writer, jasmine gives out a heavenly
odour at all times. It is also
rumoured to have aphrodisiac
Why are we fascinated
by smells? The sense of smell is a weird thing – it
doesn’t matter whether the odour that hits your
nostrils is sweet and pleasant or totally minging
(that’s unpleasant, by the way, before any Americans
start reaching for their dictionary), we are somehow
drawn to smells of all kinds.
You know how it works. Your
flatmate/wife/husband/one-night-stand goes into the
fridge and comes out with something that is more
than a little past its sell-by date. It absolutely
honks, as proved by the look of total disgust on
their face when they give it a good sniff. It’s
What happens next? “Sniff this,” they say, “it’s
absolutely foul.” Of this there is no doubt – you’ve
just watched their face screw up in disgust. So what
do you do? Obviously you give the nastiness a hearty
inhale for yourself. We all know how we’ll react,
but we do the deed anyway. Madness.
Then there’s the old night-gift syndrome. The sort
of smells that are somehow only produced once you
get into bed at night. Why is it that we really want
to know the magnitude of the gaseous emission we’ve
just produced under the covers? We know it’s quite
likely to be unpleasant, but the truth must be
known. Up come the covers, to find out for sure.
Unfortunately, the wife finds this fascination
somewhat less appealing. It doesn’t matter how many
times you lift the sheets, give them a waft and say
to her “Get a load of this one love, it’s a
cracker”; she’s quite unlikely to share your
enthusiasm. The “Dutch oven”, as a friend of mine
refers to it. He really knows how to charm the
Then there are other smells, which are totally
subjective. Personally I consider durian to be one
of the most odious substances on the planet. To me
it smells like molten, moldy cheese festering in a
nylon footballer’s sock that he’s been wearing
non-stop for a year. You get the idea.
Yet there are others who think the smell of
freshly-cut durian is immensely pleasant, and are
instantly drawn to the source of the stench (often
up to 100 meters away, I’ve found), so that they can
sample this incredible fruit for themselves as soon
as possible. It takes all sorts, I suppose.
Smell is probably the sense we take most for
granted, as we often don’t even realize we’re using
it. Have you ever tried eating spicy food with a
cold? You can’t taste it. I remember as a child
being forced to eat Brussel sprouts. I hated them;
the only way I could bring myself to swallow them
was to hold my nose as they went through. I have no
idea how that worked, but it seemed to.
Onto a far more pleasant olfactory sensation, anyway
– flowers. Specifically, jasmine. Back in sunny
England, I used to rely on one of those
ludicrously-expensive plastic air fresheners to
bring a vague sense of normality to the usual pong
of my car interior.
In Thailand, I just wind down the window at any
reasonably-sized junction, and somebody will appear
out of the blue to sell me a jasmine garland to hang
from my rear view mirror. Ten baht buys a couple of
days’ relief. They’re made mainly from two flowers –
jasmine and michelia, or champaca.
Jasmine flowers emit an incredible smell – a bit
like the perfume you’d imagine that Sophia Loren
would wear. I once had about a dozen of these plants
on a balcony in pots, and the smell that greeted me
first thing in the morning was amazing.
Jasmine is a universally popular flower, especially
in this corner of the globe, mainly due to that
unique fragrance. The jasmine is native to tropical
and warm regions of the old world. Jasmine flowers
are white in most species, with some species
brandishing yellow flowers. Jasmine is believed to
have originated in the Himalayas, in western China.
Quite how anyone would claim that they know that is
beyond me though.
Growing jasmine flowers doesn’t exactly need the
horticultural skills of Percy Thrower on steroids.
Most jasmines grow well in moist, well drained,
sandy to clayey soil (is “clayey” a word? I’m sure
an English teacher will tell me). They prefer full
sun to partial shade – they’re sun worshipers.
They like gallons of water too (especially when
they’re younger), though don’t let the soil get
waterlogged. If they’re in a pot, they will
inevitably need to be re-potted every year or two to
keep them from getting root-bound. Jasmine is also a
very talented climber, and can be used to cover
fences and walls.
Growth can be a bit sluggish to start with – they
don’t seem to be in any particular rush to get
going. Having said that, once they’ve got a bit of
confidence there’s no stopping them, so you might
want to plant them a meter or two apart to try and
stop them interfering with each other. As it were.
If you want to get serious, the tips of the plants
at the top should be pinched fairly regularly, to
stimulate sideways growth, and should get frequent
attacks with the pruning shears. Also, with younger
plants tie the wandering, reaching branches to the
stem, to give it a bit of extra support. Kind of
like the Playtex approach to gardening.
There is actually a true jasmine and a false
jasmine; the two are commonly mistaken for each
other because both plants release pretty impressive
smells. The genuine jasmine belongs to the Oleaceae
family, is primarily a bushy shrub or climbing vine,
and is non-poisonous. This type of jasmine has oval,
shiny leaves and tubular, waxy-white flowers. The
impostor, the false jasmine, on the other hand, is
in a completely different genus and family, and is
thought to be too poisonous for human consumption.
Some people claim that the daily consumption of
jasmine tea is effective in preventing certain types
of rather nasty diseases. Many species of the plant,
and the essential oil extracted from the flower are
used extensively in cosmetics and perfume, and as a
calmative (relaxing properties, sedative) and even
as an aphrodisiac. There you go, gents.
Thankfully, should your better half ever pull the
Dutch oven stunt on you, you can always sprint out
to the car to retrieve one of those jasminy garlandy
things to try and counteract the effects. Better
still, munch on one and enjoy the night of unbridled
passion that will inevitably ensue. Gentlemen, start