Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Uses of orange peel

Orange (Citrus sinensis) peel has two main nonculinary  uses at present: killing head lice (Pediculus humanus ssp capitis) and deterring cats from entering gardens.

According to a letter writer to the Sunday Telegraph of 20 November 1994: ‘Orange skins have a natural chemical that is more powerful than anything on the market today.  Anyone infested should get the skins from two fresh oranges and place them about the head.  It will knock them dead!’

Pubic, or crab, lice (Pthirus pubis) can also be eliminated by rubbing orange peel on the effected area.

P-LA contains many records of orange peel being used to deter cats.  Typically: ‘If you put orange peel around your garden it will keep the neighbourhood cats out, but your own cat won’t mind it – my brother does this in Streatham’ [South London Botanical Institute, March 1996].

Another use was keeping tobacco moist [Natural History Museum, London, October 2001], while Dulcie Lewis, in her A-Z of Traditional Cures & Remedies, 2002: 156, records ‘In County Durham the girls chewed a piece of orange peel before going to a dance because it made their eyes sparkle!’

Hilary Belcher, a Cambridge botanist who enthusiastically supported P-LA in its early days contributed in September 2001: ‘[Orange peel] is splendid for lighting fires.  We were recently staying with Phyllis Ellis, widow of Ted Ellis, naturalist, and she regularly uses dried citrus peel to light the Aga.  We always used it when we were young.’

Finally, in The Times Home.Forum, of 18 March 2004, the question ‘My husband has very smelly feet, could you suggest a way of deodorising his shoes?’ elicited the reply ‘You can put orange peel, a fabric-softener sheet or bicarbonate of soda in the shoes overnight, which should mean fresher shoes the following morning.’

Addendum:  A correspondent to The Times of 13 February 2021, recalled that according his Chinese dentist in Kuala Lumpur in the 1950s ‘the pith inside the peel [of oranges] makes an excellent substitute for toothpaste’.

Image:  Tooting, London Borough of Wandsworth; September 2014.

Updated 14 February 2021.