A Tale of Jasmine: Why Less is More

Raise your hand if you have ever had an intended aromatic blend go horribly wrong. Perhaps the scent you imagined wasn’t quite the same to your nose when finally paired together. Maybe one scent was simply too overpowering, or the synergy resulted in something entirely unlike what you imagined in the first place. Or perhaps, you accidentally used too much of one particular oil and ended up diffusing the scent of diapers. Anyone still have a hand up with me here? Anyone? Maybe it’s just me?

I was trying to create an uplifting scent. My mood needed a pick me up so I reached for a scent profile that I have used in the past.  I grabbed a few essential oils and an absolute to use on the aroma stone diffuser I have in my bedroom. Mostly Bergamot with a drop of Rosemary, and a tiny drop of Jasmine. Usually, I add just a drop of Jasmine because it is such an intensely aromatic (and expensive) absolute that a little goes a long way. I was using a small 2ml bottle I purchased on my last trip to NYC and usually it’s difficult to get even a drop out so I will typically use a small pipette. On this day however, I was impatient and shook the bottle in frustration.  More than a few drops came out of the sample sized bottle. One is usually plenty. Oh, well. It’s Jasmine, right? I love Jasmine. Some might even think, “Ooh more drops of that sultry Jasmine scent that you love would smell even better!”. Right? Usually if you love something, more is better, right? Well, they would be wrong. Less is more here, folks. Especially when it comes to aromatics and especially when it comes to a scent like Jasmine.

I went downstairs for a few minutes before returning to my bedroom. The smell first hit me walking halfway up the stairs.  On the landing, the smell grew stronger. Upon reaching the second floor, I determined something was definitely off. I found myself wondering what on earth smelled like diapers. What was that awful smell? Where was it coming from? I began to sniff the entrance to each room, the kids’ bedrooms, my husband’s office and then finally realized the smell was strongest in our bedroom. Instantly, I knew the cause of that diaper scent was the Jasmine. I had already forgotten about that heavy handed pour of Jasmine but the moment I entered our bedroom and smelled that strong Indolic scent I remembered the Jasmine.

How did I know instantly that the diaper scent was caused by too much Jasmine? The answer lies in the chemistry. Understanding the chemical makeup of aromatics provides us with so many clues. Aromatics such as essential oils, absolutes, and Co2 extracts are comprised of hundreds of different volatile chemical constituents of varying percentages. Oftentimes, it’s the smaller, trace constituents that impart the unique odor we associate with that specific aromatic. For example, the scent of grapefruit is unique to the chemical, nootkatone, and while many citrus fruits contain over 90% limonene, only one citrus fruit contains nootkatone. Nootkatone occurs at less than 1% (0.1%) in the essential oil of Grapefruit, yet even at this trace amount it lends its unique scent that characterizes grapefruit and helps to distinguish it from all other citrus fruits. In the case of Jasmine, one of the smaller and minor constituents that contribute to its unique scent is a chemical component known as Indole.

Indole is a chemical constituent that is present in very small amounts in Jasmine, typically 2%-3%. In low concentrations Indole has an intensely floral smell. It adds an intense and unique scent that perfumers have even adopted as an adjective, frequently using the term indolic to describe Jasmine odour profiles. In Natural Aromatic Materials: Odours & Origins, Tony Burfield describes the odour profile of Jasmine Sambac as “a creamy smooth powerful heady floral, somewhat indolic”. He describes the dry-down of Jasmine grandiflorum as “extremely powerful, intensely sweet, sensual richly floral and almost powdery-indolic”. In small, trace amounts, Indole adds to that unique scent we know and love as Jasmine.  

In high concentrations, however, Indole has an intense fecal smell and that is because Indole is also a naturally occurring compound in human feces.  In fact, one of the compounds belonging to the Indole family actually derives its name from the Greek root skato- meaning “feces”. Skatole (or 3-methylindole) is also found in trace amounts in several flowers such as Jasmine and Orange blossoms.  It is also a naturally occurring compound in feces and coal tar and has a strong fecal odor. 

Isn’t that crazy? Indole is a common constituent to both that gorgeous night blooming flower that you know as Jasmine and also what you might commonly refer to as Poop. How can something that smells so foul also lends itself to one of the most intoxicating and inviting florals? Aromatic Chemistry is fascinating, isn’t it? I think it’s safe to say that too much of an indolic scent may very likely be close to “diaper scent”, certainly reminiscent of that “fecal” smell. So, if you would like to save yourself the trouble of creating your very own diaper scent, take it from me and go easy on the Jasmine. Less is more, folks. Especially when it comes to Jasmine.



Burfield, Tony. (2016) Natural Aromatic Materials: Odours & Origins. Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy; Tampa.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Indole | chemical compound. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/indole [Accessed 20 Sep. 2018].

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Indole | chemical compound. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/science/indole [Accessed 20 Sep. 2018].

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