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Aroma Science

Origin & Botany of Jasmine Oil

While the exquisite fragrance of the jasmine flower remains quite similar across the 200-plus different species, there can be a considerable amount of variability in appearance from one plant to the next. Jasmine is thought to be originally native to the Himalayas and more broadly, tropical Asia and India. Since then, the popularity of the sensuality-invoking plant has ensured its rapid spread to many areas of the world.

Typically, jasmine grows in vine form, often referred to as ‘true’ or ‘common’ jasmine, and it is this variety of meandering, climbing jasmine with bright, white flowers that often comes to mind when one hears the name. Jasmine belongs to the olive family (oleaceae), a distinction shared with other seemingly unlikely plants such as the lilac bush and forsythia plant. (source) Jasmine plants tend to have oval, shiny green leaves that are borne opposite in most species, similar to their olive cousins. Most species of jasmine are deciduous, losing their pinnate leaves in autumn; however, the Jasminum sambac variety is evergreen, maintaining its smooth, dark green leaves throughout the year.

The jasmine flower itself can contain anywhere between four and nine petals, and is typically white, although yellow, and in rare cases, light pink or slightly reddish, has been documented. The intensely aromatic flower tends to have a pinwheel or starburst shape approximately 2.5 centimeters (one inch) in diameter. Contrary to popular belief, the jasmine flower buds are actually more fragrant than the flower petals themselves. (sourceJasmine flowers are perhaps most well known for their proclivity to bloom at night and close during the day. This is due to the fact that jasmine plants are pollinated by moths, which are active at night, rather than by day-pollinating bees or other insects. ( Jasmine is a beloved plant in gardens due to its extensive blooming time; many varieties bloom from late spring to late fall, ensuring a continuously fragrant garden for many months. The aroma exuded from these small flowers has been described using many words, including exotic, sensual, floral, fruity, heavenly, warm, heady, intense, soothing, exquisite, sweet, seductive, rich, and intoxicating. Many will argue these multiple descriptive words do not come close to doing the complex fragrance justice.

In addition to striking flowers, the long, nearly four-sided stems produce two-lobed berries that range from dark purple to black when they are ripe. While the berries produced from jasmine plants can be used to germinate new plants, they are toxic to humans and should not be ingested, as they can disrupt the nervous, respiratory, and digestive systems, and can occasionally be fatal. (source)

Home growers of jasmine delight in the fact that the easy-to-grow vine form of jasmine can be trained to crawl up trellises, trees, and other vertical supports in its effort to reach the sun. The vines can grow anywhere between 2-7 meters (6-21 feet) tall, growing approximately half a meter (one and a half feet) per year. In shrub form, the bushy plant typically grows 0.5-3 meters (six inches-nine feet) tall.  While typically jasmine is considered an easy plant to grow, conditions necessary for the plant to thrive, rather than simply survive, include a warm, temperate climate, full sun to partial shade, and well-drained, loamy soil. Jasmine plants can become susceptible to spider mites and root rot if they are allowed to remain in an area that drains poorly and becomes waterlogged.

There are a number of species of jasmine, however, that can grow in cooler conditions when properly cared for.  While jasmine can remain hardy in climates that are not typical to its native habitat, it can become more prone to disease when ideal growing conditions are not maintained.  For example, Jasminum officinale var. gradiflorum, the species which commonly provides jasmine absolute, can flourish in cooler climates when placed in warmer, sheltered areas that receive a good deal of sun (source).

Jasmine can be grown as a houseplant as well as in the backyard in temperate climates. When grown indoors, the plants typically require full sun from spring to fall, and moist, well-drained soil. In the winter months when the plant is dormant; indirect sun and rather dry soil will accommodate the plant. Jasmine species that are often used as houseplants include Jasminum officinale var. gradiflorum and Jasminum polyanthum.

While naturally-growing jasmine shrubs and vines can now be found across the globe in warmer climates, it is believed that they were originally native to the area of the world encompassing northern India, the Middle East, and Asia (Arctander, S. (1960) Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Artander), (source). The exact location, however, is in dispute. One source indicates, “Many botanists believe Persia, now Iran, is where jasmine originated. It crossed the Red Sea into Egypt as early as 1000 B.C., then found its way to Turkey and Greece” (source).  Supporters of this theory point to the Arabic origin of the name jasmine, widely believed to have been an homage to the Persian female name Yasmin (Ysmyn), indicating that the plant was present in the Middle East early on in its botanical history. (source)  Other sources declare that India, specifically in the northern Himalayan Mountains, is where jasmine originated. The author of the ancient text, “The Garden Flowers of China,” H.L. Li, however, writes that Jasminum officinale and Jasminum sambac were considered ‘foreign plants’ in China dating back to the third century.  (Li, The Garden Flowers of China, 1959, noted in Coats (1964) 1992.)

Regardless of the controversy regarding jasmine’s origin, it is clear that the intoxicating flower’s powerful fragrance led to a wide expansion across the globe including Spain, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and Morocco.  Sources indicate that the Moors likely brought the jasmine plant with them as they conquered regions such as Spain and North Africa. (Guenther, E. (1952) The Essential Oils. London: Macmillan) In modern times, approximately 43 of jasmine’s 200 plus species are found in India alone. It is thought that the only location in the world where there is no naturalized jasmine now present is in Antarctica.  (source)

Due to the jasmine plant’s affinity for warm, tropical or subtropical climates, it has become invasive in several areas of the world. For example, Jasminum fluminense and Jasminum dichotomum are considered invasive species in Florida and Hawaii, while Jasminum polyanthum is labeled as invasive in parts of Australia. Steps to manage invasive jasmine have been met with little success, as so many home gardeners enjoy the sweet fragrance of this easy-to-grow plant.

While the exact number of different species of jasmine is widely debated, the number likely hovers somewhere between 200-250. At the bottom of the page is a comprehensive list of the different jasmine species as well as common names and the botanist who classified the species.

There is much confusion in the essential oil trade regarding the proper botanical name for the most common jasmine oil (typically called Jasmine absolute). Jasmine absolute is often said to be made from Jasminum grandiflorum, but also it is also labeled Jasminum officinale and Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum. The same situation occurs in the world of horticulture and gardening. In our studies we have found that these three names are synonyms for the same botanical species, which most often accepted to be Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum by botanists. Even though there are morphological differences in the horticultural varieties sold variously as Jasminum grandiflorum, Jasminum officinale and Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum the taxonomical differences are minor, or non-existent, and most botanists agree that the three names used in the essential oil and horticultural trades are the same species. We have therefore chosen to use the most common and up-to-date name in use by botanists for all three botanical names, which is, Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum, and we consider each of these names to be synonyms of each other. (source)( source )

In addition to the more than 200 species of ‘true’ jasmine, there are many plants not belonging to the oleaceae family that are labeled with the jasmine moniker. These include confederate jasmine (Trachelo spermum jasminoides), cape jasmine (Gardenia augusta), Madagascar jasmine (Marsdenia floribunda), jasmine tobacco (Nicotiana alata), Carolina, or allspice jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Chilean jasmine (Mandevillea suaveolens), orange jasmine (various species of the genus Murraya), night or day jasmine (various species of Cestrum), and the crepe jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata). While beautiful smelling, the above plants are considered ‘false jasmine’ by botanists.  (source)

True jasmine can be differentiated from its many imposters due to the fact that the vine is typically without tendrils. (source) The flowers of false jasmine are also typically poisonous and not safe for human consumption, unlike true jasmine, which is used extensively in teas, syrups, and other flavoring uses.  However, there are applications for plants in the false jasmine family, even purely beneficial ones. For example, the nectar taken from the fragrant flowers of a species of false jasmine, Carolina Jasmine (gelsemium sempervirens), while poisonous in its natural state, can be dried and used in sedatives. (source)


(African Flowering Plants Database. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Ville de Geneve.)