When it comes to flowers, scent is so important to me. The fresh and delicate scent of Lily of the valley, the heady fragrance of an old rose, the rich spiciness of white jasmine, the sweet perfume of wild honeysuckle. So if I’m honest, tropical flowers have been a bit of a disappointment. Looking at something as spectacular as a yellow orchid, in stunning summery hues, it feels distinctly underwhelming to walk past them and smell, ummm….nothing. The bold colours of tropical flowers make them strikingly beautiful, but I always feel that most of them are missing the most important part. Not Frangipani though.
Frangipani has the most incredible scent to those beautiful waxy five-petalled creamy flowers, with the honeyed yellow centre. Heady and sweet, with a rich intoxicating warmth to it. The flowers are eye-catching, but the fragrance is the star of the show.
This fragrance is captured in Frangipani essential oil. Commonly used in Balinese aromatherapy massage, it has a wealth of benefits, including relieving stress and bringing tranquillity. Inhaling the scent deeply, you can actually feel your mind and body relaxing.
In Western cultures Frangipani is most likely to evoke thoughts of warm sunny days and the enticing exoticism of tropical holidays. Images coming to mind of the flowers strung together in floral garlands or leis, or used in massage oils. Nothing wrong with that. But in tropical and subtropical locations around the world, the Frangipani flower has an interestingly varied and culturally-bound significance.
In Bali the Frangipani tree is considered holy. They are commonly found at temples and Balinese people can regularly be seen using and wearing the flowers whilst praying. Meanwhile on neighbouring Java, the Frangipani is believed to bring bad luck and people avoid planting them near their homes. In fact, there are a number of countries that belief the frangipani flower is an ill omen or even symbolises death. Some Malaysians believe that smelling their fragrance on the night air is a sign of an approaching vampire. Meanwhile in India, its ability to thrive even when uprooted has earned the Frangipani its status as a symbol of immortality.
Using plants and their oils for health benefits is far from a new concept, and the Ancient Indians belief in the healing properties of the Frangipani tree, calling it the ‘tree of life’. In India it is traditionally used to treat itches, whilst it has a whole host of uses in traditional Vietnamese medicine, including treating indigestion and high blood pressure!
As well as having significance in matters of health and religion, the flowers also link to affairs of the heart. Even today, Polynesian women will wear the flower to indicate their status. Over the right ear if they are looking for love, over the left ear if already taken. And the flower represents loyalty in the Hindu culture, with brides often wearing them in their hair as a sign of loyalty to their husband.
Found as far apart as Central and South America, the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Pacific islands, and Australia, Frangipani goes by many names including Temple Tree, Snake Tree or Graveyard Tree. Only one plant, but so much cultural significance, and such different interpretations across the globe.
With a Bali break coming up in just a few weeks I will be getting my Frangipani fix. The abundance of Frangipani trees is one of the things I love about Bali. That and the Frangipani oil massages!