The World of Fragrance

While walking in the silence of nature I realised I too, am a part of it. The very essence of it runs through my blood. I can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, be it. But oh, to smell it – to inhale the sweet intoxication of its perfume, this is a gift that can only have been laid forth by the gods. And so it is, and so it has been. For centuries fragrances, perfumes and natural essences have been revered as sacred, healing, and for pleasure and enjoyment. We invite you into the world of scents to discover what makes it so enchanting.

Consciousness lies at the heart of humanity. Through the sense of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell we explore our natural kingdoms, make sense of our existence, and expand our conscious awareness. Scents have been used for millennia to access alternative realms and to connect with Godin the form of flowers, leaves, wood, roots, spices, resins made into incense, oils, powders, perfumes and essential oils. One of the most powerful odours comes from essential oils – they provide us with the opportunity to experience the life force, the very blood, of the plant from which it is extracted or distilled. In fact, the word Chemistry comes from the Greek word chemia, which means ‘plant juice’.

THE ESSENCE OF SMELL

Essence is used to describe the intrinsic nature or vital quality of something. It also refers to an extract or concentrate from a plant or other matter, generally referencing its fragrance. In medieval philosophy, ‘essence’ refers to an unattainable, elusive, inner content of a person or thing – something which is unseen. Yet, through smell we access this elusive inner world and allow it to inform our conscious and subconscious mind. That is the true power and magic of fragrances.

MAKING SCENTS OF IT ALL

Our olfactory receptors have important interconnections with memory, language and our neuro-vegetative areas. Scents usually travel from the temporal lobe to the thalamus, where they are then forwarded to other parts of the brain for perception. The thalamus sends the signals to the orbital frontal cortex, which mediates our conscious perception of the scent we are inhaling – this is when we actually smell the odour.

The thalamus also redirects the scents to the:

  • Hypothalamus: This is where our hormones are activated. It affects our fight or flight response and our rest and digest process.
  • Hippocampus: This is where memory is stored. Here smells can be compared against associated memories.
  • Amygdala: This is our emotional processing system. Here smell is tied to emotionality, memory and conscious perception.

PERFUMES AND FRAGRANCES

The world of perfumery is vast and extensive. Early perfumery has been tracked in ancient Egypt where it was used in religious ceremonies and burial preparations and by the elite to enhance their status. Legend maintains that Cleopatra drenched her boat in fragrant oils so Mark Anthony would catch her scent before seeing her. Many of the perfumes contained myrrh and cinnamon stored in alabaster bottles with intricate detail.

The Persians were also early users of perfume which they integrated into their culture, and used for trade and political status. When perfumery was adopted by the Greeks and Romans it took on a more consistent quality. Rosewater trickled out the fountains in Rome and perfumery became an art. To enhance the mystical and sacred qualities of fragrances, many Greek perfumes were named after the Goddesses. Archaeologists recently discovered a factory in Cyprus from 2,000 BC, which specialised in producing scents like myrtle, lavender, rosemary, laurel, and coriander. In this day, perfumes are usually created by combining and boiling flower petals, spices and herbs and soaking them in a carrier oil. Imported spices provided an exotic element to local scents. However, despite what perfumers may attest to, you may be surprised that perfumes and fine fragrances are not the most exquisite scent when it comes to our olfactory perception and unconscious mind. There is another fragrance, a natural essence that each individual has as unique to themselves – a personal identification in the form of a distinctive scent. It’s the scent we emit to announce ourselves and attract an appropriate partner. Fragrance analysts and scientists confirm that the natural odours emitted by the body hold the key to sexual attraction. Yes, we are talking about pheromones. Many perfume houses acknowledge that perfumes should complement and not banish our natural smells. Besides that, drenching ourselves with fragrances and perfumes can cause chaos in our chemical communication system. Pheromones act as chemical messengers and subliminally signal important passion-alerting information to potential mates. Androstenone, found in human sweat and also used in perfume, is another of the odour ingredients accused of hotwiring the sex index. To understand this in greater depth, watch the 2006 film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, which follows a young man with an incredible nose who sets off to distill a perfume from the fragrances of 13 women. This woman-loving, scent-driven, highly sensitised perfumer understood that, “the soul of beings is their scent.”

LET’S TALK PHEROMONES

A pheromone is a scent that is produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially an insect or mammal. This scent affects the physiology or behavior of others within its species. Every human being emits their own scent, which is completely personal and unique to them. Although there seems to be a stigma surrounding the aeration of personal scent, trust us – it’s perfectly natural and something to be embraced. What harm could come from embracing your essence, which is a vital part of your identity? The next time you’re with a possible suitor allow your personal fragrance to permeate the room, and you will soon see if he or she is a suitable match. When it comes to basic biology, it is said that the scent we emit is predetermined and comes from the same genes that determine our body’s tissue type. Doctor Michael Gozin of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry is currently working with a team to break down the components of human body odour. They propose that this may one day be used as a new kind of identification, a chemical fingerprint per se.

Did you know? The power of scent is being used to transport people on a journey into the past? At the Jorvik Viking Centre in New York, a museum with more than 14 million visitors a year, a stench is pumped into the building to give visitors a true simulation of what the Viking era would have smelled like – and yes this includes the scents that were found in the toilet and village.

A FRAGRANT WORLD

Throughout the ages, scents and essences have been used to enhance emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Woods, resins, incenses, powders and spices have been used to promote clarity, aid in healing and symptomatic release, and inspire moods and memories. Over the years the extraction process has grown to include flower essences and aromatherapy. Flower essences were first developed in the 1930s by Doctor Edward Bach. By capturing the soul and essence of specific wildflowers, he was able to create remedies to enhance health and wellness.

The father of medicine, Hippocrates himself, stated that “the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day.” He recognised, as far back as the fourth century BC, that aromatic substances could be burnt to offer protection against contagious diseases. Essential oils and aromatherapy have long been proven effective medicinally and to improve health. They possess stimulating, detoxifying, antidepressant, antibacterial, antiviral, and calming properties. Not only that, but every essential oil is able to capture the unique healing properties of the plant from which it was distilled. They are, in essence, nature’s medicine. For instance, Rose Absolute has often been used to open up the heart to love and for issues relating to hormones, menstruation and emotions. Lavender essential oil is used to reduce anxiety and emotional stress and help heal burns and wounds. Tea Tree is used as an antiseptic and immune stimulant, and peppermint to relieve itchiness, repel bugs and reduce nausea.

Barks and resins used to awaken the participant, and bring the unconscious workings of the mind to a conscious level, include Frankincense, Myrrh and Agar Wood. The ancient Egyptians used Frankincense during the embalming process. When the tomb of the famous Tutankhamen was opened in 1922, thousands of artifacts were discovered, including sealed flasks of Frankincense oil. When opened, they found the scent was just as powerful as before, even after 3000 years. If Frankincense doesn’t tickle your nose you may want to try Oud, or Agar Wood – one of the most precious fragrant substances on earth, with a value surpassing gold. The resinous heartwood is produced from the trees of the genus Aquilariamalaccensis. Agarwood is created when the tree is infected by a fungus. To protect itself, it creates a resin that slowly saturates the tree for up to 100 years. This results in a dark heartwood with a divine fragrance – a fragrance that Shakyamuni Buddha called the’Scent of Nirvana’.Many believe Agarwood contains the positive life energy (Qi) of expansion, growth, nourishment, new beginnings, and health.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Stand in the center of a lush tropical forest, right after the rains. Close your eyes and allow the dappled light to bathe your face in a gentle glow. Inhale deeply. Feel the rich colours of woody, verdant, or spicy green essences permeate your mind. Can you sense the mossy undertones and floral notes that dance amongst them, like leaves gently swaying in the breeze? Let the aromas bring life, memory, and expansion to your consciousness. Just as the air you breathe brings life and form to your being, so these scents bring life to the forest. They are the very essence, the being, of the forest and are freely available to be experienced by anyone walking by.

DID YOU NOSE?

  • Our olfactory sense is unique to the other senses. It’s the only one that travels directly to the forebrain without going to the thalamus first. In fact, it goes in reverse to the processing path the other senses take.
  • The word perfume, or ‘per fumum’, means through the smoke. Initially perfumes were in the form of incense mostly used to connect to the realms of the gods and heavens.
  • There are approximately 10 million smell receptors in the nose allowing us to identify the amazing amount of one trillion different smells.
  • Smell is the first sense to develop. It develops in the womb, and when we are born it is already fully formed and functioning.
  • Between 75 – 95% of flavour is influenced by the sense of smell. Without being able to smell the food we eat it becomes difficult to differentiate between the tastes of different food.
  • The scent of each nostril experiences projects onto separate sides of the brain. The right nostril corresponds to the right side of the brain and the left nostril to the left. This allows us to simultaneously smell two odours in a type of ‘peaceful rivalry’ between nostrils.

Kerry-Ann Aiken

Kerry is a full-time Writer and Editor, as well as a Marketing Manager at Escentia Products. She has her Bachelors in Journalism and her Honours in English Literature. She’s a free-flowing spirit and a social butterfly with an intense love for life, people, and adventures. Although she often wanders off to explore, when faced with new earthly spaces, she can safely say that one thing in life has remained constant: she is both at home with, and intrigued by, the stars, the ocean and the trees. Her writing is greatly inspired by nature and the natural kingdoms, and she is always looking for new ways to add to the mystique and magic of life. She lives on a little piece of earthly paradise in Benoni in a small cabin, which is slowly moving off the grid. Here she spends her spare time attempting to plant a forest, dancing amongst the flowers, and creating enchantment with labyrinths and walkways through her favourite plants.

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