The Citrus in the Old Pharmacopoeias

The importance of some species of Citrus (orange, lemon, citron) in therapy and pharmacy received official recognition with the appearance of the first pharmacopoeias.

In the 1550 edition of the El Ricettario del I’Arte et Universita de Medici, et Spetiali della Citta di Firenze we find the recipe for a Sciroppo di Acetosita di Limoni. Later editions (Ricettario Fiorentino, 1802) included preparations using the leaves, fruit peel, fresh orange flowers, fresh citron fruit juice (Citrus limonia off., C. medica Linn.) and the peel of the fruit of lemon, Mela Rosa, bergamot etc. These were considered varieties of citron and were used for preparing Acqua Carminativa Comune. Orange and lemon peel was used for preparing Acqua di Fior d’Aranci (Vulgo Acqua Lanfa). The following are also described: Waters of whole citron or orange, lemon and bergamot peel; troches of orange or citron or lime, from the peel of the fruit; orange, bergamot, citron, lemon or Mela Rosa peel oil; Lemon juice syrup (Sciroppo d!Acetosita di Limoni) and Orange or Citron Peel Syrup.

The Antidotarium of Carolus Clusius, published in Antwerp in 1561, describes how to prepare conserves of citriorum, malorum medicorum and limonum, and Syrupus acetositatis citri Mesuae, which amongst other things was reputed to mitigate burning fever and pestilence and to be effective against drunkenness and di2ziness. The Syrupus acetositatis limonum or the Syrupus e corticibus Citri was held to fortify the brain, the stomach and the heart and freshen the breath (oris gratiam commendat).

The Officina Medicamentorum et Methodus, published in Valencia in 1601, describes Syrupus De Corticibus, Succus ex acetositate Limonum and Acqua florii citranguli, id est Aqua Naphae.

In the Pharmacopea Dogmaticorum Restituta by Iosepho Quercetano (1608), counsellor and royal physician, orange and lemon peel are used as part of the complex preparation of Aqua imperialis communis, et paratu facilis and of Elixir vitae maius, admirandum reme-dium ad inueteratos morbos, peneque desperatos propulsandos, sanitatem conseruandam, vitamque ipsam prorogandam; of Aliud elixi paratu facillimum, of Aqua theriacalis, cordialis, et of Bezoardica, omnibus cordis pathematis, pestiferisque affectibus, miro progressu conferens, sudor-esque mouens. Citron seeds were used in Aqua antepileptica maior Quercet, in Alia aqua ad epilepsiam, apoplexiam etparalysim Quercet, citron peel in Aqua dysenterica and lemon juice in Potio ad Gonorrhoeam yirulentam seu foetidam. Citron and lemon juice (acetositat citrij o de limonio) were used in the preparation of Syrupi refrigerantes and Syrupi aromatum or as Bilem flauam conqiientes and Syrupus hellehoratus minor o maior Quercetani, the latter two of which were reputed useful for myriad ailments affecting various organs, including head, chest, stomach, liver, uterus, spleen, etc.

In the 1641 edition of the Pharmacopoeia Bruxellensis, orange fruit is one of the components used for producing Aqua catharralis, while citron peel and seeds were used for preparing Acetum Theriacale, lemon or citron peel for preparing Liquores per deliquimn, and lemon juice or syrup was widely used in various preparations. Orange, citron and lemon peel were used for preparing candied fruit, and citron fruit flesh (Medullae Citriorum. vel Limonum magnorum) for obtaining the Conserva Acredinis Citri. We find these drugs in various preparations, such as powder to combat the plague, aromatic species, and antidote formulations.

The Pharmacopoea UItrajectina of 1656 includes a recipe for lemon syrup. In the Pharmacopoea Hagiensis (1659) orange peel is used for preparing Aqua Hysterica or is candied (condita), while citron peel is one of the many ingredients of Aqua Vitae Composita.

Also in the Pharmacia Antverpiensis of 1661 in the formulation oi Species Aromaticae, Antidota and Opiata we find the peel or seeds of citron and lemon. However, it is interesting to note that in the chapter on cosmetic formulations (De Cosmeticis), appearing for the first time in a Pharmacopoeia, we find the citron (Citra incisa et contusa) in the preparation of Aqua cosmetica; lemon juice with egg white was used to for preparing Pomatum de limonibus or was included in preparations oi Pasta Alanualis. In the Aquae Chymicae section, citron and orange peel and citron juice and bruised seeds were among the many ingredients of Aqua Theriacalis, while lemon and citron featured in equal proportions amongst the ingredients oi Aqua cardiaca frigida Saxoniae.

The Antidotarium Gandavense of 1663 lists orange and citron flowers, citron seeds, and citron and lemon juice among the simples used in pharmacy, and citron peel as one of the ingredients of Cerevisia laxativa; it also refers to syrups of citron juice, citrus peel (per se purgati: having a laxative action?), lemon juice, candied orange, citron and lemon. Furthermore, citron seeds were included in the Confectio de hyacintho and in the Pulvis ad verities, and the peel in the Species laetitiae Galem.

In 1629 Ioannes Baptista Cortesius, Bononiense, doctor and philosopher and professor of Practical medicine at the Gymnasio Messinese, compiled a Pharmacopea sen Antidotarium Messanense, for which he consulted not only the works of Dioscorides, Galen, Valerius Cordus, etc., but also more recent works and the Pharmacopoeias and Antidotaria of the times. Here too we find syrups of citron or lemon juice and citron seeds and peel in the Syrupus de Succo Endiuiae compositus Gentilis with ‘refrigeranti et exsiccandi’ properties, citron or lemon juice in the Syrupus de Pomis cum sena Quercetani with a purgative effect. Citron flowers are one of the ingredients in a syrup to counteract malignant fever. Cirron and lemon juices are classified as Aque frigide, and Aqua thoracica which contained them was used as an expectorant in the treatment of pneumonia, pleurisy, etc. An Electuarium de Citro solutiuum was held to be very useful for continuous fevers. The Elixir Thadei Florentine, one of the ingredients of which was citron peel, was considered highly effective against tremors, paralysis, neck pains, for delaying balding and reducing kidney stones. Various theriacal waters, electuaries and antidotes contain citron peel and lemon juice in their compositions. We also find candied orange, lemon and citron peel which fortify (roborani) the stomach and heart and freshen the breath.

The Roman Pietro Castelli, a philosopher and physician and disciple of Andrea Cisalpino, and professor of practical medicine at the Mamertinorum Gymnasia in Messina, as lecturer in simples (Simplicium lectoris) added practical demonstrations (Ostensio simplicium) to theory lessons. In 1638 in Messina he created the first Garden of Simples in Sicily, which he illustrated in detail in a booklet of which only a few copies survive (Castelli, 1640). In 1678 the University of Messina was closed down and the Hortus Messanensis destroyed by the Spanish, against whom the inhabitants of Messina had risen up four years earlier. Thanks to a well-organised network of correspondents, Castelli had grown Sicilian species in the garden together with exotic species introduced from India, Arabia, America, Egypt, China, Ponto, Persia, Spain, Belgium, Peru and Turkey, as Castelli, himself wrote in a letter sent to Domenico Panaroli (Universita di Messina, 1989)

‘Maxima cum voluptate in meo horto messanensis ubi admiror……tot plantas e dissitis regionibus, ex India nimirum, Arabia, America, Aegypto, China, Ponto, Perside, Hispania, Belgio, Hollandia, Peru et Turchia hue allatas proficere et germinare……’. Herbal plants, che non sono altro che semplici (which were none other than simples), were grown in the garden. Herbalists had to know their forms, names, smell, colour and taste and the manner and times for gathering, drying and preserving them, while Physicians had to know le particolari nature, le proprieta, I’uso e la quantita da oprarsi (their special natures, properties and uses and the quantities in which they should be used). Among the simples that were cultivated and whose properties physicians and apothecaries had to be familiar with were: Malus Citria (Malus Medica Matt, Citrum Trago), Malus Citria monstruosa cornuta and Malus Limonia Citrata, Limones magni (Malus limonia acida crassa pulpa), himones parui acida (tenui cortice), himones parui, piriformes (Peretti Messanensium), Lima (cortice laeuia), Aurantia malus (fructu acido), Aurantia malus subdulcis, Aurantia malus fructu dulci, Aurantia malus chinensis. The fact that these plants were grown in the Hortus testifies to their use in medicine in Messina.

In the Catanense Dispensatorium of Nicolao Catanuto (1666), the various parts of the lemon or citron are included in complex preparations such as Confectio Hyacinthi apud Poterium, useful even against plagues, Electuarium Pliris arcoticon Nicolai which cured melancholy, weakness of the stomach and heart and syncope, was useful for epileptics, beneficial for the memory and countered debilitation of the brain, and Aquam ad febrem malignant Minadoi.

In the Antidotario Romano (1678) translated by Ippolito Ceccarelli, the chapter entitled ‘Delli canditi e conserve describes how candied citron fruits and peel should be prepared, while the chapter ‘Delli Composti Aromatici’ provides the recipe for Confectio de Hyacyntho Petri Castelli, explaining the role of each ingredient. The citron seed was held to be a theriac against venomous bites, comforting the heart and the substance of vital spirits. The syrups described include the Syrupus e corticibus citri, and finally there is a recipe for making oglio di scorze di cedro (citron peel oil) and oglio di scorze di cedro composto (compound citron peel oil).

In the Pharmacopea Brugensis of 1697, citron seeds feature among the various components of Aqua antiscorbutica. Syrups of orange and lemon juice and peel were among the ingredients of a Decoctum cordiale et salutivum, which also included citron seeds; along with many bizarre ingredients such as sapphires, emeralds and topazes, the Confectio Hyacynthorum also contained shelled citron seeds.

In a list of simples used in pharmaceutical preparations, the Pharmacopea Almeriana of 1726 includes the peel and fruit of Aurantium vulgare and the peel of Aurantium ex Curacao and the citron, which were used for preparing Aqua aurantiorum, Aqua antihyster-ica, Aqua Vitae composita, Spiritus salis volatilis aromaticus, Spiritus carminativus, Spiritus aurantiorum and Spiritus citrorum, as well as the Elixir, Tinctura Alexipharmaca, Syrupus purgans, Syrupus stomachalis, Confectio Hamech which also contained several purgative drugs, and Pulvis antinephriticus.

The Codex Aledicamentaius seu Pharmacopea Parisensis of 1748 describes a large number of preparations based on Citrus. The heading Arantia mains lists Aurantium acri medulla vulgare (bitter orange), Aurantium sylvestre medulla acri (wild orange) and Aurantium dulci medulla (sweet orange), from which are prepared: waters or essential oil distilled from the flowers (Aqua Napha), antiscorbutic syrup and stomachic tinctures from the peel; Aqua Theriacale, Imperiale, Isterica, stomachic and cordial elixir from the flavedo. Cosmetic products were also obtained, such as Aquam divinam, Aquam imperialem, Odoratam seu milleflorum. Aquam ad gengivas per infusionem, Pastillos odoratos profumo, Spiritual lavandulae compositum. The peel of Limon vulgaris was used as an ingredient in Aquam ad Gingivas, Opiata Salomonis and Confectionem de Hyacyntho.

In the Pharmacopea Collegii Regalis Medicorum Londinensis of 1767, the juice of Auran-tiorum hispalensium was an ingredient in the recipe for Sued scorbutici (Scorbutic juice), while the flavedo of the fruit was used for preparing an Aqua distillata (Distilled water) and a ‘spirituosa (aromatic) distilled water. A Vinum Ipecacoanhae included orange flavedo, which is also used as an ingredient in a bitter tincture. There is also a recipe for a syrup produced with lemon juice.

In the Parmacopea Cerusica of Dr. Teobaldo Rebaudengo (1772), orange syrup is added as a flavouring agent to the formula for Opiata antivenerea. Leaves, flowers and peel of the fruit of Citrus aurantium and lemon peel are used in the Pharmacopea Austriaca Provincialis of 1798 for obtaining distilled waters, essential oils, syrups and tinctures.

The Pharmacopea Saxonica of 1820 includes flowers, leaves, mature and immature fruits and fruit peel of Aurantia mala, and flavedo, juice and essential oil of lemon fruits. With reference to bergamot essential oil it is stated that the tree is a native of Barbados, but that in Gaul and Italy it is obviously freshly distilled (expressed). Orange peel extract, together with other extracts, is an ingredient of Elixir temperatium balsamicum sive viscerale Prid. Hoffmann, and of Elixir viscerale (sive corticum aurantiorum compositum Ph. Boruss.).

The 1821 edition of the Codex Medicamentarium sive Pharmacopea Danica mentions not only the fruit, flavedo, flowers and leaves of Citrus aurantium, the peel of Aurantiorum curassaviensium cortices and the juice and flavedo of Citrus medica, but also bergamot essential oil, stating that it originates from Italy. Various preparations of the drugs obtained from the above-mentioned species are found in this pharmacopoeia, such as the Species fumales optimae, which also contain citron essential oil.

The Codex Medicamentarius seu Pharmacopea Lusitamca, which dates from about the same period (1822), describes preparations of Malus limoma acida (Citrus medica 13) and of Aurantium Hispalense (Citrus aurantium L.).

In the first part of the Parmacopea (1825) of Antonio Ferrarini, pharmacist, member of the Health Commission of the city and province of Bologna and formerly lecturer (ripetitore) in Pharmacy at the University, describing ‘Alaterie ricavate dalle sostanze vegetabili animali e vegetali, we find ARANCIO off, Foglie, Piori, frutto e corteccia. As the author writes poetically, ‘This plant originated in ASIA, and for its beauty and utility spurred many nations to possess it: thus it was taken on a pilgrimage to Portugal. Provence, America. China, and to many other southern provinces of Europe . He mentions both bitter and sweet orange and describes the uses of the fruit peel, fresh flowers, and in the case of sweet orange also the juice. He draws together and intermingles various Citrus species, varieties and hybrids under the heading CEDRO-Scorza, sugo e seme Sin. Citrus medica Cedrato, and provides the so-called distinctive characteristics of the fruits, which he divides into sections: the first includes the Citrons (C. di Firenze, C, coronato, C. mela rosa, C. a pera, C. dolce di Spagna) and the second the Lemons (Limoncello di Napoli, Peretta di Napoli, Spongino, Lumie — Lumia cedrata, Bergamotta, Popona etc.). Various preparations are obtained, such as Acqua aromatka di cedro (Citron aromatic water), Sciroppo con acido citrico (Citron juice syrup). The chapter entitled ‘Preparaziom e composizioni Chimiche e F armaceutiche (Preparation and Chemical and Pharmaceutical Compositions) describes the preparation of Crystallised citric acid and Purified fluid citric acid starting out from lemon juice. The fresh flowers are used to prepare Acqua di fiori di arancio or Aqua nanfa.

The aromatic tincture with sulphuric acid or Elisir di vetriuolo di Mynsicht officinale, or the Alcool con China composto dell’Huxam contain fresh orange peel together with other aromas. Citron peel and lemon juice are among the components of Theriacal Water. Dry orange peel is one of the ingredients of ‘Alcool allungato con genziana composto or ‘Infusione amara Edimburghese officinale . Fresh citron and orange peels are candied or are used to prepare conserves. Fresh peels of orange, bergamot, citron or lemon are used to prepare aromatic essential oils. The composition of Alcoolato di Cedro composto (Sin. Acqua di Colonia officinale) includes essential oils of bergamot, citron, cedrate, orange blossom, and those of rosemary, lavender, cinnamon and lemon balm. Orange leaves are included, together with extract of cinchona bark and valerian root, in the Elettuario Antiepilettko. Fresh lemon juice is an ingredient in the recipe for gelatina di pane(?). Jujube, liquorice and rubber tablets are aromatised with citron water. The Pharmacopoeia also includes Syrup of citron juice, Aromatic syrup of citron, Syrup of orange peel and Vino scillitico with dry orange peel.

The Codice Farmaceutico Romano—Feorico e Pratko, compiled and published by order of His Holiness Pope Pius IX in 1868, mentions the orange, specifying that Col succo della sua frutta si compone una graditissima e refrigerante bevanda, conosciuta sotto il nome di aranciata, le cortecce di questi assoggettate alia distillazione emettono un olio essenziale delicatissimo (Olio di Neroli) (the juice from its fruit can be used to produce a very pleasant and refreshing drink, known by the name of orangeade; when distilled, fruit peel produces a very delicate essential oil (neroli oil)). The peels are effective as stimulants and are used in various tonic and purifying syrups and elixirs. Orange blossom aromatic water is very effective against verminous afflictions. Aromatic Waters, troches and other preparations of citron are used as stimulants, antiseptics and sedatives; the essential oil is used for aromatising many medicinal drugs and for forming troches of citron. The leaves yield decoctions and astringent and antinervous tonic infusions.

Tilli, in the Catalogus Plantarum Horti Pisani (1723), lists the species of Citrus grown in the garden of simples: Citreum vulgare Tournef-Malum Citreum; Citreum dulci medulla Fournef. Malum Citreum, dulce medidla; Citreum magno fructu Fournef; Citria Alalus, cum fructu magno; Citrum Corcyraeum Ferr.; Citreum Cretense Ferr.; Citroides vulgo Citratum, fructu magno, plerunque turbinato; Citroides seu Citratum Florentinum, fructu mucrunato; Citroides seu Citratum Florentinum fructu minori; Citroides seu Citratum Florentinum odoratis-simum. He also lists 25 species of Limon and 19 species of Aurantium.


Selections from the book: “Citrus. The Genus Citrus”. Edited by Giovanni Dugo and Angelo Di Giacomo. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2002.