Image credit: L'heure bleu
What are your favourite smells?
Fresh-cut grass? Frying bacon? Baking bread? Then you’re in plenty of good company. In a survey in 2016 these three came up as the nation’s top favourites.
But once you really start thinking about it, there are so many glorious scents around that we just don’t appreciate enough.
Image creit: Lemons
I recently read Patrick Suskind’s extraordinary book Perfume.
Which is a story told through the nose. Such is his description of every smell from the sewage-ridden streets of 18th century Paris to the ‘aromatic soul’ of a beautiful young girl that you walk around for days afterwards with the olfactory acuteness of a bloodhound. I found myself noticing the smell of radiators heating up and picking out the individual notes of a spray of L’Heure Bleu – violet, aniseed…something vanilla-y that I’m told is Tonka bean.
Image credit: 'Perfume'
"Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it."
So that would explain why I spent the best part of an hour obsessively hunting down a scent that I couldn’t identify but was making my mouth water. I finally tracked it down to a ripening apricot on the dining room table. It was like my world had expanded to a fourth dimension!
I discovered that smell plugs straight in to the most ancient part of our brain and is directly linked to feelings and memory.
This explains why people can be so viscerally moved when they visit their old school as an adult and feel long-forgotten sensations and memories. Or how my friend could feel transported from despair to comfort by sniffing a nutmeg kernel in the weeks after her mother died: it was the scent of her mum’s rice pudding, put on the table with love so many times in the past.
The positive effect on house buyers of coffee, vanilla and freshly baked bread has been well documented.
But did you know you’re nearly twice as likely to part with your cash in a shop that pumps scent in through the air con? Or that you’re 3 times more likely to buy a coffee in a café if you smell it as you walk in?
Image credit: Cinnamon candles
And now with winter upon us, with all its joys and miseries, it’s helpful to know scent can have a positive effect on us physically as well as emotionally. For instance burning oregano, lemon and peppermint can help ward off colds, coughs and viruses.
And cinnamon and cloves have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
So it makes sense why these, along with pine and eucalyptus (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory) are associated with mid-winter festival and the low point of our immune systems.
Image credit: Country Living
Good also to know that citrus scents have been shown to boost serotonin ‘the happy hormone’.
So maybe burning an orange-scented candle can help you to love those more (ahem!) challenging members of your family around the Christmas dinner table. And by the way, the smell of babies has been shown to increase dopamine levels, especially in women. So if you’ve got a new addition to the family enjoy those cuddles – they may be doing you more good than you know!
(Of course smell is very personal. Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed, green wise cracker in Monster’s Inc, prefers to wear Wet Dog, Low Tide or Dumpster. I think he was sitting next to me on the bus yesterday…)