An Eco-sustainable World
ShrubbySpecies Plant

Osmanthus fragrans

Osmanthus fragrans

The sweet osmanthus or sweet olive, tea olive, fragrant olive (Osmanthus fragrans Lour., 1790) is a shrub species belonging to the Oleaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Order Scrophulariales,
Oleaceae family,
Genus Osmanthus,
Species O. fragrans.
The term is basionym:
– Olea fragrans Thunb..
The terms are synonymous:
– Notelaea posua D.Don (1825);
– Olea buchananii Lamb. ex D.Don (1825);
– Olea posua Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don (1825);
– Olea acuminata Wall. ex G.Don (1837);
– Olea ovalis Miq. (1861);
– Osmanthus asiaticus Nakai (1922);
– Osmanthus aurantiacus (Makino) Nakai (1922);
– Osmanthus acuminatus (Wall. ex G.Don) Nakai (1930);
– Osmanthus intermedius Nakai (1949);
– Osmanthus macrocarpus P.Y.Pai (1979);
– Osmanthus longibracteatus H.T.Chang (1982).
The following varieties and forms are recognized within this species:
– Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus Makino, 1902;
– Osmanthus fragrans var. fragrans;
– Osmanthus fragrans f. aurantiacus (Makino) Hatus., 1994;
– Osmanthus fragrans f. leucanthus T.Yamaz., 1991;
– Osmanthus fragrans f. thunbergii (Makino) T.Yamaz., 1991.

Etymology –
The term Osmanthus comes from the Greek ὀσμή, osmé, odor and from ἄνϑοϛ, ánthos, flower: in reference to scented flowers.
The specific epithet fragrans comes from the Latin fragro, to smell, to perfume: fragrant, odorous, scented.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Osmanthus fragrans is a plant native to an area that includes Bhutan, Cambodia, China (Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan), Japan (Kyushu), India (Assam, Nagaland and Sikkim), Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.
Its natural habitat is varied and ranges from the mountains of southern Japan and, at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,100 metres, in the Himalayas; It also grows in forests, in association with Ilex dipyrena and Castanopsis spp., at altitudes of 1,300 – 3,000 meters in Nepal.

Description –
Osmanthus fragrans is a plant that grows in the form of a shrub or small tree, evergreen which can reach a height of 3-12 metres.
The bark is smooth and grey-brown in colour.
The leaves are dark green, with an oblong shape, 7 to 15 cm long and 2.5 to 5 cm wide, with a continuous or finely serrated edge.
The flowers are gathered in axillary cymes on a 0.5-1 cm long peduncle; they are small, about 1 cm long, with a color ranging from white to pale yellow or orange, also depending on the variety; they have a tubular shape with a four-lobed corolla of 5 mm in diameter, very fragrant, and bloom between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The flowers are very fragrant and resemble a mixture of Magnolia grandiflora, Gardenia, Freesia and Lemon. The numerous flowers appear on one-year branches, almost hidden by the foliage, in spring and at the end of summer-early autumn, sporadically in the rest of the year.
The fruit is an ellipsoid-shaped drupe, 10-15 mm long, ranging in color from purplish red to blackish blue and which ripens in the spring following flowering.
Inside there is a single hard-shelled seed.

Cultivation –
Osmanthus fragrans is a plant with very fragrant flowers that are sometimes available in oriental stores, preserved in sweetened brine or as a sweetened paste called “cassia flower jam”.
The plant is commonly grown for these flowers in gardens in India, Southeast, and East Asia.
It is an ornamental species characterized by the intense scent of its small flowers, particularly widespread in China where the dried flowers are used to flavor sweets, foods and drinks, especially tea, and the essential oil is the basis of very expensive perfumes , so much so as to encourage its industrial cultivation in the center and south of the country.
This plant is not particularly demanding when it comes to soils, although it prefers sandy, acidic or neutral, well-draining ones, as it cannot tolerate permanently humid ones; requires exposure in full sun or even partial shade, but with sparser flowering and less dense foliage, usable as an isolated specimen, for mixed borders and border hedges.
The plant can be grown in a wide variety of climates; it resists low temperatures, down to -15°C for a very short period, temperatures a few degrees lower destroy the aerial part. Watering must be regular during the vegetative period in young plants, as adults it can tolerate dry periods.
It can also be grown in pots using a sandy substrate rich in organic substance, acidic or neutral, with regular watering during the vegetative period, but allowing the surface layer to dry before watering again.
This plant grows slowly and therefore does not require frequent pruning.
Reproduction generally occurs by semi-woody cutting at the beginning of summer in a sandy substrate kept humid.

Customs and Traditions –
Osmanthus fragrans is a plant known by various names, including: fragrant olive, fragrant tea olive, sweet olive, sweet osmanthus, tea olive (English); gui hua, mu xi (Chinese); olivier odorant (French); gin mokusei, kiu mokusei (Japanese); osmanthus (Italian); flor-do-imperador (Portuguese); duftblüte (German).
In China it is the “city flower” of the cities of Hangzhou, Zhejiang; Suzhou, Jiangsu; and Guilin, Guangxi. In Japan it is the “city tree” of Kitanagoya, in the Aichi prefecture; Kashima, Saga Prefecture; Beppu, Ōita Prefecture; and the “city tree” of Yoshitomi, Fukuoka Prefecture.
On the occasion of its flowering, this plant is associated with the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Osmanthus wine is a traditional choice for “reunion wine” drunk with one’s family, and osmanthus-flavored sweets and teas can also be consumed. Chinese mythology tells that a sweet osmanthus grows on the moon and is cut endlessly by Wu Gang: some versions claim that he was forced to cut it every 1000 years so that its luxuriant growth would obscure the moon itself, others that he was forced to cut it constantly only to see it grow back in the same amount every day.
In late imperial China osmanthus was also associated with the imperial examinations, which were held in the eighth lunar month. The chengyu “picking the osmanthus in the Toad Palace” (蟾宫折桂, Chángōng zhé guì) was a fine paraphrase for “passing the exam”, in part because one attracted the pests as if thereafter smelled sweet like that of osmanthus. “Break the osmanthus twig and mount the dragon” was another euphemism, in this case, for sex.
This plant grows well in mild temperatures and does not tolerate intense cold for prolonged periods. Although it requires good ventilation, it fears cold winds.
In Italy it is a typical plant in the gardens of historic villas in the Lombardy lakes.
In Chinese cuisine, its flowers can be infused with green or black tea leaves to create osmanthus tea (桂花茶; guìhuāchá). The flowers are also used to make osmanthus-scented jams, osmanthus cakes, dumplings, soups and osmanthus liqueur. Osmanthus jam is used as an ingredient in a type of gruel called chátāng, made from sorghum or millet flour and sugar mixed with boiling water. This dish is associated with the northern city of Tianjin, although it can also be found in Beijing.
Furthermore, leaves, bark, buds and seeds have long been used in traditional medicine, especially Chinese medicine.
In traditional Chinese medicine, osmanthus tea has been used as a herbal tea to treat irregular menstruation. Dried flower extract showed neuroprotective, free radical scavenging, and antioxidant effects in in vitro tests.

Preparation Method –
Osmanthus fragrans is an East Asian plant that is used for food, medicinal and other purposes.
Osmanthus is also used to make many traditional Chinese desserts, such as tangyuan osmanthus with rice wine syrup (桂花酒釀湯圓).
In edible use, unripe fruits are preserved in brine like olives.
The very fragrant flowers are used by the Chinese to give a pleasant aroma to tea, wine and sweet dishes such as lotus seed soup, pastries and steamed pears. They are also added to herbal medicines to mask unpleasant flavors.
In the medicinal field, the flowers are antitussives and used in cosmetics for hair and skin, but they are mainly used to give a pleasant taste to other medicines.
A decoction of the bark of the stem is used in the treatment of boils, etc.
A puree obtained from the stem or bark is used in the treatment of boils, carbuncles, whooping cough and retinitis.
A decoction of the lateral roots is used in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, rheumatism, bruises, etc.
Among other uses, it is reported that an essential oil is obtained from the flowers; this is used as a flavoring. The essential oil contains unpleasant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which reduce its quality.
The flowers are used as an insect repellent for clothes, especially in some regions of northern India, in the state of Uttarakhand.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Photo source:

Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *