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Botanical Backstory: Jasmine Sambac, Madurai Malli

Botanical Backstory: Jasmine Sambac, Madurai Malli

There is a specific type of Jasmine flower, prized for its thick, moist petals that hold a particularly intoxicating aroma. It draws visitors from around the world and has a history deeply entrenched in the most sacred rituals of the people of Madurai, India...

Jasminum Sambac; a rare and illusive species of Jasmine, in a market flooded with officinale or grandiflorum. Sambac has a considerably lower crop yield than the other chemotypes of Jasmine, and the plants are very particular about where they will take root, even more-so about where they will flourish.
        In the area of Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India, the cultivation of Jasmine Sambac is much more than a livelihood, it is “a way of life, an art form that is inseparable from worship, local lore and ancient and contemporary culture” - Kamala Thiagarajan, BBC
       The distinct aroma of Jasmine Sambac has become the trademark of Madurai. The image of the jasmine flower can be found in ancient temple carvings, paintings and in local jewellery. The freshly picked flowers, which are known locally as ‘Madurai Malli’, are sold in the flower markets. The white buds are used as symbolic offerings to the deities, and are an intrinsic part of marriage rituals with the flowers covering every inch of the marriage halls and garlands woven into the bride’s hair.
        The Jasmine Sambac flowers of Madurai are so special and unlike any other, that they were issued a Geographical Indication Tag in January 2001. The issuing of the GI Tag was a huge step for the Madurai region as it now ensures that no one else in the world can lay claim to the reputation of this specific type of Jasmine:
Generally Madurai Malli is mixed with Jasmine from other places while being exported to countries… and the fragrance is lost. Now, if someone does the adulteration, the person might land in jail, in addition to paying a hefty fine” - S. Chinnakanthasmy Naicker (Jasmine Cultivator) quoted by M. Vandhana, in ‘The Hindu’
       The story of how Madurai Malli came to flourish in a way that allows for global export, is an even cooler backstory! Although the flower has been sacred to the region of Madurai for centuries, up to the 1950’s the yield was so small that it was only enough to supply the local flower markets.
        In the summer of 1950, Kumar, a Betal Leaf farmer in Thangachimadam (a tiny village on Rameswaram Island, 160 km from Madurai), set out to an Agricultural College in search of a new crop that might afford himself and his fellow farmers a higher yield. While at the College, Kumar picked up a Jasmine Sambac sapling and took it back for the ladies of his village. To make a long story short; through a series of happy accidents Kumar came to realize that a Jasmine Sambac sapling, which would usually require months of careful layering to be propagated, could simply be plonked in the ground of Thangachimadam and within a few weeks it would be sprouting lush, healthy limbs!
        Up to this point the Jasmine farmers of Madurai were using only the layering method to propagate and the plants would take ages to take root because of the thick, gravelly soil in that region. One day, a flower farmer from Madurai stumbled upon Kumar’s Jasmine plants, and took one home to test it out, in the ideal climatic conditions of Madurai. Bingo, this was the magic equation! The plants not only took root quickly, they flourished in a way they never had before. From this point forward, the Jasmine plants of Madurai have begun their life in the welcoming earth of Thangachimadam. After about three months of growth, Madurai farmers buy the shoots and plant them in Madurai where the rain and sunlight conditions are absolutely ideal for the blossoming of the aromatic flowers with the GI Tag. Kumar had not only found a new viable crop for himself and his fellow farmers, he’d also found a much more prosperous future for Madurai Malli.
        Since it is a white, night blossoming flower, Jasmine Sambac relies solely on its intoxicating fragrance to attract pollinators. Harvesting must be done delicately, with an open palm, to keep from crushing the fragrance out of the flowers before they reach distillation. Once picked, they are lightly packed in wicker baskets and transported directly to distillation. We are fortunate enough to be a supplier of this rare and precious GI tagged Jasmine Sambac, sourced solely from the Madurai region of India. 
      Each bottle of our Jasmine Sambac has gone through this incredible journey. The next time you take a whiff of this intoxicating oil, allow yourself to be transported to Madurai, India; taking a midnight stroll through the fragrant fields of this precious white flower.

All of our Jasmine Sambac Products can be found here!

DIY Recipe: Jasmine Sambac Body Oil

Use this body oil for a special occasion, or simply on days when you need some extra self-love. It will boost confidence, encourage happiness and draw others to you like a pollinator to a flower!

12 drops Jasmine Sambac (or 30 drops of Jojoba Jasmine Sambac)
7 drops Vanilla Bean
10 drops Sandalwood
100 ml Jojoba Oil

1. Place your essential oil drops directly into your 100 ml bottle of Jojoba Oil.
2. Shake well and enjoy your trip to Madurai!


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