Remember the last time you entered into a bakery & whiffed the aroma of freshly baked bread? What about the fragrance of frangipani or jasmine? Or the smell of coffee or cinnamon, vanilla or nutmeg? What emotions does such a smell invoke?
Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful of all of our senses – even more so than our sense of sight or sound – and certainly one of the earliest senses developed. Our ancestors relied strongly on the sense of smell to alert them to danger. Our sense of smell connects to the part of the brain known as the olfactory system, which is closely linked to emotions, memory and hormones.
Most of us have heard of Aromatherapy before. For many of us, aromatherapy is just a “new-age” therapy involving splashing about beautiful smelling oils. The truth is, that aromatherapy is very serious business, and a therapy that dates back to ancient Egypt.
As the name implies, aromatherapy is the use of the “aromas” of pure essential oils to promote healing and wellbeing. Essential oils were humankind’s first medicine, being used in Ancient Egypt for medicinal, spiritual and embalming purposes. Essential oils were also prized for their cosmetic and perfumery uses. Legend has it that Cleopatra used the essential oils of Rose and Jasmine as aphrodisiacs.
The essential oils are substances distilled from plants – they can be derived from leaves, flowers, roots, bark, roots, seeds, stems and flowers – and are often referred to as the “life force” of plants because of their healing properties. Essential oils are complex chemical mixtures of organic molecules, with properties varied such as sedative, stimulating, digestive, anti-fungal, antiseptic. There are some 300 essential oils available for use.
Research in the USA involving 12,000 people found that when a mixed floral aroma was suffused throughout a room of calculus students, they increased their speed of learning by 230% (Worwood, 1995: 24). Researchers are discovering that odours can and do influence mood, evoke emotions, counteract stress and reduce high blood pressure (Battaglia, 1995: 9).
When inhaled, essential oils may:
- Stimulate memory associations
- Alter moods & feelings
- Influence hormonal responses
- Stimulate the cortical areas of the brain enhancing memory & learning