Jasmine

by Mindy Yang

Jasmine is a genus of some 300 species of tender and hardy, deciduous and evergreen shrubs and climbers, most of whose flowers have a beautiful fragrance. The leaves of jasmine are mostly pinnate, and the generally white flowers are tubular and borne in clusters or panicles. The genus originated in India, China and Persia, and the name derives from the Persian ‘Yasmin’.

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is one of the most important plants for perfumery (it forms the middle notes), and it is cultivated in many countries: the annual world production of the plant is from 12 to 15 tonnes, Egypt, the largest producer, exporting about 6 – 8 tonnes, followed by Morocco and India; smaller quantities come from France, Italy and China. The most common variety used in the west is J.grandiflorum, and about 40 varieties, many of them grafts, are cultivated.

The plant arrived in southern Europe in about the middle of the sixteenth century and became well acclimatized. Most will survive happily a bit further north, as long as they are sheltered from cold winds and frost, but some require greenhouse cultivation. The flowers do not come to full capacity until about two years after grafting, then they are cropped from July to October. Those appearing from August to the end of September are the most fragrant, when they are at their peak in odoriferous molecule content.

There has been a lot of controversy about jasmine’s place in therapy. In the early nineteenth century, the US dispensatory recorded a child poisoned by the fruits of jasmine; the symptoms were coma, dilated pupils, difficult respiration, pale color, weak pulse, convulsions and paralyzed limbs. But later on, in the 1830s, a syrup made with flowers was prescribed as a medicine for coughs and hoarseness.

JASMINE ESSENTIAL OIL

Until recently the plant was used in three different forms: as an essential oil, as an absolute, or as a concrete and all required different methods of extraction. The essential oil was the most expensive, as the flowers yield comparatively little oil, and was extracted by steam distillation. Today it is virtually impossible to obtain the essential jasmine oil.

The principal constituents: The main one is ketone jasmone, which is responsible for the wonderful smell; others are a-terpineol, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, indol, linalool and linalyl acetate. The ketone jasmone has echoes of orange blossom, daffodils and osmanthus (a Chinese evergreen tree with apricot-smelling flowers), but is really quite distinctive, and so exquisite that it is worth buying the best quality, and ignoring the expense! The indol in Spanish and North African flowers is much stronger than that of French flowers. This reaches its greatest strength at night so is picked at that time.

Dangers: Since the late 1980s essential oil of jasmine has not been available, since distillers have switched from the expensive method of steam distillation to extraction by solvents. The absolute produced by this method is unsuitable for use in therapy. It is likely that any jasmine oil labelled as essential oil is really the absolute and is only suitable for use as a fragrance.

USES
  • In Indonesia, the flowers of J. sambac are boiled; the strong tea is used to bathe infected eyes and to use as a compress.
  • In Cochin China, a decoction of the leaves and twigs of J. nervosum was taken as a blood purifier.
  • Another species, J. floribundum, is used to treat people suffering from tapeworm; the leaves and twigs are sometimes added to the mixture to increase its effect.
  • The smell lifts the spirits: plant some near windows or doors to perfume the air (but preferably not by a bedroom as the fragrance of jasmine perfume is a stimulant and could keep you awake).
  • Many people feel better after they have drunk a jasmine tea – green China tea perfumed with dried jasmine flowers.
  • It is helpful for migraine and has a calming effect. Conversely, I find it a stimulant, so it seems that people respond differently to the constituents fixed in the flowers.
  • In Indonesia, India and China, a tradition of the women was to roll jasmine blossoms up in their newly washed and oiled hair. Left all night or day, the jasmine perfume of the flowers, basically by the process of enfleurage, would be retained by the hair for quite some time.
  • Jasmine’s place in the perfumery industry is obvious, but the blooms can also be used in potpourris and in rinsing water for linen – Louis XIV apparently liked jasmine-scented sheets.


Mindy Yang
Mindy Yang

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