Any of numerous often climbing shrubs of the olive family that usually have extremely fragrant flowers; especially a tall-climbing semi-evergreen Asian shrub (J. officinale) with fragrant white flowers from which oil is extracted for use in perfumes.
Etymology: French jasmin (AD 1562), from Arabic yAsamIn (1260), from Persian (341).
A vine-like, climbing bush, jasmine may reach up to 40 feet in height (20 meters), and up to 10 feet in width. Its flowers are white, with a long tubed back and tight in shape. Leaves are thick, shiny, pointed, and have leaflets in 3 pairs, to 2½ inches (6.5 centimeters) long. In bloom from June to October. Fragrance increases in intensity throughout the night, climaxing at around two am.
Iran is now considered the home of jasmine, though it is now distributed in north India and China, acclimatized in southern and central Europe. Egypt produces 80% of jasmine's global yield.
Aspects of Cultivation
Perennial. Soil temperature: 70° to 75°F (21° to 24°C). Soil may be rich, light, sandy, and well drained. The soil must remain moist, though fragrance is diminished by over-saturation. Full sunlight is required. Can tolerate temperature extremes ranging from -10° to 0°F (23° to 17°C). Propagation through cuttings or layering. Prune in the fall, right after flowering. Deciduous in cooler climates.
The Persians -- who designated "Poets' Jessamine" or Yasmine ("white flower") the king of flowers (rose was queen) -- prepared an essential oil by soaking the flowers in sesame oil. This infusion scented the bodies and hair of Persian and Indian women. These cultures also knew Jasmine as an aphrodisiac.
By the third century, China had become familiar with the elusive fragrance of jasmine (yeh-hsi-ming). Word of the flower's existence spread to Italy when Rino discussed it in his Liber de Simplicilius (1415); and to Europe as a whole when explorer Vasco de Gama brought the plant from India (1518).
In the early 17th century, Duke Cosimo de Medici of Italy developed a possessive obsession, punishing the removal of even a twig of the plant by imprisonment. An anonymous gardener working there managed to escape with a cutting of jasmine and grew wealthy selling the illicit plant in the Florentine markets. A Tuscan tradition of brides wearing jasmine sprigs began at this time, and continues today.
During the late Renaissance period, France developed a market for jasmine's perfume. Today the French regions of Cannes and Grasse produce some of the world's finest jasmine oil. In Britain, jasmine scented gloves became popular in the 18th century.
Jasmine is most famous for the extraordinary taste and aroma of jasmine tea, and for the subtle fragrance of jasmine rice (Anthropod has shared a lucid account of its preparation). The jasmine flower adds a light perfume to Chinese black tea.
East Indians have chewed its leaves to heal mouth ulcers and to soften corns with its juice. A leaf tea is used to rinse sore eyes and wounds. According to traditional Chinese medicine, jasmine clears the blood of impurities. People suffering from headaches and insomnia have found relief in a tea made from the root of the jasmine plant.
The use of jasmine in aromatherapy has been limited due to the high cost of its essential oil ($1850/pound in 1995). The costly process - entitled enfleurage - involves placing the fresh flowers on a plate of refined, warm fat for seven to ten days; a total of 35 batches may be made from the same fat. The East Indian variety - as opposed to the more valuable French - is often mixed with the slightly less expensive sandalwood oil.
Growing outdoors in warm regions, or in a greenhouse, jasmine brings its poetry, charm, and exquisite fragrance to any garden.
Keville, Kathi. The Illustrated Herb Encyclopaedia. New York: Mallard, 1991.