Plant 285

Jasminum officinale L. (Oleaceae)

Common jasmine

For those favouring scented plants in the garden, a good choice is Jasminum officinale with its sweetly scented flowers. It can however be a rather vigorous climber but it is reliable and easy to grow in well-drained soil. The plant favours a sunny position and in colder areas may need the protection of a south-facing wall. Acknowledged to have been the first jasmine species introduced into English gardens, there is a mention of the plant in the herbalist William Turner's The Names of Herbes (1548). It was growing in the Oxford Botanic Garden in the late seventeenth century.

Jasminum officinale has opposite, pinnate leaves and terminal inflorescences with five to twelve flowers arranged in an umbellate fashion. The flowers are tubular, with joined petals and five spreading lobes. White is the most common petal colour, although pink or red colouration may be found on the outside of open flowers, especially in the cultivar 'Inverleith'. Night-flying insects probably effect pollination, since the flowers are most strongly scented at dusk.

The olive family includes 200 species of Jasminum. However, relatively few jasmines are used in cultivation in temperate regions as Jasminum is primarily a palaeotropical genus. Jasminum officinale has been cultivated for so many centuries that its country of origin is unknown, but it is thought to originate within the area that extends from Persia to northern India. The species grows in the wild through the Caucasus and the Himalayas to south-eastern China and has become naturalized in parts of southern Europe and Asia. Because of its abundance in Pakistan and its use in religious ceremonies, especially for wedding celebrations, the white jasmine was chosen as the country's national flower.

Jasmine oil is one of the most important natural floral products used in perfumery. Three species, Jasminum officinale, Jasminum grandiflorum and Jasminum sambac have been used since Roman times. However, mass production of the oil is very costly due to the labour involved in gathering the flowers, and its use has very much declined over the last fifty years.

Traditionally jasmine has been used in the treatment of snakebites and as an antiseptic, as well as for the treatment of fevers, respiratory diseases, ringworm, intestinal problems and headaches. In most cases there is little scientific evidence that jasmine is effective in these remedies. Such data are important as there are reports that jasmine is poisonous. Jasmine oil is also used in aromatherapy.

Further reading

Calkin R 2009. Jasmin in the perfume industry - an overview. In: Green P and Miller M The genus Jasminum in cultivation. Kew Publishing.

Coats AM 1963. Garden shrubs and their histories. Vista Books.

Green P and Miller M 2009. The genus Jasminum in cultivation. Kew Publishing.

Serena Marner