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What is Osmanthus?

By B. Koch
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Osmanthus is a genus of flowering, evergreen trees and shrubs in the family Oleaceae. The plants produce small white flowers in the spring, summer or fall that not only are beautiful and fragrant, but also are used in many Asian dishes and teas. Many species in this genus also produce small, round fruit that is dark purple or blue in color, and all have green, oval shaped leaves. They grow best in warm climates and mainly are found in Asia.

Mainly prized for its beautiful scent, the Osmanthus also is commonly used as an ornamental plant in gardens. They commonly are used as hedges as well, and can serve as good screening plants. Depending on the species, plants in this genus may grow to the size of shrubs to small trees, about 6.5 to 40 feet (2 to 12 meters).

There are more than 30 species in the Osmanthus genus. Most are native to the warm, temperate climates of Asia, although there is one species that is native to the southern regions of the United States and northern Mexico; the Osmanthus Americanus species, commonly known as devilwood, can be found in warmer areas of the US, from Texas to Virginia.

Osmanthus plants enjoy temperate climates and good soil. They can grow in sun to partial shade, and can be gown directly in the soil or in pots. Although they do not tolerate cold weather, they can be kept potted in cooler climates and brought inside during the winter months.

The Osmanthus fragrans species, also known as sweet osmanthus, the tea olive, sweet olive, or kinmokusei in Japan, is known for its strong, sweet scent. It produces a popular flower that is a traditional symbol of love and romance in Asian countries and often is used in wedding ceremonies. The aroma of the sweet osmanthus also is common for use in perfumes.

Flowers from the Osmanthus plants traditionally have been used in many Asian drinks and teas as well. The flowers may be brewed into teas by themselves, or they may be mixed with green or oolong teas to add fragrance and sweetness. The dried flower buds also have been used to make fragrant, sweet liquors.

In Asia, Osmanthus flowers are not only popular for use in tea, but also in cooking. The flowers commonly are used to create jam, which is sweetly scented like the flowers. It also can be found cooked into all sorts of dishes, from sweet cakes to soup.

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