Arguably the most beautiful time of year in New Orleans is jasmine season. And it’s finally arrived.
One of my favorite quotes about New Orleans is from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The Vampire Louis describes returning to the city after a long time away and his initial description is primarily one regarding scent. “I returned to New Orleans, and as soon as I smelled the air, I knew I was home. It was rich, almost sweet, like the scent of jasmine and roses around our old courtyard. I walked the streets, savoring that long lost perfume.”
Anyone living in New Orleans can tell you that the fragrance of jasmine lives rent free in our olfactory system this time of year. Whether you’re taking a stroll down a French Quarter sidewalk or stretched out in the shade of City Park, the intoxicating aroma of jasmine is everywhere in our city right now. For a brief period, less than two months, the jasmine plants bloom almost overnight and announce, “Spring is here!”
A classic choice
Botanists believe the jasmine plant (Jasminum officinale) originated in the Himalayas. From there, travelers brought this flower back with them to the Middle East, where its reach eventually grew farther due to trade shipping routes. Now it can be found in numerous tropical and subtropical climates, including New Orleans. And while there are over 200 species of jasmine, the one most often found in New Orleans is Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) from the family Apocynaceae. Commonly kept as a climbing vine, it is usually found along garden gates, trellis’, and even along the side of buildings. Technically, Star Jasmine is not part of the same family as traditional jasmine (which is in the Oleaceae family), however it is commonly accepted as the same plant.
Jasmine’s global allure
Love of jasmine can be found around the world. The word itself is of Persian origin, meaning “gift from God." It is commonly associated with love, purity, femininity, sensuality, hospitality, community, inspiration, and spiritual ascension. As a symbol associated with feminine power, jasmine is often used to honor goddess figures, which include the Virgin Mary, the Buddhist goddess Tara, and the Hindu goddess Shri Durgadevi.
Jasmine is the national flower of Indonesia, as well as a mainstay of Javanese weddings. Brides wear jasmine buds in their hair and grooms wear jasmine garlands to bring good fortune to the marriage. In Bali, jasmine is included in offerings to honor deities and the spirits of deceased family. Pikake is an evergreen climbing jasmine and is included in traditional leis in Hawaii, often worn by brides.
The annual Fête du Jasmin takes place each August in the French town of Grasse. The festival, first held in 1946, consists of highly decorated, horse-drawn floats carrying beautiful young women throwing armfuls of jasmine flowers into the crowd. Current festivities also include a firework display, concerts, and the election of a ‘Miss Jasmine’.
Potent outside, as well as in…
In Chinese culture, ingesting Jasmine tea was thought to be an antidote to many poisons. Even today, the delicious brew has shown to improve oral health and digestion.
Studies have shown that jasmine essential oil can increase alertness and improve mood. In fact, it’s been used as an at-home remedy for all sorts of things, from wound healing (amazing antiseptic properties) to lactation promotion in new mothers. It’s even been shown to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly insomnia. Many swear by its energy and libido boosting ability (hello, alertness), as well as its alleviation of menstrual and menopausal symptoms. In fact, small studies have found that consistent aromatherapy massage (at least once a week for several weeks) greatly reduced menopausal symptoms when jasmine was incorporated.
The scent of home
Ask any New Orleanian out for a stroll in April or May how the sidewalks come alive with the scent of jasmine in full bloom, and you’ll probably be met with an enthusiastic reaction. It’s a romantic scent, one that reminds us of home and memories. Our namesake perfume, Smoke, was inspired by this very thing - the fragrant streets and colorful history of our city. Meant to evoke a beautiful spring day, the notes of vetiver, citrus, and jasmine awaken us headfirst into this gorgeous season. And even if we find ourselves away from The City that Care Forgot, a simple dab of perfume to our wrists can transport us back instantly.