Aromatherapy also seems to be a good antidote to stress, depression, anxiety
and other emotional upheaval.
“Smell affects mood or emotional state more than any of the other senses,”
says Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research
Foundation. “That’s because the olfactory bulb [smell center located in the
brain] is part of the limbic system, which is the emotional brain.”
For example, says Hirsch, lavender increases alpha brain waves, which
induce calm. Jasmine increases beta waves, which are associated with a more
awake, alert state and better mood. Scent can even make people friendlier, suggest findings from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Results
showed that people smelling something pleasant, such as freshly baked cookies
or roasting coffee, were twice as likely to help a stranger at the mall by doling
out a dollar when asked or picking up a ballpoint pen someone had dropped.
Smell can even trigger memory. Hirsch did a study looking at 989 people in
39 countries, and found that the No. 1 “nostalgic” odor people recalled was
baked goods. The reason for scent’s powerful ability to reach back into the
recesses of the memory may have to do with the fact that the hippocampus
(the part of the brain where memory resides) is also part of the limbic system.
Certain odors can also sharpen mental acuity, which may translate
into better marks or increased productivity. One study, at the University of
Cincinnati, which asked people to perform stressful computer tasks for 40
minutes, found that breathing peppermint or lily-of-the-valley scent through
an oxygen mask resulted in people making fewer errors than those breathing
As for the mating game, research suggests that the way to a man’s heart
is not just through his stomach, but also his nose. According to Hirsch’s
research, for men the No. 1 smell that attracted them to women was the
combination of lavender and pumpkin pie, followed by doughnuts and
licorice; strawberries apparently increased sexual satisfaction. So maybe
men can hold off filling their Viagra prescription and opt for a tastier tactic.
For women, the No. 1 smell that attracted them to men was Good & Plenty
licorice candy and cucumber, followed by Good & Plenty and banana nut bread.
These smells work individually too, but even better together, says Hirsch.
But what if an individual doesn’t like cinnamon or apple or lavender? Like
art, smell works very much on a gut level—you either like it or you don’t. In
most cases, it works only if you like it, says Hirsch. However, in a mating
context, he adds, certain smells work at an unconscious level, regardless of
what a guy thinks of pumpkin pie or a woman thinks of banana nut bread.
If you’re starting to explore essential oils, try a few drops in a bath or
diffuser, or mix in with a massage oil (e.g., sweet almond, jojoba or mineral
oil). Just don’t use essential oils alone (undiluted), since they’re pretty potent
concentrations of herbs and can cause skin reactions, suggests Nagel. “Keep in
mind, it may take 100 pounds of fresh herb to get 2 ounces of essential oils,” he
says. Also, don’t take them internally or during pregnancy without consulting
a qualified health-care provider. A
As any aromatherapist can tell
you, there’s a scent for whatever ails
you, physically or mentally. Here are
just a few scents to brew, sniff or soak
in if you are under the weather.
Depression. Ylang-ylang, geranium,
Anxiety. Clary sage, bergamot,
Respiratory ailments (cough, colds,
asthma). Eucalyptus, peppermint
Muscular pain. Clary sage, eucalyptus,
Mental fatigue. Lemon, rosemary, orange
Indigestion. Anise, basil, fennel,