Incredibly fragrant, the Chinese Osmanthus is a thing of beauty. It is often cultivated for ornamental usage as its blooms carry the scent of ripe peaches or apricots and is closely related to the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival, symbolizing love and faithfulness.

Our Chai Musk perfume has Chinese Osmanthus as one of the ingredients in the heart base, thus giving it a well-rounded persona with its fruity-leathery scent. Apart from perfumery, it is used in cooking, ceremonies and medicine and is an important part of Chinese culture.

Its ceremonial usage is so fascinating, especially after we looked up the myths surrounding this flower, especially lunar legends that are celebrated during autumn.

The legend of the Moon Palace speaks of how the Jade Emperor held sacrifices to the sun during spring and the moon during autumn. One day, he was invited by a magic Taoist priest Luo to visit the Moon Palace. Naturally excited, the emperor agreed and Luo summoned a magical silver bridge to the moon. At the end of it was a breath-taking palace with an osmanthus tree occupying a place of prestige in the courtyard and a Jade Rabbit under the tree, mixing potions for an eternal life. Bejewelled dancers accompanied by music entertained the emperor, while he enjoyed cakes shaped like the full moon. On his return, he ordered cakes modelled on his experience.

The Moon Palace and its magical osmanthus tree features once more in the legend of Wu Gang. Driven by jealousy, he made the mistake of overstepping and was sentenced to the moon by the emperor. He was commanded to trim the osmanthus tree – however, the tree was a magical one and immediately grew back. The cycle of trimming and recovering goes on for centuries as the jade rabbit sits under the tree, creating the elixir of immortality, that helps the tree to recover. A Greek variant of such a legend was that of Sisyphus, who has been condemned by Zeus to push a boulder to the top of the mountain for it to roll back again, and for him to repeat the process for eternity.

Perhaps the most heart-breaking story associated with the osmanthus flower is that of Chang’E. Her husband, the master archer Hou Yi was awarded the pill of elixir by the emperor but Chang’e decided to abandon him and steal the pill for herself, thereby gaining the ability to fly. She flew all the way to the moon palace, where she was condemned to live a life of solitude. Till today, it is said that Chang’e roams the moon sorrowfully, with the sweet-smelling osmanthus tree reminding her of love lost. She did ask the jade rabbit to help her with a pill that would take her back home to her husband, but as the rabbit is creating the elixir of immortality, he can’t spare time to help her out. She still roams around, waiting.

September 17, 2016 — Digital Impressions