When we talk about Jasmine we always think of the charm of the ancient East, but do you really know the story of this plant that smells the summer evenings with an intense and enveloping aroma? So here’s all you need to know about jasmine, a climbing shrub with ancient, fragrant flowers and a legendary history.
You don’t have to be an expert gardener or a flower and plant enthusiast to recognise that the climbing plant that produces those small, white, fragrant flowers in summer is jasmine. Everyone, or almost everyone, knows it for its scent and if you are lucky enough to have a beautiful garden, it is very likely that it, the jasmine, will decorate your outdoor spaces and hedges.
It is a very ancient plant, which comes from the East and that today is also cultivated in Italy in the botanical field and is widely used in cosmetics and herbal medicine. But what is the history of jasmine? What are its properties and why is its history studded with ancient folk tales and little legends? Here, then, is everything you need to know about jasmine.
We know it by the name of Jasmine, but it is actually called Trachelospermum jasminoides. It is part of the Apocynaceae family and has its origins in the East and South America. The Jasmine is a climbing shrub that can reach up to 4 meters in height, has a thin trunk and produces small flowers with five petals famous for the scent that emanate on summer nights.
Jasmine is a climbing plant and is generally used for ornamental purposes, to wrap gardens and to decorate garden hedges and terraces. Its flowers, which are its most salient feature, have an intense and delicate scent at the same time and open in the evening, emanating all their aroma, and then close in the morning.
The origins of Jasmine lie in China and, according to some sources, this plant was imported into the West in 1500 by the Spaniards, although it is good to specify that the sources do not all agree in the same way. When we talk about jasmine we mean white jasmine, also known as poets’ jasmine and with the name of “common jasmine”.
Today, jasmine is very much cultivated because of its flowers, which give off a really intense and perfect scent for the preparation of perfumes and essences, but also of perfumes and oils. The essential oil of jasmine is very valuable and contains linalyl acetate, linalool, benzoyl acetate, farnesol and jasmine, the substance responsible for the fragrance that emanates the flowers of jasmine.
In phytotherapy and herbal medicine, jasmine is used for its antispasmodic and anti-rheumatic properties. For this reason, jasmine bath salts are used as a mild sedative that acts on the brain system with a relaxing action.
Jasmine is also considered a good remedy against coughing, hoarseness and menstrual pain and, according to some studies, this plant would help combat irritability and depressive states. According to ancient folk traditions, however, jasmine would be able to keep away envy and help people to become responsible and assume their responsibilities.
In homeopathy, jasmine, in the form of a mother’s tincture, is used to prepare remedies for headaches and insomnia, but also for colds and memory loss. In cosmetics, however, jasmine is used for the production of perfumed water, body creams and deodorants. The only problem to date is the cost; to produce about 1 kg of jasmine essence it is necessary to use 8,000 flowers and this is the reason why often in cosmetics are used synthetic products.
LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS ABOUT JASMINE
This has always been the case and this will always be the case: when we talk about jasmine, the mind inevitably runs to the ancient East and to all the traditions that the Arab world contains in its culture. There are, in fact, many legends and traditions about jasmine that come from the Arab world. Here are a few.
Moreover, love stories and famous poems have been dedicated to jasmine, all set within romantic frames or full of pathos, to which the flower of this plant is always the background because of its refined beauty and its scent.
According to an ancient Arab belief, paradise is a place full of jasmine flowers and it is no coincidence that jasmine is often compared to the symbol of divine love. In the past, jasmine also represented immortality, but this varies from culture to culture. In Spain, for example, jasmine represents sensuality.
In any case, it is certain that the ancients greatly appreciated this plant, which also knew the Egyptians. Small fragments of jasmine have also been found on the mummy of a pharaoh, kept in the necropolis of Deir-el-bahri, in Egypt. This is linked to the ancient Arab belief that the afterlife should be dotted with jasmine flowers.
Another legend tells that Kitza, considered the mother of all the stars of the firmament, spent her days making gold clothes for all the other stars of the sky. One day some little stars appeared to her, who complained about their clothes too little bright, in their opinion. Kitza tried to appease their lament, but the little stars continued to protest, until Micar, the king of Spaces, tired of their whims drove them out of the firmament and threw them on the ground. The small stars, in contact with the Earth, were soon transformed into jasmines.
THE DIFFERENT SPECIES OF JASMINE
In Europe there are several species of jasmine and all come from the East Indies. These for obvious reasons are younger species than the jasmine present in Egypt and were important by Spanish navigators in Europe in the sixteenth century. Despite this, there are some sources that would show that in Italy were present some species of jasmine already in the early ‘400, as evidenced by a figure in the Liber de Simplicibus written by Benedetto Rinio and dating from 1415.
Probably during the early days of its import, jasmine was not very successful in Italy and it is likely that this plant did not spread immediately throughout the territory. The first to possess a specimen of jasmine was Cosimo I de’ Medici who, according to some sources, fell so in love with this fragrant plant that he wanted one in his private garden and prevented all his gardeners from removing even one branch to be able to hold the absolute exclusivity.
According to history, this order was respected for many years, until a gardener, subverting the rules, decided to give his girlfriend a twig scented with jasmine picked directly from the garden of Cosimo I de’ Medici. The young woman appreciated the gesture very much and, in order to keep her gift as long as possible, decided to bury the twig in her garden. To the amazement of the young woman, from that small underground branch was born a beautiful flowery and fragrant jasmine.
THE PROPERTIES OF JASMINE
The beneficial properties of jasmine have been known for a long time and it is for this reason that this plant is widely used not only in cosmetics but also in the herbal field. Jasmine is now considered a mild sedative and is a good ally against stress and to promote rest of mind and body.
It is also considered a good remedy against respiratory problems, such as coughing, and has good analgesic properties against menstrual and premenstrual pain. It also has excellent antioxidant properties, thanks to the flavonoids it contains, and is therefore a perfect ally against skin cell aging.
Lovers of blends and infusions will be happy to discover that jasmine is also used to make tea. This particularity of tea is obtained from the dried flowers of the jasmine plant, which become the perfect aroma to prepare decoctions and infusions. The history of the aroma of jasmine is very old and in the past the tables of nobles never lacked food flavoured with this plant, a sign of exclusivity and sophistication.
Thanks to its antibacterial properties, jasmine is also found as a component in cosmetic products, such as creams and masks, which help combat acne and remove from the skin of the face the annoying blackheads that fill the pores when they are enlarged.