Jasmine is one member of a genus of about 200 species of shrubs and climbing vines that are native to tropical areas of southeast Asia, Africa and Australia. The popularity of their fragrance has resulted in many species of jasmine now being grown all over the world.
True jasmine grows as a climbing vine with oval, shiny leaves and tubular, waxy-white flowers. Two types of jasmine are used for the extraction of oil. Some botanists describe them as two distinct species: J. grandiflorum and J. officinale, while others consider J. grandiflorum to be a variety of officinale. The oil of the two flowers is virtually identical; for aromatherapy purposes they are used interchangeably.
Jasmine has always presented special problems to those who attempt to extract its alluring perfume. Although the plant blooms reliably and consistently, it only produces a few delicate flowers per plant over a period of days to weeks. These flowers last only one day, but continually produce essential oil before they wither and die. Steam distillation or solvent extraction immediately kills the flowers and stops oil production in the living blossom. Although distillation and solvent extraction are the most time-effective and least costly methods of deriving essential oil from large masses of plant material, in the case of jasmine flowers, these processes can actually decrease the total yield possible from the living flower.
This fact makes jasmine flowers especially appropriate for an extraction process known as enfleurage, or fat maceration. In this process fat absorbs the volatile aromatic compounds from the living flower over several hours. When the fat becomes saturated, the aroma is then extracted from the fat rather than directly from the flower.
The enfleurage extraction process begins with the hand-picking of the jasmine flowers after they open at night. Harvest takes place all the way through to morning, before the sun drives the aroma from the flowers. The freshly picked blooms are laid out on panes of fat-covered glass, stacked so the aromatic volatiles don't escape into the air. This ensures that every molecule of essential oil is absorbed by the fat. This process is repeated for several days with successive layers of fresh flowers, until the fat is thoroughly saturated with aroma.
The saturated fat is next melted under very low heat, then filtered. In traditional enfleurage the aromatic compounds are extracted from the fat with alcohol. The alcohol is then gently distilled away to leave behind the pure essence. To make this process more efficient, much fat is now extracted with solvents for a higher yield of oil. The final product of this process is an absolute.
Enfleurage is time consuming and costly. Despite the fact that yields from direct solvent extraction of the flowers are lower, that process is most often used today because it's so cost-effective. The limited quantities of jasmine processed via enfleurage are very expensive.
The effects and uses of jasmine in aromatherapy are similar to rose, another costly floral oil. Both are unsurpassed emotional tonics, especially for women, but traces of jasmine can add great depth and complexity to less floral and more traditional masculine blends. Jasmine has a heavy, rich, animal-like quality akin to musk oil in its effects.
Although jasmine has been considered an exotic and powerful aphrodisiac since antiquity, little clinical evidence exists to support this notion. But personal experiences with the oil often indicate otherwise. The sensuously rich and exotic aroma of a jasmine based massage oil can certainly be relied upon to evoke a romantic mood. To make your own massage oil add 12 drops of jasmine to 3 ounces of sweet almond oil.
Sandalwood and patchouli are two other oils traditionally thought of as aphrodisiacs. A balanced blend of these oils consists of 50 drops sandalwood, 25 drops patchouli and 25 drops of jasmine. This sensuous elixir can be used as a powerfully concentrated perfume a single drop at a time.
Jasmine can be an effective addition to an emotional tonic milk bath, that will gently soak away worry and stress. Add 3 drops of jasmine, 6 drops of lavender, 2 drops of clary sage and a single drop of bergamot oil to 3 ounces of whole milk. Add this to warm bath water and let the gentle aroma of jasmine work its magic on the senses.
Despite its many benefits, some may find jasmine simply too costly to use. In this case the most cost-effective and truly natural method to enjoy the fragrance of jasmine may be to grow the living plant.
Jasmine grows and flowers relatively easily in rich, moist, but well-drained potting soil. When in flower a single plant will strongly scent an entire room or patio on a still summer's eve.