We eat a lot of citrus in my household, however citrus peels are on the “do not feed” list for the worms in our vermicomposting system. I used to just toss the peels into our outdoor compost bin, but then I had a hunch that with a little creative thinking I could make my citrus peels stretch even further.
After doing a bit of research, I was pleasantly surprised at the myriad of ways I can use and preserve citrus peels to add a little zest to my daily routine.
Dehydrated Citrus Zest
Citrus zest brightens up many dishes and can easily be made ahead of time. Take a few moments to zest your citrus before juicing or peeling. To do this, use a sharp vegetable peeler to cut away strips of the peel – try not to get too much of the white pith because it tastes bitter and won’t dry properly. Next, chop the peels up into small pieces. If you own a dehydrator, then dehydrate the pieces for 4 to 6 hours. Otherwise, lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then pop them in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. When dry, either grind the citrus peels and store them in a spice shaker, or keep the chopped citrus bits in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
An even better option — although it may require a specialty purchase — is to use an inexpensive microplane zester. The microplane will allow you to grate your zest into super-fine flakes, which you can then pop directly into the freezer — no dehydrating necessary!
With ready-made citrus zest on hand, you’ll start dreaming up excuses to sprinkle it on everything from lemony pasta and key lime pie to homemade spice rubs and warming tea blends.
A Digestive Aid
Just a drop or two of any bitter herb on the tongue will help stimulate healthy digestion before or after a meal. Orange peels are often included in homemade bitters recipes, along with dandelion root, gentian, and fennel.
This Dandy Tummy Bitters Recipe originally appeared in the Winter 2016/2017 issue of Heirloom Gardener.
The experts at The Herbal Academy also classify bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) as a fantastic herb to support digestion. Check out their excellent post Three Herbs to Support Digestion After a Long Winter to learn about bitter orange’s healing properties as a carminative, digestive aid, and liver tonic to help the body metabolize the heavier and fattier foods consumed during winter.
A Twist on Limoncello
Limoncello is an Italian lemon-flavored liqueur that’s traditionally served straight and chilled. It’s delicious mixed into cold lemonades, and you can definitely get away with substituting orange, grapefruit, lime, or any other citrus fruit for the lemons. It’s extremely easy to make, and you only need a few ingredients.
This is a particularly fun project to start in late October or early November so that it’s ready in time for the holiday season as inexpensive presents or hostess gifts.
10 organic lemons or limes or 5 organic oranges or grapefruits
Vodka (100 proof is preferred, but 80-proof will work)
1 cup sugar
Peel the citrus, avoiding as much of the bitter pith as possible. Add the citrus peels to a sterilized glass jar and cover with vodka. Cover and let sit for 4 to 6 weeks before straining. Make simple syrup by bringing 1 cup of water to a simmer and then stirring in the sugar until it dissolves; combine the simple syrup with the citrus-infused vodka. If the end product isn’t sweet enough for you, then experiment with adding more simple syrup until it tastes the way you like.
Limoncello should be kept refrigerated and will store for 1 year.
Citrus-Scented Cleaning Products
I love the smell of citrus, and when used in cleaning products it makes the room feel bright and refreshed. Consider infusing distilled white vinegar with citrus peels – either fresh or dehydrated – to use as a citrusy countertop spray. Follow the same instructions as the limoncello recipe, above, but substitute distilled white vinegar for the vodka and don’t bother adding the simple syrup at the end. To use, add the citrus-infused vinegar to a spray bottle with equal parts water. You could also add 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil for an additional punch.
Try using a leftover citrus wedge to wipe down your sink at the end of a day. First, sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda into your sink and then scrub it down with your citrus wedge. As an added bonus, the citrus wedge can go down your garbage disposal to freshen it, too.
Lightly salted citrus wedges can also help remove tea stains. Not only do they make the tea stains easer to remove, but from my experience they also seem to prevent new stains from forming quite as quickly.
For additional cleaning recipes that use homegrown herbs and citrus peels, check out the blog post How to Make an All-Purpose Herbal Cleaning Spray for Spring Cleaning by The Herbal Academy or check out Kami McBride’s excellent book, The Herbal Kitchen.
Homemade PotpourriMaking dried potpourri is a fun winter project, plus it makes great holiday or hostess gifts.
Dry your citrus peels by putting them in a dehydrator for 4 to 6 hours or in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. (You can also use entire citrus slices, which look nice but take longer to dry.) Mix dried peels with other naturally scented, dried plant material, such as pine needles, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cranberries, pine cones, lemon balm, rosebuds, or lavender. Keep your dried potpourri blend in a decorative bowl or package it into individual linen baggies to store in dresser drawers or storage trunks.
If you want to whip up a potpourri instantly without going through the hassle of drying your materials, then try a simmering potpourri. To make a simmering potpourri, simply toss your plant material into a stockpot, cover with water, bring to a low simmer, and then enjoy the scent that’s released as steam. Experiment with different citrus peels; I imagine orange would smell the best, but grapefruit, lime, and even lemon could be interesting. Toss in some cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, peppermint, or anything else that suits your fancy.
You can also try tossing dried citrus peels into your fireplace, where they’ll burn easily while releasing their warming scent
Have you discovered any other ways to use citrus peels around the home? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment on this article or to send me a personal message at Hkincaid@MotherEarthNews.com.
Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener and senior editor for Mother Earth News.