Does the smell of roasting chestnuts or simmering cinnamon and clove cider bring up nostalgic memories of winters past? Are you one who actually decks the halls (and mantels and banisters) with boughs of fragrant evergreens?
Do you not really care because you are OBSESSED with finishing your year-end holiday gift list and there’s always SOMEONE (or someones) whose box hasn’t been checked off yet?
Here it is, the second week of December 2019, and we holiday shoppers are counting down the days left before the end of the year to pick up that perfect something for all those special someones in our lives.
Whether it’s your office party’s Secret Santa present, a stocking stuffer for your beloved or a small token for your sister’s new boyfriend’s second-youngest cousin, take heart – or nose. Help is on the way.
Gloves, scarves, and ugly sweaters are great gifts but not for everyone. Candy, cookies, and gingerbread houses may not be the most appropriate gift for your diabetic aunt or dieting spouse. Somehow, it seems there are always some nice people who deserve a superior giftie – but what??
Often overlooked but an eternal favorite is the gratifying gift of aromatic scent. Essential oils, incense, and infused candles will bring a smile of unexpected joy to anyone lucky enough to receive such a treat.
We humans associate certain smells with memories of pleasant pastimes. The opposite can be true, too: an aroma that doesn’t upset others may make you sick, emotionally if not physically.
There’s a scientific reason for this that has to do with how close the olfactory (sense of smell) processing system is to the memory hub in the brain, called the limbic system, which is composed of various parts.
One of them, the amygdala, is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe that plays a major part in how we process emotions. Our behavioral and emotional responses, especially concerning survival behaviors such as feeding, reproduction, caring for our young, and fight or flight responses are keyed to this neural cluster.
Another, the hippocampus, the brain area responsible for storing episodic memories for later recall, is also part of the limbic system and lies close to the amygdala. The hippocampus is essential for representing space-time context and associating it with the sensory details of daily life to form episodic memories.
Episodic memory is a person’s unique memory of a specific event. It will be different from someone else’s recollection of the same experience.
Because the olfactory cortex (the part of the brain where we interpret sensory smell) lies so close to key parts of the limbic system, odors become linked to events we experience such that a memory is triggered by a smell long afterward.
When smells and information about space and time combine, a “what-when-where” memory is formed. For example, the smell of a lover’s perfume (the what) might make you you reminisce about your first kiss (the when and where).
Did you know that aromas are divided into eight families? Each type has reputed health benefits in addition to stimulating nostalgic memories.
CITRUS – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, lemongrass, citronella
Emotionally balancing to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety
Cleansing; popular addition to antibacterial oil blends
Stimulating for mental and spiritual vigor
FLORAL – geranium, jasmine, lavender, rose, rosewood, Ylang-Ylang
HERBACEOUS – chamomile, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano
CAMPHORACEOUS – camphor, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, laurel leaf
MINTY – peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen
SPICY – anise, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, nutmeg
Crisp and penetrating
RESINOUS/MUSKY – frankincense, myrrh, Peru balsam
Promotes relaxation and a sense of inner calm
Known to be commonly used for intimacy enhancement
Tends to be associated with a casual feeling
WOODY/EARTHY – cypress, pine, rosewood, sandalwood, patchouli
Promote feelings of comfort, security, and well-being
Often considered to be aphrodisiacs
Many stores that sell essential oils and other aromatic products have open tester products available so you can preview a prospective gift for that special someone. While you’re at it, pick out a few scents for yourself.
When in doubt, ask around and try to find out what scents the intended recipient prefers. You never know – you might be giving the gift of a future cherished memory.