There’s more to night jasmine than just its beautiful flowers and intoxicating fragrance. Many parts of this plant are used in herbal recipes to cure everything from arthritic pains to under-eye circles. The flowers of night jasmine also have religious significance in addition to their botanical and medicinal benefits, being both the only blooms that can supposedly be collected from the ground before being offered to the gods and the principal ingredient used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks that unmistakable orange hue.
Also called coral jasmine or harsinger, the Latin name for this small tree is Nyctanthes arbor-tristis. The nyctanthes refers to the fact that the flowers bloom only at night and drop to the ground when the sun rises, and arbor-tristis means “sad tree,” referring both to the forlorn look of the flowerless specimen and one of the many Indian myths with which it’s associated. In this myth, a beautiful princess named Parijata fell in love with the sun and forsook her kingdom for him (the sun). The sun grew tired of her and left the sky, leaving Parijata to die from heartbreak. This tree grew from her funeral pyre and blooms only at night, shedding its flowers at daybreak because it can’t bear the sight of the sun. The myth gives night jasmine another of its common names, parijat.
One of the most common uses of night jasmine is to ease the pain associated with sciatica and rheumatism. A traditional remedy is to eat five flowers and five leaves each morning before you eat anything else. The taste of night jasmine flowers is bitter but is said to improve digestion. Flowers are also added to morning soups or powdered mixtures to boost energy. To make your own, dry the flowers in a dark spot, grind them into a powder and mix them with an equal amount of rock sugar, then take a teaspoon each morning. The juice of the leaves is taken to treat intestinal worms when mixed with salt, and upset stomachs when mixed with sugar. A decoction of the flowers is used to treat gout. To make your own decoction, add five parts flowers to 95 parts water and let the mixture sit for an hour, then bring it to a boil for five minutes. Strain the liquid and allow it to cool before storing. To relieve stress and anxiety, try making a tisane made from night jasmine. Add two ounces each of jasmine flowers and lemon balm leaves to two pints of water, slightly shredding the lemon balm first for better release of flavor. Bring the water to a boil, then remove it from heat and let it sit for ten minutes. Strain the liquid and sweeten it with honey.
Night jasmine also has several external uses, both therapeutic and cosmetic. Grind the leaves into a paste and apply it to fungal skin infections, or boil the leaves in mustard oil and apply it to areas affected by ringworm. A decoction of the seeds is a useful hair tonic that can manage dandruff and lice when used daily. Use the same recipe as for the leaves, but boil the mixture for ten minutes instead of five. Crushing the seeds into a paste makes a useful treatment for piles. To eradicate dark circles under your eyes, crush the flowers and add them to curd. Apply the mixture to the affected area, being careful not to get it in the eye, and leave it for ten minutes before rinsing it off with cold water.
As with any herbal remedies, you should always check with a doctor before employing night jasmine, and be on the lookout for signs of allergic and other adverse reactions. Women who are pregnant or nursing may want to avoid use.