Narcissus: Not just a pretty wallflower

The sweet-smelling Narcissus can be used to treat ailments such as acne and stress


MUHAMMAD AMIR, WHO HAS BEEN RUNNING AN ITTAR (CONCENTRATED PERFUMED OIL) SHOP IN JINNAH SUPER MARKET FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS. PHOTO: HUMA CHOUDHARY

The sweet-smelling Narcissus flower gives the otherwise dry winter season a unique splendour. The wild, pint-sized flower mostly grows in Swat and surrounding areas and is transported all over Pakistan for a short period from December to February. When winter arrives, street vendors can be seen in bustling markets and at traffic signals, carrying bunches of this delicate daffodil in open baskets, ready for purchase.

“Most customers prefer Narcissus’s fragrance over tuberoses,” says Shafi Hussain, a florist in Jinnah Super flower market. The flowers are transported in trucks from Swat and Mansehra or from local graveyards (where the buds are used to decorate graves). “We don’t get very many of these flowers in big markets in the city,” Shafi adds.



The flower is usually found at the banks of rivers and lakes and takes its name from a mythical Greek hero. Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and was distinguished by his remarkable good looks. He fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring, believing he was looking at a water sprite. Narcissus drowned in this spring and it is said that the flower grew at the spot where he died. Thus ‘narcissism’ derives its meaning from this tragic hero obsessed with his own image.

Often referred to as Poet’s Daffodils, the flower has inspired scores of poets and writers, including Allama Iqbal who wrote the following lines, “Hazaaron saal Nargis apni benuri pe roti rahi” (the Narcissus cries for millennia over its blindness).

But the Narcissus is no wallflower — the flower’s extract and oils have myriad uses.

“Narcissus, rose and jasmine are three core floral scents that are widely used in perfumery all over the world,” says Muhammad Amir, who has been running an ittar (concentrated perfumed oil) shop in Jinnah Super market for the last 20 years. The flower’s extract is heated using sandalwood as base to make the concentrated oil, which can be applied directly or mixed with chemicals for a diluted fragrance. A bottle with 24ml of the oil costs Rs1,000 and Amir said women in their mid-30s to late-50s prefer using concentrated oil over regular perfumes.

“The scent of narcissus oil is rich and can be overwhelmingly powerful,” says Nancy Jalma, a massage therapist based in Islamabad. “If used in small quantities, the oil calms the nerves and helps to ease stress.” Rizwan Hafeez, a herbal medicine practitioner elaborates that Narcissus and other daffodils have been used frequently in folk and traditional medicine. It can be mixed with melon to treat acne problems and some women with uterine fibroids are advised to drink boiled water with Narcissus petals in it, Hafeez adds.

Huma Choudhary is a photojournalist working for The Express Tribune. She tweets @huma_choudhary

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 22nd, 2015.

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