Cancer and the Queen

Jul 28, 2010
*Special to asia!

Jasmine has long been known as an aphrodisiac. Now a compound from the flower is helping to fight cancer.

The other day, I noticed that my Chinese taxi driver had a garland of wilting jasmine flowers on his dashboard Buddha, an offering to ensure all his journeys would be blessed. While buying bags of muruku in Little India, I saw women with jasmine coiled around their hair making their way to the Hindu temple. Prompted by the bewitching scent, I stopped at Mustafa to buy a box of Dilmah green tea “with natural jasmine petals” as it says on the box. The Cold Storage supermarket I went to later was selling jasmine plants for $8. I bought one for my balcony. As a child of the ’60s would say, the Universe was sending me a message.

And the message was: You have to blog about this flower.

Jasmine has long held Asia in its sway. More countries have chosen it as their national flower than any other flower: Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia accord the jasmine with this honour. Asians of every creed use jasmine in their worship of the divine. Indians garland their gods with it. Cambodians thread them onto the ribs of coconut fronds and offer it to Buddha. Filipinos festoon their statues of Catholic saints with it. Queen Sirikit of Thailand who is called The Mother of the Nation is symbolically presented garlands of jasmine on platters in ceremonies all over the country on her birthday, a day on which all Thais show reverence to their own mothers too. The symbol of motherhood, a jasmine bud is purity and self sacrifice all rolled up into a tight white "pearl". Over in Myanmar, it is fitting that Asia's most famous self-sacrificing woman Aung San Suu Kyi has declared the jasmine to be her favourite flower. She has sacrificed the comforts of family life for her country.


An offering to Buddha in Cambodia

An offering to Buddha in Cambodia


A flower seller in Chennai

A flower seller in Chennai


Jasmine cultivation in India

Jasmine cultivation in India


Jasmine offerings for sale in a Cambodian marketplace

Jasmine offerings for sale in a Cambodian marketplace


In the Philippines, jasmine flowers adorn a religious float during Holy Week.

Catholics in the Philippines show their devotion with jasmine on sticks.


Called the "Queen of the Night", the jasmine has earned its reputation through its alluring scent which only comes at night. Indian legend says it sprang from the ashes of a woman who was spurned by the Sun God and so the flowers only bloom at night. The Philippines has a more romantic legend. The flowering plant is said to have grown from the adjacent graves of two star-crossed lovers who pledged eternal love before their tragic deaths. When the wind rustled in the leaves, their families could hear the faint whispers of "sumpa kita" which means "I promise you" in Tagalog. The flower was later given the Spanish-sounding name "sampaguita".

Notwithstanding these tragic tales of doomed love, massage with jasmine essential oil is said to strengthen the libido. It's use as an aphrodisiac has been recorded over the centuries. On the other end of the spectrum of uses, jasmine flower water is used as holy water in Cambodia. In Thailand, crushed jasmine flowers mixed with ricewater and added to the bath water helps to alleviate itching from chicken pox. Drinking water mixed with crushed jasmine flowers is also believed to be a cure for the illness. If drunk daily, green tea with jasmine flowers is supposed to prevent cancer. China's "Dragon Pearl" tea is a good option.

But the most exciting discovery about jasmine happened recently. In 2008, scientists from Tel Aviv University announced the findings of a decade of research. A chemical compound called methyl jasmonate which gives the flower its scent had been proven to kill cancer cells. Today it plays an important role in fighting breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

So the Queen of the Night is now living up to her other name, the Persian "Yasmin", or "gift from God".


Photo credits: KalaBird, PlaneMad, mckaysavage,, Leny's Haven


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vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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