Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa L.)

Family: Asparagaceae
Sub-Family: Agavoideae

Plant Description:  Tuberose is a night-blooming plant native to Mexico.  It grows in elongated spikes of up to 45 cm (18 inches) long.  These produce clusters of fragrant waxy white flower.  These flowers start blooming at the bottom of the spike and move upwards.  The long, bright green leaves are clustered at the base of the plant. While smaller, clasping leaves occur along the stem.    Steffen Arctander says that Tuberose was first found growing wild in Central America.  He also tells us that it was first domesticated by the Pre-Columbian Indians of Mexico.

Folk Lore and History: It was one of the first plants from Mexico that was introduced to Europe during the 17th century.  It is said that Marie Antoinette used a perfume called Sillage de la Reine, also known as Parfum de Trianon and contained tuberose, neroli, sandalwood, jasmine, iris and cedar.

Apparently, Louis XIV of France was particularly fond of Tuberoses and planted hundreds in the flower beds of the Grand Trianon at Versailles.  Apparently, they were grown in clay pots and planted directly in the ground.  In order to keep the perfume consistently strong, new specimens were rotated in, sometimes daily.

In Spanish, the flower is called nardo or vara de San José meaning St. Joseph’s Staff.  In Iran, it is known as ‘Maryam’ named after the Virgin Mary.  In Indonesia and Bangladesh, it is known as “flower that smells good at night” and “flower that smells at night” respectively.

Extraction:  Because the aroma continues to be produced by the flowers for hours after they have been cut, tuberose was originally extracted through Enfleurage. Today,  tuberose absolute is produced by solvent extraction of the flowers to produce the concrete, followed by alcohol extraction to produce the absolute.  It requires around 1,150Kg of flowers to produce 1 Kg of absolute with a yield of around 0.08 – 0.11%.  The yield of absolute from the concrete is 18 – 23% (Burfield)

It has been said that pure absolute extraction of tuberose is one of the most if not the most expensive natural flower oil at the disposal of the modern perfumer (Guenther)

A deep orange, golden brown absolute is obtained from the flowers through solvent extraction.  It is interesting to note that the cut flowers continue to produce essential oil for 48 hours after being picked.

Aroma: Heavy, sweet, floral, with a spicy undertone.

Odour Intensity: High and tenacious.

Blends well with Benzoin, Bergamot, Gardenia, Violet, Rose, Jasmine, Carnation, Mandarin, Narcissus, Neroli, Orange, Orris, Peru balsam, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang

Action: Narcotic.

Chemistry: Approximately:  Phenols 36%: ([E}-Methyl isoeugenol; [E]-Isoeugenol; Methyleugenol): Esters 19% (Methyl salicylate, Benzyl benzoate, Methyl Benzoate): Acids 12.5%: Alcohols 6.6%: Oxides: 3.5%: Sesquiterpenes 1.6%.

Cautions: Use with caution on hypersensitive, diseased or damaged skin.  Avoid with children under 2 years of age.  Maximum dermal use level: 1.2%.  Has a moderate risk for skin sensitization.  (Tisserand and Young)

Tuberose Uses

Tuberose is mostly used in perfumery.  It remains a popular floral note in perfumes and can be used as a single floral, or in combination with other florals.  Because of its overpowering aroma, it is recommended to that it is used in moderation, often diluted quite a bit before blending, because some wearers have even found the aroma to make them feel quick sickly, especially if it is not blended skillfully.

While I mostly use my Tuberose Absolute for making perfumes, there are times when I have found that adding just 1 or 2 drops of Tuberose to an essential oil blend has made quite a difference for my client, particularly on an energetic level.

Valerie Ann Worwood says:

Tuberose embodies forgiveness and the rediscovering of self-love when the self is lost and the spirit low.  When the ego has received many life blows and is depressed and unable to connect with the higher realms, tuberose assists in that reconnection.  This is a perfume for when finding oneself in a world in which it is easy to be without hope.  When all seems lost, it brings the ego into the spirit, in an event that brings balance and harmony.

Steffen Arctander, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, 1960
Tony Burfield, Natural Aromatic Materials – Odours & Origins, 2000
Ernst Guenther, The Essential Oil, Vol V, 1948 reprinted 1972
Alec Lawless: Artisan Perfumery or Being Led by the Nose, 2009,
Julia Lawless, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, 1995
Jennifer Peace Rhind, Fragrance and Wellbeing, Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche, 2014
Valeria Ann Worwood, The Fragrant Heavens, 1999
Tisserand and Young, 2nd Edition Essential Oil Safety, 2014