The peels of citrus fruits usually end up in the garbage (or hopefully the compost pile). They are tough to chew and bitter, so it's not surprising that most people don't give them a second thought.
This is not true, however, for herbalists who have been well aware of the health benefits of lemon and orange peels for centuries. In fact, many herbal stores will sell dried orange and/or lemon peel because of how popular they are.
Of course, you may have used citrus zest in a recipe before, but you'll probably want to start using it more often when you hear how good it can be for you.
The Background on Citrus Peels
Citrus peels have a richer history of use than most modern people realize.
To avoid food waste, orange and lemon peels were often candied (especially as a holiday treat) in the western part of the world. They were also used with lemon and orange slices to make marmalade.
In Indian and Chinese cuisine, orange peels were frequently included in dishes along with the juice.
Orange peels (mainly mandarin oranges) have also been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine, likely for thousands of years. They are most frequently used for digestion and to move energy.
Even today, you'll frequently find find orange or lemon peel in a herbal tea blend because they have such great citrusy flavor. However, it's important to know that they are doing more than just tasting good.
Health Benefits of Lemon & Orange Peel
A little known fact is that citrus peels contain more enzymes, nutrients, and plant compounds than the inner fruit does. This is one of the reasons they are so beneficial, even in small amounts.
For example, one tablespoon of orange peel can provide about 14% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C, which is about three times more than the fruit itself. Citrus peels are also much higher in fiber than the fruits, although if you use them to make tea, you won't actually be consuming the fiber.
Orange peels also have vitamin A, B vitamins, and calcium. Lemon peels contain minor amounts of magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Both lemon and orange peels contain essential oils and bitter compounds that help your digestion function better.
Traditionally, citrus peels have been used to aid sluggish digestion and help relieve complaints like gas, bloating, and constipation. They can also help to stimulate a weak appetite and encourage the production of gastric juices that help your body to digest food.
Supports Liver Health + Detox
Many herbs that contain bitter compounds support both liver health and digestion. If you've ever bit into a citrus peel (on purpose or by accident), you know how bitter they can be.
This bitterness promotes good liver function, which in turn helps your digestion even more. Both of these also help your body with detox- the natural process of getting waste and toxins out of your body.
While orange and lemon peel aren't as strong as some other detoxifying herbs, they can certainly help and have the bonus of tasting good.
Some benefits of lemon and orange peels match the rest of the fruit. Stress reduction is one of them- something you can get by simply inhaling the scent of freshly cut lemons or oranges.
Technically speaking, the stress-relieving properties of citrus peels most likely come from the essential oils found in the peel. Sweet orange essential oil, for example, has shown an ability to calm stress and anxiety in studies. The same compounds are present in orange peels, although they are less concentrated. (3)
Both orange and lemon peel contain a powerful antioxidant known as D-limonene. It has demonstrated many benefits in research studies, including lowering your risk of heart disease and having anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
Studies have also shown that limonene has potential cancer-fighting properties. It has shown a specific ability to inhibit stomach cancer cells. Also, consuming it and other flavonoids may lower your risk of several different cancers. (5)(6)
Orange peels also contain compounds known as polymethoxyflavones (PMFs), which are being studied for their anticancer potential as well. (7)
Keep in mind, these anticancer properties haven't been "proven" in humans yet, but there's no doubt that consuming antioxidants is good for your overall health.
May Give Your Immune System a Boost
With their vitamin C and antioxidant content, there are definite benefits of lemon and orange peels for your immune system. Again, they aren't quite as powerful as other natural immune boosters, but every little bit counts.
Another way they may help you is by fighting bacteria and other microbes. Lemon peel, in particular, has shown antibacterial and antifungal properties in lab studies. Most notably, it was able to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although only test-tube studies have been done so far. (8)
Improves Flavoring of Herbal Tea
While many herbal teas are enjoyed simply for their flavor, there are many more that are created specifically for their health-boosting properties.
If you want to make an herbal infusion, for example, which is much stronger than a tea, herbs are chosen for their beneficial properties rather than how they taste.
Of course, in order for an infusion or tea to be successful, either you or the person you make it for has to drink it. This is where both orange and lemon peel come in. They impart a great citrusy flavor that can mask or add to the flavor of other herbs.
You only need to use a small amount to make the taste come through, and children are usually in favor of citrus flavors- as long as they aren't too bitter.
Great for Skincare
The antioxidants and vitamin C in citrus peels are great for your skin as well as your health. Both of them can have a brightening effect on skin and support collagen synthesis, which is important for keeping wrinkles and other signs of aging at bay.
Lemon peels, especially, are added to skincare to brighten the complexion and also have a mild exfoliating effect.
How to Use Lemon & Orange Peels
For herbal medicine, the best option is to buy dried orange peels or lemon peels to use in your recipes. For a more culinary approach, you can save and use fresh citrus peels for zest, or if you're feeling more adventurous, try making candied peels or marmalade with them.
One of the easiest ways to use dried orange or lemon peels is to make a tea with them. Simply add a small amount of either peel to a heat-proof container and steep with hot water for 5-15 minutes.
Because citrus peels can get quite bitter on their own or if you use too much of them, they sometimes taste even better with other herbs and spices. Cinnamon, cloves, rosehips, hibiscus, dried cranberries, and black or green tea all work well with both lemon and orange peel.
For skincare, you can add powdered orange or lemon peel to DIY recipes. For the best results, buy the dried peel and grind it yourself right before using to keep the maximum amount of essential oils intact.
If you want a ready-made citrus peel tea, try one of these:
There really aren't any health precautions for orange or lemon peels. They don't have any known side effects unless you happen to be allergic to citrus, in which case you should avoid them.
The biggest precaution is to only use organic citrus peels, whether you are using them dried or fresh. Citrus fruits typically get a lot of pesticide use in conventional farming and it accumulates on the peels, leaving a detectable residue. (9)
Don't Forget the Peels!
Citrus is one of the most-loved flavors in the world, and it's really a shame that the peels are often overlooked. Not only do they have their own bright flavor, they also have many great uses like digestive support and skin-boosting power.
Even if you only use small amounts at a time, you can still get the benefits of lemon and orange peel by using them frequently!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.