By: Tim Noonan
Jasmine is a delicate flowering plant with many varieties. Its scent has probably been described in the literature with more superlatives than any other single essence. It has been described variously as heavenly smelling, exotic, exquisit, tenacious, sensuously rich, supremely sensual, intense, slightly heady, narcotic, intoxicating, sometimes clawing, warm with oily leafy-green, fruity undertones, illusive, sweet and warm.
Although the jasmine flowers themselves are delicate and quite feminine, jasmine is often described as the King of essences and the King of Essential oils. Patricia Davis describes it as having an “almost animal quality” and being more masculine in its scent and nature than Rose (which is termed the “Queen of oils”). The properties and uses of jasmine and rose do somewhat overlap, but jasmine is an oil better suited to both sexes, whereas rose is a distinctly feminine oil, with a particular efinity to the womb.
Widely considered to be the most exotic and wonderful of all scents, jasmine has been central to the perfume industry for centuries. Hence the expression “no perfume without jasmine”. Its expense is high, but even a very small quantity of jasmine oil can give body and fullness to most other perfume bases, or to aromatherapy blends.
Almost universally loved, jasmine evokes memories of summery evenings and gentle breezes, lifting the spirits, relaxing the body and dissolving emotional barriers, and therefore encouraging intimacy.
Originally native to Persia and Kashmir, and brought to Europe in quantities via spain in the 17th century, Jasmine has a long and rich history in several cultures. In India it symbolises divine hope; in China, the sweetness of women. The Indian Love God (Karma) tips his arrows with jasmine blossoms, to pierce the heart through the senses. In Hindu and Moslem traditions, Jasmine is revered as “the perfume of love”.
Long considered an aphrodisiac, jasmine has historically been associated with promoting Intimacy, romance, transcending physical love, closeness and breaking down barriers to full expression of sexuality. Jasmine’s anti-depressant properties and beautiful scent are an excellent tool in helping overcome a range of sexual problems which are in the head, rather than direct physiological problems of the reproductive systems.
There are at least 43 varieties of jasmine, but only two (Jasminum grandiflorum and Jasminum officinale) are usually used in the production of essential oils. Jasmine officinale was grafted from Jasmine Grandiflorum to make it more adaptable to differing growing conditions. Both are very similar in their chemical constituents and the oils from each are used interchangeably in aromatherapy.
Other jasmine varieties include the highly fragrant Chinese Jasmine (Jasmine sambac) (this is the jasmine that jasmine tea is made from) and Red jasmine which is also called Frangapansy.
By precise definition, the extracts from jasmine and rose are not essential oils but floral absolutes. Huge quantities of petals are used to produce a very small quantity of absolute. Enfleurage and to a lesser extent solvent extracted absolutes have stronger scent and properties than most distilled essential oils, but The enfleurage form has a higher quality and strength of odour than the solvent extraction.
Jasmine contains over 100 different chemical compounds. A few of these are: benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, indol, linalol, linalyl acetate, phenylacetic acid, and methyl jasmonate. Indole has a deep, raw animal note which ideally must not dominate the sweet, floral notes for which jasmine oil is valued. It is produced if the blossom is bruised during or after picking, but is also found in higher quantities in jasmine from India. Egyptian jasmine, has more floral top notes, while Italian jasmine has more fruity notes.
Today, most Jasmine is commercially cultivated in Egypt and India, while smaller quantities are produced in Morocco, Algeria, France and Italy. (grass, France used to be the centre of jasmine production, but can’t sustain the current-day demand for the oil). Jasmine is picked at night, right through to morning, when the sun drives the scent from the flowers. This is why it is often called “Queen of the night”. It takes about 7.6 million flowers to product one kilogram of jasmine essential oil.
Traditionally, jasmine absolute was produced by the enfleurage (fat maceration) method. This involved sandwiching the petals between glass plates covered in absorbent lard or greece, which, over a period of several days soaked up the essential oils from the plant. Every one or two days, the petals are removed and replaced, until the fat is supersaturated with the plant extracts. This period can be as long as a month. Unfortunately, due to the intense time-consuming nature of this extraction method, hardly any jasmine is extracted in this manner, however small quantities of these exquisit enfleurage extracted oils are produced in France and Italy even today.
More common today for jasmine is petrochemical-based solvent extraction – a process which chemically extracts the heavy absolute from the flower petals. Solvent-extracted absolutes don’t generally have the fullness of fragrance, or the heady narcotic overtones that are found in the enfleurage jasmine. This is possibly due to the fact that in enfleurage, the petalous continue to “live” for several days during the fat maceration period, giving the maximum amount and range of essence forms during this time. Solvent extraction kills the petalous immediately, so only the essence from “now” is able to be extracted.
In summary, jasmine acts strongly on mental and emotional levels, having powerful uplifting effects on the mood. Jasmine is excellent for skincare (particularly dry skin), is a hormonal balancer, is the most valued oil in childbirth, is a uterine tonic (suitable for treating spasms and easing menstrual pain) and is also quite good for pulmonary problems such as coughs, chest infections and loss of voice. Due to the expense of jasmine, however, marjoram is as effective when used as a uterine tonic and various other oils perform as well or better for various pulmonary conditions.
Jasmine, along with rose and neroli is particularly suited to skin care. Jasmine is particularly good for dry or aggravated skin, and in low concentrations has been used to treat dermatitis and exerma. Note, however, that this may only be when such conditions are highly stress-linked. Patricia Davis has found that jasmine can assist allergies which are due to stress, due to its de-stressing properties.
Although many references describe jasmine as relaxing and a calmative, research has found that jasmine promotes beta rhythms in the brain, those associated with mental alertness. Jasmine does lift the spirits, which could contribute to a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system, while still leaving the mind clear and alert. It is this clear and alert mind, but reduction of depression that seems to make jasmine so well suited in situations where lethargy sets in, motivation flags and when a person has become disenheartened. The oil seems to assist in bringing problems into perspective, drawing the person out of the trough of depression to a more level-headed perspective in relation to the problem – whether emotional, sexual or interpersonal. Jasmine tends to bring the person “out of themselves” to the real world, where as rose, in contrast tends to bring one’s focus back to the self, looking inside for solutions. Jasmine is particularly helpful in easing the resolution of emotional dilemmas, particularly when they relate to relationships and sex. Jasmine is also said to be powerful in releasing inhibition, increasing imagination, and fully releasing both male and female sexual energy. Patricia davis believes that unlike most of the other oils attributed with aphrodisiacle properties, that jasmine and sandal wood probably have a subtle effect on the hormones, whereas other oils predominantly reduce stress, or physically stimulate the body (black pepper), but don’t have a direct hormonal impact on the body.
Jasmine is one of the most effective antidepressants available to aromatherapy, It uplifts and helps overcome a sense of diminished self worth as well as the fear of not being able to cope with immediate problems. Its heavenly scent make it an ideal oil to use in cases of Depression, despair, fear, paranoia, grief, sadness, guilt, insecurity, loss of self-confidence, emotional shock or trauma. Fear of intimacy, emotional distrust and low body-image are all ideally treated with jasmine. It is for this reason that it can be so effective when treating anorexia nervosa. Jasmine’s euphoric action is clearly at work here, creating the possibility for positive feelings and attitudes. jasmine is known to be useful for any type of chronic emotional pain and suffering, especially when too intense for the psyche to handle. Like lavender, jasmine is an excellent shock releaser.
About jasmine Susanne Fischer-Rizzi says “the fragrance diminishes fear, it is helpful in enhancing self confidence and defeating pessimism. No other oil is quite as capable of changing our mood so intensely. It offers little choice other than optimism.”
Because of this mood lifting effect, in combination with its hormonal balancing properties, jasmine is extremely well suited in treating post natal depression.
Jasmine is the most valued oil for childbirth; rubbed into the lower abdomen and back prior to childbirth, it eases pain, strengthens uterine contractions and also particularly assists, as does geranium, in expelling the afterbirth and promotes post natal recovery. However, somewhat ironically, some mothers can find the smell of jasmine rather clawing during childbirth
Patricia Davis has found jasmine helpful in breaking addictions. No essential oils have been found to be addictive in their own right, but the Essential Therapeutics’ data sheet on jasmine specifically warns against the overuse of jasmine, as this risks dulling its effects and benefits. Other therapists have found that too strong a concentration of jasmine often has the opposite effect than desired. The strength and price of the oil itself should be a partial regulator here alone.
In relation to jasmine, Peter Holmes notes that “both the euphoric and aphrodisiac actions are the precise effects that our society tries to achieve through alcohol. Release of inhibition, feeling good about ourselves and towards our fellow humans, feeling elated, optimistic and worry-free – this is surely the aim of drinking. It’s clear that alcohol can only achieve this in some, not all individuals, and then only when used in moderation. Jasmine oil and aromatherapy therefore represent a particularly clean alternative to alcohol, with its known dangers of addiction and physical pathology. When will we see the day of trendy, franchised fragrance bars and licensed aroma-pubs?”
Jasmine has very few contraindications, but according to some materials there are a small number of people who are allergic to it. most texts and Tisserand’s safety manual report no irritant effects, but other authors describe it as a mild skin irritant. Therefore, it should probably be used in %2.5 or less dilutions for those with hypersensitive skins. Jasmine which is too concentrated can be overpowering in scent, so it should be used in small quantities – all that is required, anyway, due to its potency in odour. Jasmine in its enfleurage form is non-toxic, but solvent extracted jasmines are generally not considered safe for any internal uses.
I conclude this paper with the somewhat poetic words of Peter Holmes about the important role jasmine can play for us all.
“we’re all survivors of trauma. Western culture has a deep need for Jasmine. Our individual sensual repression and our social sensual deprivation in the alienated Western lifestyle cry out for the sensuous euphoria that jasmine provides. The Queen of the Night can connect us to the feminine source of life, presently stirring from a deep, unconscious sleep. Her night-blooming pearls can lead us once again to the fragrant dawn that we yearn for.”
Though the oil is particularly expensive, Jasmine is a scent that almost everyone loves, and which in its natural form can be enjoyed by anyone. as I finish writing this paper, as the warm day comes to a close, I can smell the heavenly scent of the wild jasmine bushes wafting in from my back patio, a sweet reminder of the wonderful natural essences with which we are all blessed.
Battaglia, Salvatore (1995) “The complete guide to aromatherapy” The Perfect Potion (Aust)
Davis, Patricia. (1995) “Aromatherapy: an a to z” new revised and enlarged edition, .
Fischer-Rizzi, Susanne. (1992) The Complete Book of Aromatherapy. New York
Holmes, Peter “Jasmine: The Queen of the Night” 8-12 in The International Journal of Aromatherapy, volume 8 no. 4
Lawless, Julia “Aromatherapy and the Mind”
Sheppard-Hanger, Sylla “The aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual”
Tisserand, Robert “Aromatherapy for Everyone”
Sorenson, Graham and Various contributors. “The guide to aromatherapy” an internet resource found at: http://www.fragrent.demon.co.uk/main.html
Essential Therapeutics data sheet for Jasmine;
Various internet resources describing jasmine and its properties, but without bibliographic data
Kevill, Kathie and Green, Mindy (1995) “Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art”, Crossing Press.