Jasmine of Grasse Newsletter
Walking aimlessly through the town of Grasse... For a long time we follow low, crumbling walls, walls behind which we sense the presence of some garden from a Thousand and One Nights, with its agaves, jasmines, fountains and zulejos (blue wall tiles). The multitude of worlds ruling over the multitude of flowers. The greenery studded with white jasmines. The earth balmy with their delicious nocturnal sigh. The dominant scent was a profound and fine as the light. Two kinds of sweetness emerged; the light and the perfume. The rose would give up its soul to the sun, the jasmine to the stars....
Francis de Miomandre: Grasse, 1928
Jasmine has been a longtime favorite of mine. Its sublime, pure and sweet aroma immediately speaks to the heart of an ancient world of refinement where people valued and appreciated nature's elegant floral gifts. Both in the West and in the East, the delicate white flowers and the fine ethereal scent spoke a symbolic non-verbal language that captured the attention of those who came under its spell. In Grasse, this flower played a key role in the evolution of the regions perfume industry and its rich floral notes have been incorporated into some of the world's most treasured perfumes. The following article endeavors to capture something of the magic of the golden era of Jasmine in Grasse's history.
Description of Jasminum grandiflorum
Jasminum officinale Linnaeus var. grandiflorum (Linnaeus) Stokes; J. officinale f. grandiflorum (Linnaeus) Kobuski. Shrubs scandent, 2-4 m. Branchlets terete, angular or grooved. Leaves opposite, pinnatipartite or compound with 5-9 leaflets; petiole 0.5-4 cm; leaflet blade ovate or narrowly so (terminal one usually narrowly rhomboid), 0.7-3.8 ? 0.5-1.5 cm, base cuneate or blunt, apex acute, acuminate, or blunt, sometimes mucronate. Cymes terminal or axillary, 2-9-flowered; bracts linear, 2-3 mm. Pedicel 0.5-2.5 cm, middle pedicel of cymes conspicuously shorter. Calyx glabrous; lobes subulate-linear, (3-)5-10 mm. Corolla white, salverform; tube 1.3-2.5 cm; lobes often 5, oblong, 1.3-2.2 cm. Fruit not seen. Fl. Aug-Oct. 2n = 26*.
Also called Jasminum grandiflorum, Spanish Jasmine, and Royal Jasmine. The shrub/vine is an excellent everbloomer. Grows well in sun, with a well drained soil. Hardy here to 17° F, in a protected location. Zones 8-11. Native, perhaps, to Arabia.
Early History of Jasmine in Grasse
Originally from North India, jasmine was probably brought back to North Africa and then to Spain by the Moors, as its name, yasmyn, Arabic in origin, would indicate.
Most certainly introduced into southern France by Spanish sailors around 1560, jasmin appeared in the area around Grasse in the 17th century...
It is estimated by the end of the 17th century, 15 hectares were planted with jasmine. In the middle of this century, the picking season was fixed by the Council of some twenty-one master glove dealers and perfumers of Grasse, the perfumers having the advantage of a monopoly on production.
Until the end of the 18th century there were no special crops set aside for the perfume industry. The gardens of Grasse were sufficient to meet the demands of the merchant perfumers, providing them with jasmine flowers which they used to manufacture perfumes, powders, oils and perfumed fats. Large crops appeared later to supply the developing industry.
It was not until 1860 that jasmine began to be grown in the open fields. The construction of the Siagne Canal provided a means of irrigation vital to the development of the jasmine plantations. Cultivation of jasmine then spread beyond the town limits into the surrounding countryside where it reached its zenith a few years later.
History of the Siagne Canal
With a length of 44km and flowing through towns such as Antibes, Grasse, Mouans-Sartoux, Mougins, Le Cannet and Cannes, this remarkable and historical canal merits closer attention.
It must be said that it is thanks to the intervention of Henry, Lord Brougham, that the building of this canal ever occurred.
As the well known (by now) story goes, in 1834 Lord Henry Brougham, accompanied by his sickly daughter Eleonore, intended to go to Nice in search of a mild climate along the French Riviera.
Unfortunately, not only was the River Var a raging torrent, but cholera had broken out in Provence and thus he was forced to turn back, first to Antibes which he didn’t like - and then to Cannes - which he loved immediately.
Discovering that water was very scarce in Cannes, (and the region as a whole) and realizing its importance economically, he interceded with King Louis Philippe in 1835 so that work could commence on the canal’s construction.
This work was carried out by the General Irrigation and Water Supply Company of France Ltd in 1866 and inaugurated two years later in 1868. It was then sold to the Société Lyonnaise des Eaux et de l’Eclairage in 1880. Today, the canal still exists, although regrettably, much has been concreted over and thus the wonderful serpenting of its waters are no longer visible. Thankfully, due to the dedication and perserverance of a number of local inhabitants, part of the Canal de Siagne still manages to breathe fresh air and warm its crystal waters under the Riviera sun. Long may it be so.
-- see "Peymeinade" by Alice Barker
Production Figures for Jasmine from 1856-1995
Within a very short time after the opening of the canal, thousands of acres of land near Grasse were planted in Jasmin grandiflorum. The plantations stretched from Vence in the Alpes-Maritimes to Seillans in the Var Provence. For the next 90 years France held a virtual monopoly on the production of Jasmin grandiflorum absolute for the domestic and international fragrance market. Following are some of the production figures for the production of jasmine flowers in the Grasse Region.
1856- 80 tonnes
These figures clearly show how the industry grew steadily up until the early 1930's when it reached its zenith of production. Even up until 1960 there was considerable production in the area but from 1965 onwards there was a dramatic decline in the fields of Jasmine around Grasse as the cost of land in the region increased, labor costs soared and other countries such as Egypt, Morocco and India took up the cultivation of the flower in earnest.
During the golden era of Jasmin cultivation which occupied the first half of the 20th century-fields of Jasmin stretched as far as the eye could see.
Story of Village "Peymeinade"-An example of the growth and decline of the Jasmin industry near Grasse in the 19th and 20th century
After the plague disseminated many of the villages in the region, in 1496 Balthazar of Grasse, then Lord of Cabris, brought in 52 families from the region of Menton to repopulate the village of Cabris. As time went by, so the population increased until a few of the inhabitants decided to move away and create new homes on a small hill situated lower down from Cabris The name Peymeinade originates from the d’Oc language, “Pey” meaning hill and “meinada” family, or a group of children.
By 1701 these homes formed a hamlet and in 1724 Peymeinade became a parish with a church and Presbytery. 1786 saw the first requests from the people of Peymeinade for independence from Cabris. In 1846, a secondary road was constructed to connect Grasse to Brignoles. A few years later, the Conseil Municipal de Cabris accepted the splitting of the towns - and on 19th June 1868, the Préfet des Alpes Maritimes published the decree that created the commune of Peymeinade.
In the beginning, the Peymeinadois cultivated grapes, wheat, olive trees, hemp and kept sheep. Then, during the 19th and 20th century they changed their cultivation and grew jasmine, roses, violettes and tuberous plants for the perfume industry of Grasse.
By 1935, Peymeinade was a small village of some 600 inhabitants. Its sole source of income came from cultivating jasmine flowers (60 tonnes a year). Today there are over 7,220 inhabitants but only a dozen Jasmine growers producing around 4 tonnes of flowers a year.
--see "Peymeinade" by Alice Barker
Cultivation of Jasmine
The fields near Grasse are generally planted with Jasminum officinale, L. (more), which was probably first brought to Italy from Asia Minor or India in the sixteenth century; but it is found advantageous to graft upon it the Jasminum grandiflorum, L. (more), bearing larger flowers, having a more powerful odor; this also is an Indian species, which probably came to Europe before the time of Rheede, in whose 'Hortus Malabaricus' (v., tab. 52) it is figured. But the Jasminum grandiflorum, here known as "Jasmin d'Espagne," even in the beautiful Paradise of Provence, requires some shelter in winter, and this is effected by simply covering the small bushes with earth. Since only the flowers are required, the plants are allowed to grow scarcely half a metre high, and they are planted close to one another in regular rows. In the spring the young shoots are cut back.....
--see "The Essential Oil Industry in Grasse" By F. A. Fluckiger
The harvest began around July 14th and ended in mid-October. Flowering often continued into the later part of October and even early November but the fragrance of the flowers was considerably less than during the normal harvest season. It was hence not profitable to collect the flowers for extraction.
Their were two types of jasmine farms that existed during jasmines "golden era." One was the typical small family enterprise and the other were those owned by the large perfume houses that covered larger areas of land. The majority of the work on the family farm was done by immediate family members with additional help of local women and children during the harvest season whereas the large industrial operations were operated by tenant farmers who immigrant workers(the majority of who came from Italy.)
Picking began each day at dawn and normally went up until noon as the volatile oil in the flowers decreased with the heat of the day. Depending on the size of the crop and the number of available workers, the harvest sometimes continued into the afternoon-even up until dusk. It was a seven day work week with no holidays during the jasmin season.
The correct technique of picking the flowers required considerable skill. Dexterity in both hands was required in order to pick enough flowers to make a decent wage. Each flower had to be plucked individually at the place were the stem joined the flower. Great care was exercised in the picking process because if the delicate petals were bruised then it gave rise to an off odor at the extraction stage.
A basket attached to the waist, holding about 3 ounces of flowers received the fragrant wares of the harvester as she worked across the jasmin field. A good picker could harvest 18-28 ounces of flowers per hour and up to 13-15 pounds a day. On an average an experienced picker could harvest 80 blossoms per minute and 5000 per hour and 40,000 per 8 hour day. It is a pretty staggering thing to contemplate.
When we further realize that it takes 665 kilos of flowers to make 1 kilos of absolute, we will discover that it would require over 45 days for one person working at optimum picking speed, all day long to pick enough flowers to make the aforesaid absolute. It is no wonder that in due course of time France could no longer compete in the production of jasmin and other floral absolutes where the cost of labor alone would boost the cost of the final product into an prohibitive range as compared with the same absolute produced in India, Egypt and Morocco.
When the small picking baskets became full, they were emptied into larger baskets placed in the shade and covered with a damp cloth so that the flowers would not dry out. If the day proved to be humid or damp then the flowers had to be first placed on sheets to briefly dry in the sun before they were placed in the larger baskets. Sometimes if the extracting unit was nearby, the workers would carry the baskets of freshly harvested flowers directly to the factory where they would be spread out on clean floors. The flowers would then be spread onto the perforated trays which fit one on top of the other into the extracting unit.
In areas some distance from the extracting units the brokers or agents would make their daily rounds in special vehicles equipped to carry the flowers to the factory as quickly as possible. In the early days this was done by horse or mule drawn carts and later in motorized vehicles.
--see White Lotus Aromatics Newsletter: Jasmin sambac
I have not had the opportunity to visit Grasse during the extraction season but I have been in India numerous times to see the process of producing Jasmin grandiflorum absolute from field to extraction. The following notes give a general idea of how the process works whether it be in Grasse, India, Morocco or Egypt:
"Inside the factory we were shown the basic set of extracting units. Three were kept for the extraction of Jasmin grandiflorum and three for J. sambac. The ones of J. grandiflorum had a capacity of 150 kilos of fresh flowers and the ones for J. sambac a capacity of 100 kilos. In a previous visit to India in 1995 I had seen units for Jasmin extraction of a much larger size so I was curious as to why they they had opted for the smaller ones. Mr. Sethuraman explained in these small units a much more thorough washing of the flowers with highly purified hexane could be done thus preserving the greatest amount of the highly volatile aromatic molecules in the concrete. They then showed us how the the flowers were loaded into the units. Circular perforated trays slide over a a central column within the extractors. Each tray holds 15 kilos of flowers that are spread in thin layers so the hexane can access all parts of the flower. One tray is stacked upon another with a special vertebrae-shaped piece of metal in between which prevents the tray above from squashing the one below. It is important that the flowers remain unbruised so that no "off" note appears in the final product. Once the extractor is fully loaded it is sealed and the process of washing with hexane begins. Two washes are done of one hour each for each batch. The solvent dissolves all extractable matter from the plant which includes non-aromatic waxes, pigments and highly volatile aromatic molecules. The solution containing both solvent and dissolvable plant material is filtered and the filtrate subjected to low pressure distillation to recover the solvent for further use. The remaining waxy mass is what is called the concrete and it contains in the case of J. grandiflorum as much as 55% of the volatile oil....
Another part of our tour took us to the area where the absolutes are prepared. Here, in a much smaller area, the concentrated concretes are processed further to remove the waxy materials which dilute the pure essential oil. They also are poorly soluble in alcohol and other aromatic materials so their removable is, in most cases, a necessity.(One interesting exception is for the use of the concrete in the preparation of solid perfumes which has become popular in the last couple of years.) Often though the concrete is left, as is, until a firm order comes for a customer for the absolute as the waxes act as a good preservative for the essential oil. To prepare the absolute from the jasmine concrete, the waxy substance is warmed and stirred with pure sugar cane alcohol. In India this is the only pure alcohol available to distillers/extractors. In other Western countries pure ethanol is used. The temperature to which this solution is heated is from 115-155 F. During the heating and stirring process the concrete breaks up into minute globules greatly increasing the surface area of the original mass. Since the aromatic molecules are more soluble in alcohol than is the wax an efficient separation of the two takes place. But along with the aromatic molecules a certain amount of wax also becomes dissolved and this can only be removed by agitating and freezing the solution at very low temperatures(around -30 degrees F) In this way most of the wax precipitates out. As a final precaution the purified solution is cold filtered leaving only the wax-free material. The alcohol is recovered from the dewaxed extract by gentle distillation under reduced pressure. Much care has to be exercised at this stage so that the more volatile components of the extract remain intact. This process of alcohol removal from the extract is done in several stages until the final removal is done under vacuum. In fact, the whole process of preparing the absolute is as much an art as it is a science. The person doing it must have a "feel" for the material so that they can sense what is the right moment to perform each procedure."
--see White Lotus Aromatics Newsletter: Jasmin sambac
Jasmin grandiflorum absolute
Jasmin grandiflorum or Spanish Jasmine absolute is extracted from the flowers of the shrub(actually a climbing vine trained as a shrub) which is cultivated in France, India, Italy, Morocco and Egypt and many other countries. Egypt, India and Morocco are now main centers of extracted with comparatively small amounts being grown in Provence.
The absolute is a dark orange viscous liquid with an ethereal, delicate, sweet, fresh floral odor with an elegant vanilla, fruity undertone. In perfumery the application of jasmin grandiflorum is wide ranging. It finds its way into almost every type of composition including floral types of chypre, oriental bases, fougere, citrus colognes, etc as its fine bouquet is the very definition of what thinks of as a sweet flora essence. Well balanced, delicate, pure and sublime. The combination of rose abs and otto with Jasmin grandiflorum is considered one of the great classic accords of perfumery.
It blends well with equally wide range of materials including precious woods, balsamic resins, pungent herbs, aromatic spices, exotic floras, earthy roots and fresh grasses.
--see White Lotus Aromatics Newsletter: Jasmin sambac
Jasmine in Literature
But it wasn't sordid, really, for I never actually lived over a stable. Indeed, we had the sweetest cottage in all San Bernardino. I remember it so well: the long, cool porch, the wonderful gold-of-Ophir roses, the honeysuckle where the linnets nested, the mocking birds that sang all night long; the perfume of the jasmine, of the orange-blossoms, the pink flame of the peach trees in April, the ever-changing color of the mountains. And I remember Ninette, my little Creole mother, gay as a butterfly, carefree as a meadow-lark.
'Twas she who planted the jasmine.
--from Cupid's Understudy
by Edward Salisbury Field
I see the old bush homestead now
On Kiley's Run,
Just nestled down beneath the brow
Of one small ridge above the sweep
Of river-flat, where willows weep
And jasmine flowers and roses bloom,
The air was laden with perfume
On Kiley's Run.
--from The Man from Snowy River
by Banjo Paterson
Whither dost thou hide from the magic of my flute-call
In what moonlight-tangled meshes of perfume,
Where the clustering keovas guard the squirrel's slumber,
Where the deep woods glimmer with the jasmine's bloom?
The Golden Threshold by Naidu
For the next five days we marched up the Sind Valley, one of the most beautiful in Kashmir from its grandeur and variety. Beginning among quiet rice-fields and brown agricultural villages at an altitude of 5,000 feet, the track, usually bad and sometimes steep and perilous, passes through flower-gemmed alpine meadows, along dark gorges above the booming and rushing Sind, through woods matted with the sweet white jasmine, the lower hem of the pine and deodar forests which ascend the mountains to a considerable altitude, past rifts giving glimpses of dazzling snow-peaks, over grassy slopes dotted with villages, houses, and shrines embosomed in walnut groves, in sight of the frowning crags of Haramuk, through wooded lanes and park-like country over which farms are thinly scattered, over unrailed and shaky bridges, and across avalanche slopes, till it reaches Gagangair, a dream of lonely beauty, with a camping-ground of velvety sward under noble plane-trees. Above this place the valley closes in between walls of precipices and crags, which rise almost abruptly from the Sind to heights of 8,000 and 10,000 feet.
--from Among the Tibetans
by Isabella L. Bird
Of ornaments, as usual among Orientals, they have a vast variety, ranging from brass and spangles to gold and precious stones; and they delight in strong perfumes, musk, civet, ambergris, attar of rose, oil of jasmine, aloe-wood, and extract of cinnamon
--from Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah
by Richard Burton
A little later a marriage procession would strike into the Grand Trunk with music and shoutings, and a smell of marigold and jasmine stronger even than the reek of the dust. One could see the bride's litter, a blur of red and tinsel, staggering through the haze, while the bridegroom's bewreathed pony turned aside to snatch a mouthful from a passing fodder-cart. Then Kim would join the Kentish-fire of good wishes and bad jokes, wishing the couple a hundred sons and no daughters, as the saying is.
by Rudyard Kipling
Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose have long been yielding their evening sacrifice of incense: this new scent is neither of shrub nor flower; it is--I know it well--it is Mr. Rochester's cigar. I look round and I listen. I see trees laden with ripening fruit. I hear a nightingale warbling in a wood half a mile off; no moving form is visible, no coming step audible; but that perfume increases: I must flee. I make for the wicket leading to the shrubbery, and I see Mr. Rochester entering. I step aside into the ivy recess; he will not stay long: he will soon return whence he came, and if I sit still he will never see me.
--from Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë
Outside he could see the huge dome of the cathedral, looming like a bubble over the shadowy houses, and the weary sentinels pacing up and down on the misty terrace by the river. Far away, in an orchard, a nightingale was singing. A faint perfume of jasmine came through the open window. He brushed his brown curls back from his forehead, and taking up a lute, let his fingers stray across the cords. His heavy eyelids drooped, and a strange languor came over him. Never before had he felt so keenly, or with such exquisite joy, the magic and the mystery of beautiful things.
--from A House of Pomegranates
by Oscar Wilde
Everybody knelt, and after a short prayer each went on his way. Nisida, after having given her father the last daily attentions, went up to her room, replenished the oil in the lamp that burned day and night before the Virgin, and, leaning her elbow on the window ledge, divided the branches of jasmine which hung like perfumed curtains, began to gaze out at the sea, and seemed lost in a deep, sweet reverie.
by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
A walk of ten minutes brought him to the iron gates of a great white villa, over the high walls of which climbing roses and geraniums and jasmine ran riot. The night air was heavy with their perfume. He opened the side gate and walked up the gravelled drive to the terrace whereon stood the house, commanding a wonderful view of the moon-lit Mediterranean and the far-off mountains of Italy
--from Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo
by William Le Queux
As he stood in the red light of the oil-lamp, strong, tall, and beautiful, his long black hair sweeping over his shoulders, the knife swinging at his neck, and his head crowned with a wreath of white jasmine, he might easily have been mistaken for some wild god of a jungle legend. The child half asleep on a cot
sprang up and shrieked aloud with terror. Messua turned to soothe him, while Mowgli stood still, looking in at the water- jars and the cooking-pots, the grain-bin, and all the other human belongings that he found himself remembering so well.
--from The Second Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling
Hail Freedom! whether it was mine to stray,
With shrill winds whistling round my lonely way,
On the bleak sides of Cumbria's heath-clad moors,
Or where dank sea-weed lashes Scotland's shores;
To scent the sweets of Piedmont's breathing rose,
And orange gale that o'er Lugano blows;
Still have I found, where Tyranny prevails,
That virtue languishes and pleasure fails,
While the remotest hamlets blessings share
In thy loved presence known, and only there; 0
'Heart'-blessings--outward treasures too which the eye
Of the sun peeping through the clouds can spy,
And every passing breeze will testify.
There, to the porch, belike with jasmine bound
Or woodbine wreaths, a smoother path is wound;
The housewife there a brighter garden sees,
Where hum on busier wing her happy bees;
On infant cheeks there fresher roses blow;
And grey-haired men look up with livelier brow,--
To greet the traveller needing food and rest;
Housed for the night, or but a half-hour's guest.
--from Descriptive Sketches
by William Wordsworth
Gilbert strode across the terrace, and, leaning over the parapet, gazed long and silently at the highroad. "Ten months yet!" said he to himself, and contracting his brows, he turned to look at the odious castle, where destiny had cast his lot. It seemed as if the old pile wished to avenge itself for his ill humor: never had it been clothed with such a smiling aspect. A ray of the setting sun rested obliquely upon its wide roof; the bricks had the warm color of amber, the highest points were bathed in gold dust, and the gables and vanes threw out sparks. The air was balmy; the lilacs, the citron, the jasmine, and the honeysuckle intermingled their perfumes, which the almost imperceptible breath of the north wind spread in little waves to the four corners of the terrace.
--from The Most Interesting Stories Of All Nations
Edited By Julian Hawthorne
Jasmine Elegance Perfume
We are now concluding our series on the history of Grasse and the major aromatic plants(rose de mai, violet, jasmine, neroli, tuberose, lavender) that factored into the rise of this ancient town as the center of fragrance culture in the West. Those who have not read the earlier newsletters but wish to can find them in the newsletter archives:
History of Grasse 1
History of Grasse 2
Lavender of Provence
Neroli of Grasse
Rose de Mai of Grasse
Tuberose of Grasse
Violet of Grasse
Jasmine has been at the center of Grasse's perfume culture for several centuries, well before it was cultivated on a grand scale that began in the later part of the 19th century and continued into the mid part of the 20th century. Even today very modest cultivation continues in and around Grasse but most of that crop and its subsequent extraction goes to a few major perfume houses that use this precious and elegant essence in high class perfumery. The perfume, Jasmine Elegance, has been created in honor of this delicate flower and its ethereal aroma.
I loved it directly. I saw it twinkling high above the valley in the warm September night. The windows were open, and the scent of jasmine came flowing through the railway carriage, bring with it memories of my Sussex garden. Scents have a very strong influence on some people, and I am not sure but that the perfumes of Grasse count for something in my affection for the little town. Wherever you walk you are met by fragrant breezes. They bring the flows in by waggon or train, packed in great shallow baskets, and, as you climb up and down the steep narrow streets, you are constantly aware of some subtle fragrance. "Ha! jasmine!" you say, or perhaps "lavender!" or "tuberose!" and next moment on turning a corner you will come fact to face with a cart piled high with the blossoms.
--from Rambles About the Riviera
by Edward Strasburger-1909
Through the partially open window came the lulling sound of a little trickling fountain in the garden, and the air was redolent of jasmine and orange-blossoms. On the pier-table was a little sleeping Cupid, from whose torch rose the fragrant incense of a nearly extinguished pastille. The pervasive spirit of
beauty in the room, manifested in forms, colors, tones, and motions, affected the soul as perfume did the senses.
--from A Romance of the Republic
by L. Maria Child
1/8th ounce of Jasmin sambac absolute
1/8th ounce of Jasmin grandiflorum hydrodistilled
3/4 ounce of Jasmin grandiflorum absolute
1/8 ounce of Henna Leaf absolute
1/4 ounce of Neroli eo
1/4 ounce of White Champa Flower eo
1/16th ounce of Galbanum eo
1/8th ounce of Jasmin auriculatum absolute
1/8th ounce of Labdanum "amber note" absolute
1/8th ounce of Ambrette Seed absolute
1/8th ounce of Vanilla CO2(12%vanillin)
1/2 ounce of White Water Lily Attar
1/16th ounce of Rose Otto
1/16th ounce of Labdanum "incense note" absolute