Thursday, 25 February 2016

SUMMER JASMINE

“Out in the lonely woods the jasmine burns Its fragrant lamps, and turns Into a royal court with green festoons The banks of dark lagoons.” - Henry Timrod

One of the flowers I associate most with my childhood and my grandparents house especially is the Summer jasmine. The delicious smell of the flower-bedecked vigorous climber filled not only the garden, but also wafted into the house through the open windows at night. Even now I cannot smell the flowers and not be transported back to the carefree Summers I spent with my grandparents and remember the wonderful garden that they had.

Jasminum officinale, known as the common jasmine, is a species of flowering plant in the olive family Oleaceae, native to the Caucasus, northern Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Himalayas, Tajikistan, India, Nepal and western China. The species is widely cultivated in many places, and is reportedly naturalised in France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Romania, the former Yugoslavia, Algeria, Florida and the West Indies. It is also known as summer jasmine, poet’s jasmine, white jasmine, true jasmine or jessamine, and is particularly valued by gardeners throughout the temperate world for the intense fragrance of its flowers in summer. It is also the national flower of Pakistan.

Jasminum officinale is a vigorous, twining, deciduous climber with sharply pointed pinnate leaves and clusters of starry, pure white flowers in summer, which are the source of its heady scent. The cultivation of this plant is so ancient that its country of origin, though somewhere in Central Asia, is not certain. In ninth-century Chinese texts J. officinale was said to come from Byzantium. Its Chinese name, Yeh-hsi-ming is a version of the Persian and Arabic name (alyasimin). Its entry into European gardens was most likely through the Arab-Norman culture of Sicily.

In the mid-14th century the Florentine Boccaccio in his “Decameron” describes a walled garden in which “the sides of the alleys were all, as it were, walled in with roses white and red and jasmine; insomuch that there was no part of the garden but one might walk there not merely in the morning but at high noon in grateful shade.” Jasmine water also features in the story of Salabaetto in the “Decameron”. Jasminum officinale, “of the household office” where perfumes were distilled, was so thoroughly naturalised that Linnaeus thought it was native to Switzerland. As a garden plant in London it features in William Turner’s “Names of Herbes”, 1548. Numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, but also for cultivation in order to harvest the flowers and produce the jasmine oil absolute that is used in perfumery.

The essential oil of Jasminum officinale is used in aromatherapy. Jasmine absolute is known as the “King of Oils”, and its heavy, sweet scent is loved by most people. The flowers release their perfume at dusk, so flowers are picked at night and a tiny amount of oil is obtained by solvent extraction. The result is a very expensive oil, but it can be used in low concentrations so it is not that uneconomic to use it in products. The aroma of jasmine is described as calming and soothing without being soporific, and is indicated for depression and stress, as well as some respiratory conditions.

As a herbal medicine, the oil is used in dermatology as either an antiseptic or anti-inflammatory agent. Jasminum officinale L. var. grandiflorum is a folk medicine used for the treatment of hepatitis in south of China. It has shown anti-viral activity in vitro. This oil can cause irritation in some people if used too frequently or in high concentrations, so use with caution, preferably in low concentrations. A major component of jasmine is benzyl acetate (~25%), which is known to be absorbed through the skin and known to be an allergic sensitiser. Those who show allergies to spicy food, perfumes and cosmetics are most likely to react. However, the power of the scent is such that only tiny amounts are required anyway. Jasmine is also an emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual blood flow) and therefore should not be used during pregnancy.

In Arabic, “alyasimin” means “white flower”, which in turn embodies feminine beauty and temptation. In Asia, jasmine is considered a heavenly flower. In India, Kama, the goddess of love, strikes her victims with a jasmine-laced arrow. In the Western Language of Flowers, jasmine signifies amiability and can convey the message: “You are cheerful and graceful”.

Jasmine is considered to be a sacred flower in Asia. The Hindus strung jasmine flowers together to form garlands and presented then to their most honoured guests. A fragrant emblem of love, jasmine flowers are often entwined into bridal flowers at Indian weddings. This custom is said to promise the bridal couple a deep and lasting affection for eternity. Jasmine is known as ‘moonlight of the grove’ in India due to its ghostly pale flowers.

An ancient Indian myth of a princess who fell in love with the sun god Surya-Deva attempts to explain why the jasmine flower will only open its petals at night. According to the myth, the sun god rejected the princess’s love and she was so heartbroken that she killed herself. Her ashes were scattered to the ground, and from the ashes the beautiful jasmine grew. Since the sun god was responsible for her death, the jasmine flower would only open and release her perfume at night. Throughout history, jasmine has been revered for its aphrodisiac qualities, and known as a plant of love.

This post is part of the Floral Friday meme.

2 comments:

  1. A wonderful capture for FloralFriday. Love this blooms.
    Greetings by Heidrun

    ReplyDelete