It’s been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (incidentally research shows the same for women), but less commonly touted is the adage that – the way to a person’s brain is through their nose. Our sense of smell is often underestimated in comparison to our other senses, but the science of olfaction (smelling) is both compelling and intriguing. The latest research is also showing that olfaction is more sophisticated than previously thought, with humans being able to recognize more than 1 trillion different smells. Compare that to the measly 500,000 tones discernable by the human ear or the several million colours differentiated by the eye. Early purveyors of aromatherapy, certainly knew nothing of how smells were processed in the brain, but they did recognize that smells could enhance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Smell interpretation begins in a neuron cell mass, called the olfactory cleft, located at the back of the nose and adjacent to the brains “smell” centre. The tips of these neurons contain chemical receptors that bind odour molecules and create an intricate neural code that is passed as an electrical impulse to the brain where it is interpreted by the olfactory cortex. From there the olfactory information is relayed to the limbic system which contains the key brain regions involved with memory, mood and emotions. This is presumed to be why a particular smell can remind us of grandmother’s kitchen or a particular event, including the emotions attached to that time and place. This also helps to explain why aromatherapy can have the influences that it often does.

Essential oils are the foundation of aromatherapy, as these potent and pure essences can invoke a range of positive physical, mental and emotional impacts. In Canada, there are currently only eight approved aromatherapy claims accepted by Health Canada for the numerous essential oils that are available on the market, although aromatherapists use hundreds of essential oils and oil combinations in their practises. Take for example the following popular oils, lemon, geranium and tea tree oil which are only licensed to carry the following health claim: “used in aromatherapy to help relieve colds/cough” while aromatherapy practitioners would have many other clinical uses for these oils. Tea tree alone is recognized in aromatherapy as an antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, cicatrisant (cell regenerator), expectorant, fungicide, insecticide, stimulant and sudorific (sweat inducer).

Traditional use aside, what does modern research say about essential oils. A study of tea tree essential oil as a topical treatment to clear antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria from the skin of hospital patients found that it was as effective as the standard treatment. A study of inhaled ginger essential oil in women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer showed improvements in acute nausea. Investigations on the effect of lavender aromatherapy on anxiety among dental patients and anxiety and depression in high risk postpartum women showed significant improvement. Aromatherapy consisting of the use of rosemary and lemon essential oils in the morning, and lavender and orange in the evening showed significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function in 28 elderly patients suffering from different forms of dementia. In Japan, a review of the forest “bathing” practice (walking in the woods), regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy, has shown that NK (natural killer immune cells) can be increased for as long as 30 days after visiting a forest. These are just a few examples of the growing number of research studies that are being conducted and showing promising results for the therapeutic use of essential oils.

As the busy holiday season approaches, it might be a good time to stock up on a range of essential oils. Not only might they help you to stay chill and healthy when you are pulled in a hundred different directions, but they can also help fill your home with beautiful fragrances that will delight your guests. As you are likely too strapped for time to visit a forest at this time of year, why not bring the woods indoors with this tantalizing recipe.


Winter Forest – Diffuser Blend

Like a walk through a deep, dense forest. You’ll be captured by the Christmas tree scent of fir needles, along with the soothing notes of cedarwood. These oils make great air purifiers and are known to be helpful to the respiratory tract. It’s especially good for freshening the air in a stuffy, overheated room.

8 drops cedarwood essential oil
4 drops balsam fir essential oil
4 drops eucalyptus essential oil

Directions: Add the recommended number of drops of NOW essential oils to your diffuser. Enjoy!

By: Randy Betts, BSc
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