(Published in Yogi Times, Nov. ‘04)
Like scented stars appearing in the evening dusk, the night-blooming jasmine silently opens her five-petalled blossoms beneath our windows. In the dawn her sister will bloom, again filling the breeze with enchantment. Together, the jasmine sambac (night-blooming) and the jasmine grandiflorum (dawn-blooming) are among the most potent, ethereal, and intoxicating floral fragrances in the world.
Perfumes are the messengers of attraction, sensual pleasure, erotic enticement, and passionate excitement. Just as flowers secrete their nectars to attract pollinators for the perpetuation of their species, so too do humans use perfumes to enhance their attractiveness and signal their interest in love and intimacy. Jasmine, with her mysterious sultry aroma befuddling the rational mind with aphrodisiac impulses, is the foremost of all perfumes. “No jasmine, no perfume” is an old saying, indicating the great importance of the flower to the perfumers and their industry.
The sense of smell is generally the least appreciated of our senses. Although it is almost dormant in many people today, it remains neurologically our most powerful and primitive sense. Olfaction is deeply and directly linked to emotional memories, sexual vitality, and sensual wellbeing, which in turn are the basis of immunity and longevity. Jasmine, like all floral scents, can awaken feelings that have long been forgotten, sentiments that can often reopen a heart protecting itself from the painful stresses of life. More than once in my lectures and workshops, people who grew up in India have wept when they smelled the essence of jasmine, so strongly did it take them back to their childhood. All over tropical Asia, the sensuous fragrance of tiny white stars blossoming outside bedrooms is woven into the secret world of dreams.
In India the night-blooming jasmine is called mugra, Night Queen, who brings joy to the heart and soul with her exotic sweetness. From the main growing areas in Madurai in the south come tons of creamy white flowers, flown and trucked overnight to the flower markets of the cities. They will be made into garlands for festivities, offered to the deities in their temples, hung over lovers beds, and worn in the hair of beautiful dark-skinned women. Such are the simple things that make a culture civilized.
France was once the center of jasmine cultivation and distillation, but the flower has now moved to Egypt, India, Morocco, and South Africa. In India, organic and ecological cultivation of jasmine is being revived using traditional methods, which are often based in Vedic agricultural wisdom; these methods enhance the richness and beauty of the flowers aroma.
Jasmine oil is one of the most expensive of all floral oils: over eight million blossoms are required to produce one kilo of essence. Each blossom must be carefully harvested by hand so as not to bruise the flower, which would produce unpleasant fragrance notes in the finished oil.
Ayurveda describes jasmine oil as sweet, cooling, and tridoshic, meaning that it benefits all body types. When used therapeutically, such as during marma point therapy, the oil is said to be nourishing to the tissues and strengthening to the nervous system.
Recent scientific research has confirmed what traditional Ayuvedic knowledge has observed over the centuries. Studies on the effects of inhaling jasmine fragrance have found that the flower produces a stimulating effect on the mind, and significantly increases mental alertness. Other studies found that this stimulating effect reduces the need for sleep. As lovers and tired parents know, these are prerequisites for romantic fulfillment.
Anyone who spends time with the plant kingdom will come to know through experience many things that science later confirms by research. Ramakant Harlalka, one of my fragrance mentors, shared a fascinating story about the effects of jasmine fragrance with me during a recent trip to India. “The night blooming jasmine has a very unique effect on the human mind,” he commented. “It makes people very energetic and joyful. I have witnessed professional perfumers playing in an ocean of jasmine flowers which had been spread out for processing. Normally these men are very serious, but this fragrance made everyone so happy that they were acting like children. We gave another group fresh jasmine flowers to keep in their rooms overnight; the next morning everyones face was happy and relaxed, and they told me that they had unusually pleasant sleep with sweet dreams.”
Increased mental energy, reduced need for sleep, erotic attraction, romantic happiness, pleasant dreams, joy: these are the ways we can remember jasmines blessings. These are the reasons people in India plant jasmine around their homes, enjoying the relaxing benefits after working hard during the day. It is also why my teacher said so simply yet profoundly: “I have come to clearly understand that because of their unique fragrances, flowers such as these can make everyone happy. It does not matter where they are from.”