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The Power of Aromas (and Which Will Let You Live Better)


On aromas and how they affect behavior and emotion, and some of their more powerful properties.

From time immemorial, the perfumes of certain flowers, plants, fruits and woods (such as Palo Santo) have been used as aids to healing and therapy. The beauty of the practice lies in the implicit paradox, the immense power of something as subtle and incorporeal as an odor, over the physical universe.

Aromas enter the body on two levels: chemical and emotional, and both are intimately related to one another. An odor first enters through the nose and initiates a cerebral process in the olfactory neurons. When they perceive it, signals are sent to the olfactory nerves. The first receptor is the olfactory bulb, which processes the signals and passes the information on to other parts of the brain and nervous system. These are primarily in the limbic system, which includes structures that play a fundamental role in the control of emotions, mood, memory and behavior. This is an inheritance from our ancestors in the earliest mammals and this is no surprise when you consider that smells have been used for centuries to influence the human psyche.

Smells have a power over our inner world. There’s a distinct relationship, proven in scientific studies, between smell and the world of dreams and with memory. This is not only associative, (smells remind us of people or places), but smells also trigger memories that had been temporarily forgotten or blocked, as Marcel Proust beautifully described in the first book of In Search of Lost Time. The smell was of tila tea, and the association was with literature’s most famous Magdalena. Smells also play fundamental roles in amorous relationships, as an instinctive source for information on the person next to us.

Despite the widespread controversies surrounding the healing capacity of aromatherapy, we know that emotions and stress play a fundamental role in health. It would be absurd then to rule out aromas as a source of well-being.

These are some aromas that positively impact our bodies and our minds.

* Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Delicate in aroma and appearance, chamomile flowers and their essential oil are used to soothe, relax and improve sleep. Chamomile also provides strong antidepressant properties.

* Lavender (Lavandula dentata). A beautiful violet flower, lavender has been used for centuries as a relaxant. Recent studies have proven lavender’s ability to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.

* Jasmine (Jasminum officinale). Exotic and sweet, native to China, the white jasmine flower has relaxing, antidepressant properties and is known for possessing aphrodisiac qualities. It’s also frequently used for support during postpartum depression.

* Bergamot (Citrus bergamia). The essential oil of a tree native to Southeast Asia, bergamot is extracted from the husks of the trees fruit. Used to treat depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, it’s a warm citrus scent also said to reduce anger, frustration, and irritability.

* Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin). A member of the mint family, patchouli is a shrub from India that helps to reduce fatigue, depression and withdrawal symptoms from some addictions. Patchouli is also said to have aphrodisiac properties.

* Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). A precious aromatic shrub, rosemary is considered sacred by many Mediterranean peoples. A potent mental stimulant, rosemary is also used to fortify the memory, and to improve mental performance and combat depression.

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