Most of us love some form of citrus – oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, limes and more – yet did you know that some parts of these delicious fruits are actually quite medicinal? Interestingly, they share similar properties and yet each has a specific use as well. While the Chinese use certain fruit peels or the fruits themselves, western herbalists use citrus leaves and seed.

Even one fruit can be used in different ways, for instance the tangerine. Both the ripe and green tangerine peel are used as well as the red green tangerine peel, and red tangerine peel all have slightly different uses.


Ripe tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; Rutaceae; chen pi): In Chinese medicine the ripe tangerine peel is a major herb that is in many formulas. It has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, affects the Lungs, Spleen, and Stomach, and is a Qi-regulator, carminative, stimulant, expectorant, antitussive, anti-emetic, stomachic, and anti-asthmatic.

Specifically, aged tangerine peel aids digestion and clears damp coughs such as excessive phlegm and a stifling sensation in the chest. It is best for stagnation in the digestive organs (Spleen and Stomach), alleviating indigestion, gas, belching, watery diarrhea or loose stools, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling or fullness, bloating, lack of appetite, cough with profuse clear to white phlegm, and fatigue. Further, citrus peel is often included in tonifying formulas to prevent any herb’s cloying nature from causing stagnation.

Contraindications: This herb is very drying. Do not use for those spitting up blood, or with dry coughs, spasmodic abdominal pain, heat or dryness. Long-term use can injure the body’s energy.

Red tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; ju hong): The red outer part of the tangerine peel is more drying and aromatic than the aged, but is less effective in harmonizing the Stomach (huazhou pomelo rind is stronger in action. Specifically, red tangerine peel alleviates vomiting, belching, and phlegm-damp coughs

Contraindications: none noted but follow the same contraindications as for the ripe peel (chen pi).

Green tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; Rutaceae; qing pi): The unripe tangerine peel is also used medicinally. It has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor and yet affects the Gallbladder, Liver and Stomach. Green tangerine peel dredges the liver, strongly breaks up energy stagnation and reduces food stagnation with symptoms of pain in the chest, breast, abdomen, or flank, hernia pain, distention, pain, or a stifling sensation in the epigastrium, abdominal masses, and breast lumps.

Precaution: Use with caution in those with weakness and fatigue.

Huazhou pomelo rind (Citrus grandis; hua ju hong): This pomelo rind has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, and affects the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach. A very warming herb, it treats cough with profuse white to clear sputum as well as food stagnation with symptoms of pain, distention, or a stifling sensation in the epigastrium. It’s possible that the Mexican pomelo rind has similar properties.

Contraindications: do not use if there is weakness, heat, or a dry cough.

Grapefruit peel: Western herbalists have used grapefruit peel tea to treat colds and flu, lower fevers and dry mucus.

Lemon peel: in Italy, lemon peels are simmered and taken as a tea after meals to aid digestion, alleviating gas, indigestion, and abdominal fullness.


Unripe sour orange fruit (Citrus aurantium, C. sinensis; zhi shi; chih-shih): The immature bitter orange fruit is the only citrus part with a slightly cold energy (the others are all warming). It is also acrid and bitter in flavor and affects the Large Intestine, Spleen and Stomach. It is used similarly to the aged tangerine peel except it also unblocks the bowels treating abdominal pain, constipation and dysenteric diarrhea.

Its best use is for regulating energy and relieving stagnation in the chest and upper back, however it also breaks up energy stagnation, easing symptoms of abdominal or epigastric pain and distention, indigestion, and gas. As well, it transforms phlegm to relieve fullness in the chest and epigastrium. Lastly if combined with qi tonic herbs, it alleviates prolapse.

Caution: pregnancy or digestive weakness

Ripe sour orange fruit (Citrus aurantium; zhi ke): The ripe fruit is slightly cold in energy, acrid and bitter in flavor, and affects the Spleen, Stomach, and Large Intestine. It is carminative, antihistamine, stomachic, emmenagogue, and hypertensive. Although the same fruit as the unripe sour orange (zhi shi) above, the ripe fruit has a similar action but is gentler and so used for people who are deficient or weak. The mature fruit especially affects the upper body (chest, diaphragm and skin) and is best for liver energy stagnation, heat conditions, flank pain, a stifling sensation in the chest, and belching. Both the ripe and unripe fruits are often used together to move energy throughout the entire body.

Cautions: pregnancy and digestive weakness

Finger citron fruit (“Buddha’s hand”; Citri sarcodactylis; fo shou): Thie peel of this octopus-looking citrus has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, and affects the Liver, Lungs, Stomach, and Spleen. It strongly promotes the movement of energy and slightly reduces chest and flank pain. It is best for clearing excessive white phlegm and stopping unrelenting coughs, although it also alleviates epigastric pain, fullness, and distention, and treats lack of appetite, belching, seasickness, and/or vomiting.

Caution: use caution with this fruit is there’s any heat and/or dryness

Citron (Citrus medica; C. wilsonii; xiang yuan): Citron fruit has a warm energy, acrid, slightly bitter, and sour flavor and affects the liver, spleen, and lungs. It is best for Liver, Spleen and Stomach problems and for flank pain. It transforms profuse sputum to stop cough, and regulates energy with symptoms of a stifling sensation in chest, abdominal, chest, and flank distention and pain. It also restores the appetite.

Caution: pregnancy

NOTE: Citron is different than lemon. While it is also a fragrant citrus fruit, it has a variety of shapes with a dry pulp and little juice. Traditionally, the oil was taken from the pulp (outermost layer of the rind) and used as an antibiotic. It is often used in cooking and candies.


Lemon leaves: Besides being used to season food and drinks, lemon leaf is a sedative and quite calming. It is used for insomnia, nervousness, and palpitations. It has also been used for worms, migraines, and asthma.

Dose: Infuse 7 leaves in 1 cup hot water for 15 minutes. Drink 1-2 cups per day.

Lime leaves, juice and rind: Used not only in Asia but also Jamaica, lime leaves are soothing and calming. In Jamaica they are given for anything from colds to hypertension, indigestion, constipation, and respiratory conditions, and chewed to prevent nausea, upset stomach and vomiting. Often the wild, or kaffir, lime is used. It looks somewhat different, having a rough and warty green exterior. The zest is used in Thai and creole cooking while in Indonesia the juice is used to promote gum health and the rind benefits the blood and aids digestion.

Citrus seeds: Traditionally, citrus seeds have been used for hiccoughs or to dislodge something stuck in the throat.

Tangerine seeds (ju he): The Chinese use 3-9 g of the seeds for hernia, lumbago, mastitis, and pain and swelling of ascites.

Citrus oil: The oil from citrus seeds has traditionally been used for bronchitis in the West.

Eat your peels?

In India, a part of the peel is always eaten with its fruit to aid its digestion. Whereas the inner fruit is cold and creates mucus, the peel warms and eliminates mucus from the lungs and the digestive system. Be sure to only use organic peels!

Citrus peels as stimulants?

All citrus has synephrine and other alkaloids in it, which create an ephedra-like action. However, it was found in the bitter (or sour) orange fruit (Citrus aurantium) that these alkaloids work on a different set of receptors than those of ephedra and so is much more gentle in action and without causing elevated blood pressure, palpitations, and nervousness.

This tolerance is thought to be because the alkaloids don’t pass readily into the brain but perhaps specifically target fat cells to stimulate lipolysis and increase resting metabolic rate. This means citrus peel burns stored fats to release energy stores, which by the way, can also stimulate weight loss by burning fat. Additionally, it spares lean muscle mass during this process.[1] After all, orange and lemon zests have been used for centuries (thousands of years?) without negative side effects, so why not drink their teas in the afternoon for a gentle lift instead of coffee? It’ll also help your digestion!

Immature peel or mature?

The immature fruit (green) peel has a harsher and more powerful action than that of the mature form.

Dried peel or fresh?

The dried peel is stronger in action than the fresh. In fact, the longer the peel is aged, the better.


To prepare citrus peel tea, simmer 3-9 g (1-2 peel segments) covered in 1 cup water for only ten minutes.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Michael and Dr. Leslie, I hope you remember me, I was your patient many years, ago.
    Today, I needed better information on citrus peels to share with my friend in Canada. She offers great recipes, online. So, we are swapping. However, I like to include some credible sources to cite and of course, I thought of the great works you do in the Santa Cruz area. I have at least four of your books in my collection and refer to them, regularly. Perhaps, after I finish that dissertation, I will pay you a visit for a much needed and deserved tune-up! Respectfully and with Love, Your Friend and Sister, Charmaigne Scott

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