In "A Dream of Red Mansions," China's great 18th-century classic novel, the playful protagonist, Jia Baoyu, had a disconcerting propensity for eating the rouge he stole from the flock of beauty-conscious girls in his family. It’s a habit that might have made any red-blooded hero blush. But the rouge was, in fact, made of fragrant flowers that had been pressed, steamed and combined with fat or other edible substances.
The tradition of using processed flowers both as cosmetics and food additives persists to the present day in China. Large food stores still sell fresh osmanthus and rose flower syrup to flavour food, while great quantities of fresh jasmine flowers and Michelia alba are used in jasmine tea, a major Chinese export item.
The widening use of aromatic plants now includes their flowers, seeds, leaves, barks, stems and roots. At the same time, the synthesizing of aromatic chemicals has also contributed to the development of an aromatics industry on a scale never before seen in Chinese history.