl acetatelinalyl acetate

Petitgrain bigarade is used in perfumes for its refreshing, sweet-floral notes and often as a substitute for Neroli.

Blends Best with: Bergamot and all types of Citrus, Clary Sage, Clove, Atlas Cedar, Lemon Eucalyptus, Frankincense, scented Geranium, jasmine. Juniper CO2, Labdanum, Lavender, Oakmoss, Palmarosa, Patchouli, all types of Rose, Rosemary, Sage, and any floral, and Ylang Ylang.

Blending with a Jeanne Rose formula

Citrus Nectar-Petitgrain

Nectar for the Gods, reminiscent of delirious concoction prepared by men of the cloth for generations

Solid Tuberose Perfume Formula #2 – Jeanne Rose 2003

Another Formula is: 1/2 oz.  Tuberose wax and 1/2 oz. Lavender infused Oil.  Melt in a 1 oz. jar in a water bath – slowly and carefully. When the wax is melted add the following scents: 15 drops Jasmine, 15 drops Ylang extra, 15 drops Vanilla, 15 drops Neroli or Petitgrain Mandarin and 3 drops Vetivert. If you have it, you can also add 3-5 drops Tuberose to bring out the caramel scent. Stir gently, let it sit until cool and solid.

HYDROSOL: In 2003, we distilled 38 lbs. of leaves and twigs for hydrosol. This was a wonderful hydrosol, very fragrant and sweet.  It was used in skin care products and simply as a mister.  Several misting products were produced using the hydrosol. Mixed 50/50 with Spearmint hydrosol produced a very refreshing and fragrant fruity, citrus mint hydrosol. Fabulous to use. If the citrus farmers of central California would collect and distill leaves and twigs of their sweet Orange crop they would have a value-added product in the way of Petitgrain hydrosol.

PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh

Historical Uses: Petitgrain is used since the 1700’s in the Perfumery industry. It lends a citrus woody note to perfumes.

Interesting Information: Petitgrain from Citrus aurantium: Essential Oil of Paraguay” by Daniel Gade — EcoBot 33(1), 1979, pp.63-71


Pictures from 1919 Scientific American of the Gathering of the leaves of the bitter-orange. For Petitgrain


Contraindications: It is not like other citrus oils as it is steam-distilled and not cold-pressed and thus is not photosensitive. Only contraindications are if you have already sensitivities to citrus oils.

Safety Precautions: GRASgenerally recognized as safe.

Patch Test Link: Patch Test:  If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in an vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64

Petitgrain Vocabulary of Odor

Using the Advanced Vocabulary of Odor to describe the scent of Mandarin Petitgrain leaves. by Jeanne Rose

Arctander, Steffen. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Arctander. 1960
Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Krieger Publishing. Florida. 1976
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol.  IAG Botanics. 2015 (supporter of testing hydrosols)
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose. San Francisco California, 1992
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Mojay, Gabriel.  Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit.  Rochester, Vermont:  Healing Arts Press, 1999.
Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:
Worwood, Susan & Valerie Ann.  Essential Aromatherapy, Novato, California: New World Library, 2003.

Do not Ingest Essential Oils

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©


Petitgrain absPetitgrain absolute ~ lovely perfume ingredient

Originally, Petitgrain, which means “small seed” was actually distilled from the immature and small, round green fruits of the Citrus trees.  Of course, if you distill the fruits then there will be no mature fruit to eat or preserve.  So eventually, the distillation was limited to the leaves and small branchlets but the oil is still called Petitgrain.

Floral Petitgrain


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