JASMINUM GRANDIFLORUM :THE JOURNEY OF AN ICONIC FLOWER
For a century and a half, Jasminum Grandiflorum has been grown on the hills of Grasse, Mouans-Sartoux, Pégomas, Auribeau, Vallauris, Opio, Le Bar-sur-Loup, Châteauneuf, and in the Fayence region. The special forms of savoir-faire needed to cultivate this species, one that is essential to the perfume industry, have been preserved through the passion and perseverance of growers like Constant Vial and Hubert and Carole Biancalana. In 2009, a number of the region’s perfume-plant producers joined forces under the umbrella of the association known as Les Fleurs d’Exception of the Pays de Grasse and the group is still thriving today, now led by Armelle Janody, a producer in Callian, so that producers can continue to work in the jasmine trade, growing and distributing these starry gems.
But how did this jasmine, native to the mountains of northwestern India, reach Provence? In ancient times, it gradually acclimatized over a broader area, reaching the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, particularly Egypt, which became an important supply source for the Greeks and Romans. But it would not take root in France until the Renaissance. Starting in the 16th century, jasmine became a coveted plant in the eyes of growers: The notes of its fragrance were especially sought-after by perfumers, who added the essence to the formulas of a great many perfumes. Over the course of the 19th and 20th century, jasmine became one of the emblems of Grasse, along with the orange blossom and the rose. Although the jasmine plantations in the Grasse area gradually declined during the second half of the 20th century, the region still produces Jasminum Grandiflorum for prestigious fragrance manufacturers.
In 1881, H. Stappaerts, in his French-language book Examen du système de S.Hahneman - Le spiritualisme et le matérialisme en Médecine, shares a romantic, 16th-century legend to explain the flower’s arrival: We owe jasmine’s advent in Italy and France to love. The legend translates as follows:
“It is said that, before arriving in our gardens, jasmine spent some time in Italy. A Duke of Tuscany – he remains nameless in historic accounts – was the first to possess it. This selfish flower lover wanted to enjoy such a perfect blossom alone, keeping it all to himself. He jealously guarded his treasure, forbidding his gardener from giving away a single stem, or even a single flower. The gardener would have been obedient had he not been in love; but on the name day of his beloved, he offered her a bouquet and, to make it more precious, he graced that bouquet with a sprig of jasmine. The young woman, to preserve the freshness of this rare flower, planted it in the newly turned earth at her home. The sprig remained green all year long and, the next spring, the plant grew and was soon covered in blooms. With advice from her gardener lover, the young woman nurtured her jasmine and developed many new plants from it. She was poor and he was not rich; his mother opposed a union between them, but her resistance was overcome: love performed a miracle for them. The girl sold her flowers in such quantities that she was able to set aside a worthy sum, one that allowed the reluctant parent to consent to the dreamed-of union.”
Photo : harvesting of Jasmine, Grasse at the beginning of the 20th century. © Collections MIP