bitter orange
© 2018 Steven Foster

A bitter orange monograph for the home

Latin Name: Citrus aurantium

Common Names: bitter orange, Seville orange, sour orange, zhi shi

This bitter orange monograph provides basic information about bitter orange—common names, usefulness and safety, and resources for more information.


Bitter Orange Basics

  • Native to eastern Africa and tropical Asia, bitter orange now is grown throughout the Mediterranean region and elsewhere, including California and Florida.
  • Bitter orange has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and by indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest for constipation. Amazonian natives also used it for nausea and indigestion.
  • Today, people use various bitter orange products as a dietary supplement for heartburn, loss of appetite, nasal congestion, and weight loss. It is also applied to the skin for pain, bruises, and bed sores.
  • Bitter orange, used in some weight-loss products, contains synephrine, which is similar to the main chemical in the herb ephedra. Ephedra is banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it raises blood pressure and is linked to heart attack and stroke.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) placed synephrine (bitter orange) on its current list of banned drugs.
  • The fruit, peel, flower, and oil are used and can be taken by mouth in tablets and capsules. Bitter orange oil can be applied to the skin.

Bitter Orange in Health Research

  • Only a few studies have investigated the usefulness of bitter orange as a dietary supplement for health purposes in people.

Bitter Orange Research Summary

  • Applying bitter orange oil to the skin may help with ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot infections.
  • There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bitter orange for other health purposes.

Bitter Orange Safety

  • There are case reports of healthy people experiencing fainting, heart attack, and stroke after taking bitter orange alone or with caffeine. However, evidence regarding the effects of bitter orange (alone or combined with other substances, such as caffeine and green tea) on the heart and cardiovascular system are inconclusive.
  • Because products that contain bitter orange may be unsafe, pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid them.

Bitter Orange References