When 7,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 30 were polled by advertising agency McCann Worldgroup, more than half said they would rather give up their sense of smell than let go of social media. Smell is a sense often taken for granted and may be considered less important than sight or touch. However, the ability to smell is more important to your quality of life than you may think. The sense of smell impacts our taste, emotions, memory and much more.
The sense of smell even affects God, who took action in the Bible several times based on what He smelled. When Noah and his family exited the ark after the flood, Noah built an altar and offered animal and bird sacrifices to God. Genesis 8:21 says the smell of the offering moved God’s heart.
And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.
In humans, the olfactory system is created so intricately that researchers from The Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute discovered we can distinguish more than 1 trillion odors. The odors around us affect our body, mind, and spirit.
The Nose Knows: How Smell Affects Our Emotions
Smell engages our emotions. Scents that are pleasant to us can lift moods and create a sense of well-being and joy. They can make us feel more energetic and playful. They can also make us feel more contemplative and calm. Our olfactory system contains 400 receptors high up in the nose that react to scent and transmit signals directly to the brain’s limbic system. In fact, the sense of smell is the only one of the five senses that bypasses processing in the thalamus and goes right to the limbic part of the brain. The limbic system governs three primary functions: emotions, memory and stimulation. That’s why surrounding ourselves with smells we love can help us feel happy.
Smell Relates to Memory
Because our olfactory system relays scents directly to the limbic system, we can experience feelings of nostalgia when we encounter smells from the past. If you grew up in Florida but now live in New England, for example, the scent of the seashore may bring back memories from childhood. Studies show that odors from particular places can evoke memories of loved ones, places we used to live, or key moments from our past. People who suffer from PTSD can be triggered by certain smells that take them back to times when they experienced trauma. In fact, the feeling of going back to a certain moment in your past is stronger when you smell something than when you see or hear something that relates to that point in time.
Scents Help Us Stay Safe and Even Heal
Smells play a role in our physical health too. Some scents, like lavender, are associated with calming us down. Aromatherapy uses scents to treat many ailments, such as digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, stress and anxiety. Smells keep us safe, such as when we avoid eating rotten food because it smells bad or when we smell smoke and are warned that there is a fire nearby. Smell is closely linked to the ability to taste. When we chew our food, aromas release and travel from our mouth to our nose. If you did not have a sense of smell, you would only be able to discern the 5 basic tastes, including salty, sour, bitter, savory, and sweet. However, the subtleties of each food’s flavor would be lost.
Herbal Scents that Promote Good Health
There are many herbs and spices used for the healing properties of their scents. Holy Basil, which is also known as Tulsi, has been used for thousands of years in India and other countries in the East to help combat the common cold, headaches, heart disease and inflammation. It is known in India as the “elixir of life” and is sweet and peppery. Holy basil is thought to promote long life and some studies show the scent and taste may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Clove is another sweet and pungent scent that helps us in many ways. When vaporized, the smell of clove can help relieve respiratory conditions such as asthma and coughs. Clove oil is antimicrobial and helps kill bacteria. It also has pain-relieving properties and is used to help relieve toothaches and muscle pain. Some studies show clove helps support a healthy liver and stabilize blood sugar levels. It is also a powerful antioxidant.
Rosemary is a member of the mint family, and its scent makes it a popular herb to use in cooking, perfume-making, teas, and essential oils. The scent of rosemary is thought to help improve concentration and digestion. Rosemary is believed to help keep our brain from aging, and it contains calcium, iron and vitamin B-6. Rosemary gives our circulatory and immune systems a boost, and it has even been shown to promote hair growth.
Peppermint leaves contain several essential oils that boost health, including limonene and menthol, which gives the mint its cooling effect. The scent of peppermint helps clear the sinuses and open nasal passages. When applied to the temples and forehead, the smell of peppermint may ease tension headaches. It also helps relieve muscle pain, as it cools the muscle and increases blood flow. Peppermint also is used to reduce fatigue and improve energy levels.
What scents are your favorite health boosters? How do you use scent in your wholeness routines?
Written by: Natalie Gillespie