Of all the senses, smell is the one that’s most likely to teleport us straight to a moment in time or inspire a particular feeling, often before vision or hearing have even registered the source. For example, we’ve surely all experienced that hit of pleasure on stepping out of the home when someone nearby has been mowing the grass. The sweet aroma might not necessarily have happy memories (not everyone is enraptured by the thought of the school football or hockey field), but it’s almost universally loved as a smell.
There could be evolutionary motors at work here – it’s a good survival mechanism to have a long memory for aromas, especially those that are associated with danger or a good feed. But as science learns more about the effects certain smells have on the way the body functions, we’ve started to build up a picture of the complex relationship humans have with certain scents.
We thought we’d have a sniff of some aromas that have been strongly associated with good things. From stress relief to a good night’s sleep, we could be about to find out that beautiful aromas aren’t just pleasant – they might actually be able to help us. The following links between aromas and physical effects might not have been conclusively proven, but they’re certainly strongly suggested – and there’s no harm in trying!
Lavender – sleep easy
Lying awake in bed, watching the clock progress through 1, 2, 3 a.m. – it’s frustrating and can affect you for days after. Unfortunately, many of us experience this a few times a month, and for some, it’s an every-night experience.
If you’re at your wits’ end trying to snooze in the evening, why not give lavender a try? The scent is believed to get you in the right frame of mind for a better night’s sleep. While we’d never recommend sleeping with a lit candle, you could burn lavender candles during the evening, and scented reed diffusers can be placed in the bedroom for a constant lavender scent.
Which meaning of “zest” came first? The “vim and vigour” sense or the “sharp tang of lime, lemon or orange peel”? It turns out that it probably makes no difference, as they both belong in the same family. Yes, that wonderful fruity aroma you get when you cut or squeeze a citrus fruit might also be giving you a shot of energy and alertness, too. You don’t even need to eat or drink it. There are plenty of ways so get that citrus hit without having to continually juice orange and lemons, too – it’s a scent that translates wonderfully to candles and diffusers for a taste of summer – and perkiness!
Vanilla … nice
You’ll already know the scent well if you’ve made cookies, cakes or even your own ice cream – vanilla is something of a staple in cooking, the essence or oil something you’ll always have in the kitchen cupboard. But it turns out there’s even more to vanilla than its sweet, subtle flavour – it’s also been observed to lift the mood, and makes some people feel relaxed when they sense it. There’s certainly something comforting about vanilla, from those first experiments in the kitchen to strolls down the promenade, but there could be even more to this humble pod than meets the nose.
The Bounties might always be the last remaining Celebrations, but aromatherapists don’t dismiss the tropical fruit quite so quickly. That’s because they believe it has a calming effect, slowing your heart rate slightly and dulling the fight-or-flight instinct, which can be the cause of anxiety in some. Just thinking about the aroma of coconut can transport you to another place, perhaps a palm-fringed beach where all your cares are washed away. But it’s much better to not have to imagine it – setting up a coconut-scented diffuser could transport you there every time you waft past it.
Gingerly does it
The health benefits of ginger are well-known, from its anti-inflammatory effects to dealing with nausea. But what about the mere scent of ginger? Well, it is said to inspire a sense of invigoration in anyone who smells it, which sounds convincing if you’ve every walked into a home where there’s mouth-watering ginger being stir-fried. And thanks to gingerbread cottages and lebkuchen, the scent of ginger is also evocative of Christmas, which is sure to instil a sense of warmth that will uplift you. Try it in a candle for the full fresh-from-the-oven sensation and soak up the cheer all year round.
All that jasmine
Could jasmine be the ultimate feel-good scent? It’s certainly been feted for centuries by Eastern cultures thanks to numerous medicinal claims, including stress and anxiety reduction, increased alertness, helping with cramps and, yes, as an aphrodisiac. While we can’t back up any of those claims with science, there’s no doubt that jasmine is among nation’s favourite scents. If filling your home with one of nature’s most wondrous aromas doesn’t lift your spirit, perhaps nothing will. Try it in a candle or diffuser – we can guarantee guests will notice.
And don’t forget Cinnamon
It’s lovely on a savoury pastry or a pancake, and delicious in an apple pie, but cinnamon might even have benefits beyond the taste buds. That’s because a mere sniff of the sweet spice is thought to give an instant boost to our ability to respond to visual stimuli and even improve our attention span and memory. Stick that in your pie and smell it!
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The examples above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to positive psychological effects of nature’s aromas. But as a starting seven, you can’t go wrong bringing these scents into your home, whether you’re looking to perk up or drop off.