Why is it that the wafting smell of a home cooked meal, a bouquet of showy, aromatic flowers, or the sweet smell of a blossoming linden tree on a balmy day are all so instantly pleasing? The answer lies in the unique way that our brain processes smell.
Because there is so much happening in the world around us, our brain acts as a complex filter, greatly reducing the amount of sensory input we perceive. It keeps us functioning efficiently by distilling what information is pertinent to us, otherwise we would likely be immobilized with too much stimulus. The one exception to this lies in our sense of smell. When we catch a whiff of something, the scent hops directly into the fast lane to the emotional centers in our brain, aka the limbic system. There is no filter, and its effect on mood is immediate. By this mode, aromatic herbs directly and instantly impact our nervous system as well as neuromuscular tension. Many of them support a healthy state of joy, ease, relaxation and overall balance, while others are actually invigorating and support mental clarity and alertness (think peppermint!).
I’m an herbalist by training, but I also have the good fortune of working at an amazing essential oil and aromatherapy retail shop. Dubbed as an aromatic apothecary, the store carries hundreds of high quality essential oils extracted thoughtfully and sustainably from aromatic plants around the world. Sure, there is endless scientific research touting the effects of aromatics on the mood and nervous system, but nothing speaks louder to me than the reaction of people when they enter our shop. We genuinely care about our customers and ask them how they are doing when they walk through the door. The most classic response and one we get at least several times a day is “I’m doing so much better now that I’m here!”, accompanied by a deep breath and giant grin. We all know this feeling from when we smell or taste something pleasing. It acts as instant gratification and helps call us down out of the jungle gym of our minds and into the present moment. This is the reason why herbalists, and pretty much anyone with a sense of smell, love aromatic plants.
What’s amazing is that you don’t need a highly concentrated and isolated essential oil to reap the same benefits. A cup of tea or an aromatic tincture similarly supports the nervous system. Even just literally stopping to smell the roses acts as an instant reset button to your mood and spirit. When you take an aromatic plant internally as a tea or extract, your body receives the added benefit of all the constituents the plant has to offer, many working synergistically to support your optimum health. The aromatics are pleasing by sent and by taste, and as you swallow a wave of relaxation reflexively washes over you.
I believe that this experience of joy and ease is valuable and well deserved for each of us. Sometimes, we get distracted by projects and responsibilities and lock ourselves into duty and diligence in a way that’s harmful to our wellbeing and hurtful to our families and our communities. Sometimes, life gives us lemons. Aromatics are a beautiful way to bring us home to our hearts and to the joy and sweetness of the world. So, when you find yourself needing a nudge towards balance or brightness, reach for your linden blossom, your lemon balm, your rose; smell, nibble, sip.