Unlike the writer, jasmine gives out a heavenly odour at all times. It is also rumoured to have aphrodisiac properties.


Sniff this

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 nasty.

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 ladies.

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 your engines…



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