Scents & Aromas
The sense of smell is one of our most useful senses in that it helps in a wide range of situations that could be life threatening to us if it didn’t work properly in an instant. Consider your reaction if you suddenly smell smoke, or burning, or gas or how long it might take you to avoid a sudden smell of rotten food stuffs. We are programmed to react instantly as any of these things might put our lives in danger to some degree. But what is the sense of smell all about and why is it such an important part of our everyday life? Firstly, the sense of smell is vital for all creatures, not just humans. In the wild it helps creatures avoid poisonous food stuffs and contaminated waters that may be harmful to them.
However, there is another often overlooked side to smells and aromas which we are still learning a lot of new information about. Scent has a powerful effect on our minds and this, in turn, affects both our moods and our sense of wellbeing. So how does this work? Our sense of smell comes through our nose – OLFACTORY SYSTEM – which connects directly to the brains sense centre. It connects to those areas in the brain that deal with, and are associated with, our emotions and memory (the AMYGDALA and the HIPPOCAMPUS). Because of this connection certain smells can take us right back in time! Try to remember smells from your childhood…Sunday lunch cooking, favourite ice-creams on a holiday, perfume worn by favourite relative and so on. Can you call up the smell of lemons, garlic, peaches, lavender, roses etc without them being physically in front of you? Of course you can, plus thousands of scents and aromas in the world because they are all stored – somehow – in your memory! Just take a moment to try to imagine how that’s possible, where physically are they stored and in what form? Scientists are still working on that one!
We can also use scents to create certain moods and atmospheres in the home as certain scents provoke a feeling of calm and relaxing peace, while others can cause an uplifting sense of invigoration and well- being. There is a saying that ‘Mother Nature provides’ and that is certainly true when it comes to aromas and scents all around us. We can access these through candles, oils to burn, perfumes, soaps and so on. We can also grow some of them ourselves as they can come from different sources such as plants, herbs, flowers, trees etc. Here are a few of the most popular and easily accessible ones which you may like to try to see how they can affect you…
LAVENDER – a woody herb with small leaves that produce the well-known scent. It is well known for inducing a calm and peaceful atmosphere. It’s used in candles, oils, perfumes, and the leaves can be placed in small bags to put under your pillow for a restful night’s sleep. It’s also good used in cooking and baking, also being very useful in oil form to put onto small burns, bites and stings. It is one of the few oils that can be put directly onto the skin.
MINT – again easy to grow and comes in several varieties including spearmint. The leaves can be used in cooking and also used to make refreshing tea which can help with digestive problems. It’s a popular flavouring in sweets toothpastes and mouth washes. Burning the oils produces a clean fresh sharp smell which refreshes the room. Very good for burning in the kitchen to clear cooking smells.
ROSEMARY – as Shakespeare said ‘Rosemary is for remembrance’, which is true as this woody herb with it small leaves is very good at clearing the head and allowing clarity of thought. It can be used in oils to burn and infused to make a tea. Burning the oil does allow a greater sense of clarity so is useful when studying for exams or when you have things to remember!
YLANG YLANG – this essential oil comes from the yellow leaves of the Cananga tree, which grows in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The trees produce very few flowers, making the yield very expensive and labour intensive. It has a sweet floral scent and is very popular in perfumes as well as in its essential oil form. It is one of the oil that is very difficult to replicate or produce artificially, which also helps increase its value. The deep rich aroma is popular for burning to induce a sense of deep relaxation and helps towards sleep.
GERANIUM – once the native of South Africa it is now also grown in Egypt and Russia. It has a rosy smell and is useful for helping with anxiety as it has a calming effect when inhaled. It can be useful on the skin when a few drops are mixed with moisturiser and can then be applied to the body s well as the face. It’s properties are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antiseptic, which makes it ideal for use on the scalp when mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut oil and well massaged in. leave for five minutes then shampoo out. Burned, it induces a feeling of wellbeing and calmness.
BERGAMOT – this comes from the Bergamot orange and the oil is extracted by pressing. One popular use for this oil is as flavouring in Earl Grey tea. The scent is both sweet and spicy and has a citrus-like fragrance which is both clean and fresh. A common use for this oil is to burn it when clarity of thought is required along with a calming effect, which makes it perfect to induce a good night’s sleep.
BEST USE OF OILS – use a base oil, such as almond oil, then add a few drops of your chosen essential oil and mix. All essential oils are useful for massages. The action of the muscles being pressured and soothed along with the aroma of the chosen oil promotes a feeling of deep relaxation and calm.
Burning the essential oils in a burner helps promote an atmosphere of serenity and calm if the correct oils are used, but some produce activity, such as Peppermint, or clarity of thought, such as Rosemary, so it is worth spending some time in choosing the oils to suit your mood or intention before burning as the aroma lingers in the air long after the oil is finished with.
Diluting the oil in the carrier oil and hot water gives an ideal linen spray, useful when ironing clothes to freshen them up or spraying on furnishings, especially on bed linen to promote a good nights sleep.
Oils can also be added to a bath to give an all-round experience of inhaling the oils and benefitting from the aroma. Also, being oil they also help soften the skin, so this is a very practical method of using them.