Her Majesty Jasmine. The perfumer Edmond Roudnitska said once that “if Rose is the queen of the flowers, Jasmine is the queen of the fragrances.” Thanks to you, Grasse, in South of France, metamorphosed from a filthy and stinky leather tanning town to the world’s capital of perfume. The Moors, who discovered you in South Asia and could then not live without your scent, brought you first to their Alhambra in Granada before you reached the Azure Coast. For over three centuries, you crept over the valleys and hills surrounding the fragrant city. Your white flowers, collected in the pink light of dawn in August, when they are most fragrant, generously devised their essence in a last will to the grease becoming pomade.
Fragrant member of the Olive family, Jasmine is a genus of more than two hundred species of shrubs and vines. Most species originate from South Asia, and only one is recognized as native from Europe. Jasmine flowers are very fragrant and generally white but sometimes yellowish, reddish or even plain yellow. Leaves are either opposite or alternate and of simple shape. Some plants are commonly known as jasmine but very different botanically, such as the Star Jasmine, also called Confederate Jasmine or even Trachelospermum. Star Jasmine is a very fragrant “bine,” native of China and with flowers and scent similar to true jasmine. Some gardenias can also be confused as jasmines and thus called “jasminoides.”
The two main varieties of Jasmine used to produce concretes are Jasminum Grandiflorum (aka Royal or Spanish Jasmine) and for a larger share, Jasminum Officinale (aka Common Jasmine). Sambac Jasmine (aka Arabian Jasmine) is the genus harvested in China to flavor green tea. Sambac is also now very appreciated in fine perfumery.
Jasmine is not only loved for its scent and beauty, but also for its benefits in aromatherapy. Jasmine essential oil helps combat depression and insomnia, can treat eczema and dermatitis, prevents wounds from becoming septic, provides relief from cold, reduce scar marks, regulate menstruations and prevent tumors in the uterus.
The chemical composition of Jasmine oil varies tremendously from one species to another. Even within the same species, the origin of the flower, the method of extraction, the month and even the time of the harvest will produce different qualities and compositions. Surprisingly, jasmine cannot produce any steam-distilled essential oil directly from the flowers. The traditional method of enfleurage developed in Grasse is now only limited to some hyper-pricey and exclusive oils. Instead, the method of extraction by a volatile solvent is far more efficient. The flowers, within a few hours after their harvest, are placed in vats filled with hexane. After filtration, the hexane is evaporated under vacuum and thus remains the concrete of jasmine, with a semi-solid and waxy consistency. The absolute of Jasmine is then obtained by washing the concrete with ethanol, filtering the juice at freezing temperature and then evaporating the alcohol. Some oil is extracted by the steam distillation of the concrete. This oil is lighter in color and contains mostly top notes. The yield of the process is anyhow very low since one metric ton of jasmine flowers will produce about 2.5 kilograms of concrete which in turn will leave only 1.5 kg of absolute. This can easily explain the price of jasmine absolute and the temptation to replace the natural oil by cheaper aroma chemicals.
Jasmine’s scent profile lies beyond the basic main components of benzyl acetate, benzyl benzoate, benzyl alcohol, linalool, the animalic indole, and the jasmones such as methyl jasmonate or the now famous and divine methyl dihydro jasmonate, baptized Hedione by Firmenich which first synthesized it. Overall, jasmine absolute contains more than 300 molecules, making it one of the most complex floral note.
As most fragrances contain some jasmine note in the heart, choosing fragrances with a real characteristic note of Jasmine will be my challenge this week:
Acqua di Colonia Gelsomino by Santa Maria Novella. What can we expect from one of the oldest pharmacies and perfumeries in the world, founded in 1612 in Florence? A jewel! This soliflor is surely longer lasting than the standard eau de cologne and can be easily compared with an EdP. SMN did not take any risk in this fragrance and delivers a tender and sweet jasmine, with lots of top notes and a pure floral heart. The indolic nature of jasmine is not present here, but that might be a quality for the ones searching for a fresh and aerial jasmine for warm days.
Serge Lutens. More than just perfumery, but the marriage of fashion, poetry, and perfumes. Listening to the great Serge talking about his creations is magic. The following text from Serge just put you in the right mindset and mood to appreciate A La Nuit (“to the night”):
This jasmine has only one thought in its head: paint the town white!
On a ladder of silken rugs, the fragrance climbs high into the night until it reaches the very top and explodes in a constellation of fireworks. It feels positively electric on the skin.
A La Nuit is not a soliflor of jasmine, even if the floral note is omnipresent. The juice contains real jasmine oil from three different origins in a perfect blend. Musk, green notes, and some spices complement jasmine here and allow the warm night (la Nuit) to fade softly in dreams. Some may say that this fragrance is not very long lasting, but the performance of a fragrance depends not just on the quality of the ingredients, but only on their chemical properties. Perfumers are artists and can’t defy the laws of chemistry. If you love A La Nuit, take a refill bottle with you for a longer lasting pleasure.
Jasmin Et Cigarette by Etat Libre d’Orange. We are here in a scene of an urban 20th century night club when smoking was still allowed in the bars, and the heavy indolic fragrance of jasmine from the starlets was copulating with the smokey notes in the air. Top notes are Jasmine absolute and an apricot accord. Heart notes are again jasmine with an indolic character, cumin, and tobacco. Base notes are tonka beans, musk, cedar and an amber accord. This fragrance is classified as feminine, but I personally feel it as unisex. Probably one of the best and most wearable juice of ELDO.
Jasmin Noir from Bvlgari is yet another style of Jasmine fragrance from the legendary nose Carlos Benaim and Sophie Labbe from IFF. The jasmine note is here perhaps not that obvious since it is well blended with gardenia and almond notes, on the top of a very oriental and woody base. This is the snapshot of an Indian or South East Asian night market, where garlands of sambac jasmine are hanging over nuts and spices. I recall in this fragrance the nostalgy of my numerous trips to these lands of bounty.
So much more could be written about jasmine and the fragrances that contain this note, but this will be for another post. I still need to learn and discover more about Her Majesty. I wish you, my friends, a wonderfully fragrant week.