March 13, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

Spring for me means gardening, and this year we’ve had a profusion of jasmine flowers on our side porch. Wow, for the past two days, there’s been a rich, heavy, and constant smell of jasmine. An old Donovan song kept repeating over and over in my head….

”When I hear Astrud, Jasmine fills the air.”

A quick search turned up Astrud Gilberto, a popular singer in the 60’s who was famous for her version of “The Girl from Ipanima.” Donovan must have made the olfactory association between that song and the smell of jasmine. So, decades later, with jasmine filling the air, I’m singing his song, “Joe Bean’s Theme” all weekend long!

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With those deep connections between memory and smell, there has to be plenty of ways jasmine fills our spiritual traditions. As I discovered, the jasmine plant is common in many countries in the Middle East and Asia. It symbolizes love and romance, beauty, good luck, and well-being. In Thailand, jasmine is the symbol for motherhood and is associated with love and respect. In many religions, rituals include jasmine flowers or wreaths especially for wedding ceremonies.

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This painting is featured in the magazine ReOrient's article "Flower Power" that notes the jasmine flower's image and smell has long united the peoples of the Middle East.

One of the most interesting articles on the meanings associated with jasmine came from Psychology Today. In 2011, Dr. Gayil Nalls wrote of her research in what she calls “world scent.” She notes how sensory stimuli is a powerful reinforcement bringing groups together. We think of national anthems as an auditory connector, but we rarely notice that smells also reinforce cultural and regional identity. In the Arab world, where many species of the plant originate, jasmine is deeply connected to religion and culture. It’s no surprise that the recent democratic uprisings in the Arab world were named “Jasmine Revolutions.”

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