You’ve probably heard that smell is a powerful conduit of memory. Recently,
I read a travel blogger’s advice to wear one perfume on each vacation—when you smell the scent, you’ll be transported back to that place, she explained.
For good or ill, scent can directly affect your mind.
For anyone familiar with essential oils, this might seem obvious. Understanding why is well worth it, though. The science behind essential oils’ affect on the brain is both an intriguing lesson in neuroscience and it might inspire you to use essential oils in new ways.
Scents are full of potential when it comes to influencing your brain...and not just in cases of wanderlust.
“May your love for me be like the scent
of the evening sea drifting in through a quiet window
so I do not have to run or chase or fall
... to feel you all I have to do is breathe.”
― Sanober Khan, A Thousand Flamingos
Why Scent Works
As Khan so poetically put it, scent is a direct pathway to feeling. Scientifically, it’s true. The olfactory system is directly linked to the limbic system in the brain, which is the hub of memory and emotion. When you smell a scent, its molecules travel through the lining of your olfactory cavity into your olfactory bulbs. From there molecules travel to both your olfactory cortex, which identifies the scent, and also to the limbic system and amygdala, where your brain processes feelings, mood, memory and many hormones. The olfactory system is the only sensory pathway that incorporates the limbic system—hence smell as the most powerful memory booster.
Another (more recent) explanation for why essential oils influence the mind has to do with the compounds linalool and sesquiterpenes. Both of these are naturally occurring in many essential oils. Linalool, in studies with dementia patients, has proven promising for improving memory, awareness and mood. Sesquiterpenes may increase oxygen levels in the brain. More oxygen, as you might guess, is a wonderful thing for mood and learning. If you’re curious about the nitty gritty science of this, I recommend reading How To Use Essential Oils For Brain Health and this article from Health Holistic Living.
How to Make Oils Work For You
Inhale Lavender. Close your eyes. How do you feel?
Whether it’s thanks to the amygdala, linalool or sesquiterpene receptors, the pure scents from essential oils undoubtedly affect both our physical bodies and minds.
These oils have naturally high sesquiterpenes, which may increase oxygen to your brain, helping you focus and process feelings: Vetiver, Patchouli, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Melissa, Myrrh, Cedarwood, and Clove.
Linalool, which has promising results in memory and behavioral tests, occurs naturally in these oils: Lavender, Clary Sage, Basil, Cilantro, Coriander, Tangerine, Spearmint, Rose, Cypress, Lemon, Cinnamon and Ylang Ylang.
These oils have increased alertness, contentment and calmness in patients, according to a Yale Scientific report: geranium, lavender, lemon mandarin, ylang ylang, patchouli, peppermint, and rosemary.
To enhance your practice, essential oils for meditation, this Organic Aromas blog is a good starting point.
All You Have To Do Is Breathe
My boyfriend is not the lavender oil and crystals type. But when I started diffusing lavender at home and applying a few drops on his pressure points after a long, stressful work day, the results were instantaneous. He doesn’t have to be an oils advocate for lavender to put him to sleep like an all-natural Ambien alternative.
Scent can directly affect your mind, whether you’re aware of it or not.
So, the next time you need a mood-booster, why not inhale a little Clove, Basil or Rose. See where it takes you. Jumpstart your mood and mind with these natural remedies.
For more calming properties of natural remedies and other uses for essential oils, see Use Essential Oils to Fight Stress and Anxiety. Be sure and try whatever oils feel right to you and test their effects yourself.
If you'd like to learn more about aromatherapy or to purchase DoTerra essential oils, visit Habits for Health.
Enid Spitz is a writer and yoga instructor based in Charleston, SC. She previously lived in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, where she was a newspaper editor and researched yoga for traumatic brain Injury. Heartmanity combines Enid's passions for social well-being, neuroscience and yoga. When not writing or on the yoga mat, she is an avid traveller, enjoys a good whiskey, and loves being outdoors. Twitter: @enidrosalyn, Instagram: @littleyogibird.