Osmanthus is a species containing over 30 different varieties, most of them hailing from Asia, but one native to the United States as well. These plants give a lovely dried petal of bright yellow, and can be drunk on their own if desired for health reasons, or combined with black or green tea leaves in much the same manner the more familiar jasmine tea combines jasmine flowers with tea leaves.
Osmanthus are popular shrubs in parks and gardens throughout the warm temperate zone. Several hybrids and cultivars have been developed, and osmanthus’ place in both the tea drinking world and in Chinese medicine, which has more and more of an appeal to Western culture, are well established.
Beyond its medical applications, osmanthus is also used to make a valuable perfume. The flowers, which range from white to light yellow to a deep orange like the ones featured through our tea company, are all capable of producing a lovely scent. However, the deeper colored flowers are generally regarded as producing the nicest perfume, and are therefore used in the most expensive ones.
The scent also bespeaks the wonderful flavor that comes off these blossoms. It has often been compared to jasmine, to honey, to fruit, or to apricot. It also has slightly woody or earthy undertones, which make it combine especially nicely with the faintly herbal earthiness of tea. Its other name of Sweet Olive gives some hint as to the fact that it has long been appreciated for its lovely aromas.
Osmanthus also has mythological status as the Tree of the Immortals, and features in fairy tales that are told on certain holidays. Because osmanthus flowers are usually linked with the moon, they feature in many stories told on related holidays, when old grandmothers sit in courtyards with young children eating moon cakes and telling stories about the flower, the orb, and the strange beings who live upon its surface.
One of these beings is a beautiful princess who lived high up in a crystal palace. She was the wife of a great warrior who did many brave deeds, and her name was Chang’e. Originally she lived on Earth, but did something to earn herself banishment. Among the possibilities are that she was unfaithful or that she stole a pill of immortality that was forbidden to mortals.
Either way, she was banished to the moon to live in her shimmering prison, though she was not entirely alone there. Also there was a legendary figure named Wu Gang, whom the Jade Emperor sentenced to live out his life there trying to cut down an unchoppable tree. If you guessed that that tree was osmanthus, you’re right: no matter how many times he swung his axe, the tree kept healing itself, making Wu Gang’s exile permanent.
Underneath that tree is a rabbit who grinds the osmanthus into an elixir of immortality, granted only to a few. Meditate on that next time you prepare yourself a cup of these lovely, health-giving petals, available from Shanti Tea Canada.