Narcissus – Narcisse
We went to visit the Abbaye de Valsaintes yesterday. The garden of the Abbaye is a rose garden with 400 varieties of roses. Near the Abbaye we came across Narcissus jonquilla, a very small yellow Narcissus, not more than 12 cm tall.
On the way home, near Manosque, we discovered a field full of Narcissus poeticus. The smell of the ‘Narcisse des Poètes’, as the French call them, is delightful.
The flower gets its name from the Greek word ‘narke’, changed by the Romans to ‘narce’, meaning ‘to numb’, referring to the narcotic effects of the plant. It belongs to the Amaryllis family. The name Daffodil arrives from Asphodel, a very different plant.
The Romans, as well as the Arabs, used the scent of the Narcissus in their perfumes. In France in particular, the Narcissus poeticus was cultivated for the perfume industry of Grasse. They used the enfleurage method to extract the fragrant particles: a glass plate was smeared with animal fat, Narcissus petals were placed on the fat and left for 3 days. They were then removed and a fresh batch of petals was placed on the fat; this continued till the fat was saturated with the Narcissus’ fragrant particles. The fat was then soaked in ethyl alcohol which drew the fragrant particles into the alcohol. The alcohol was separated from the fat, and allowed to evaporate, leaving the ‘absolute’ behind. The leftover fat was used to make soap. Now, solvent extraction has replaced enfleurage. 500 kg of petals are needed to make 1 kg of concrete (the first stage of solvent extraction), finally obtaining 300 g of absolute, which is ready for use.
The whole plant is poisonous. It has happened that people took the bulb for an onion bulb. Eating 1/2 bulb will result in a stomach upset which could last a few days. Not serious enough to have to go to hospital for treatment. The strong, heady smell has an influence on the nervous system. It calms and helps stress and nervous tension. It has to be carefully handled, in high doses it causes headaches and vomiting. In France it was used to treat epilepsy and hysteria.
Bibliography: Fleurs de Méditerranée – David Burnie; http://www.fragrantica.com; Narcis – Wikipedia