Conversely, olfactory memory can be one of the strongest triggers for memory, for good or for ill, possible for the human mind. The signature perfume of a former lover, the scent of a beloved grandmother’s skin, the odor of spiced food from a lost homeland, the distinct wine richness and iron weighted smell of blood, the inhale of a wildflower-tinted breeze specific to a certain meadow, all of these can evoke intense pleasure or ravaging grief in the most stoic of us. Fragrance is a portal into our most primal selves, unlocking doors long barred and sealed with a single, poignant breath.
Some scientists say that intolerance to certain smells, usually chemical, is a sign of the sensitive individual’s lack of ability to adapt to new smells, but I have a problem with the idea that all smells should be adapted to as if safe or acceptable. Some we should certainly be noticing and then removing ourselves from the effects of. People who are chemical intolerant often have great difficulty in being near strong scents, primarily synthetic, such as perfumes, cleaning products, and room fresheners. The consequence of continued exposure for these people can range from sneezing fits to debilitating headaches to nausea and vomiting.
Referring to a dissertation by Linus Andersson this subject, Science Daily summarized:
“Sensitivity to smell impacts the entire body…. People who cough more when they inhale capsaicin, the hot compound in chili peppers, also have heightened reactions in the brain to other smells. Besides the fact that intolerant individuals perceive that smells grow stronger, effects are also seen in mucous linings and in the brain.”
Some of us are better than others at tuning out what we find unpleasant or unacceptable, or even elements we like, once we’ve become accustomed to them. Whether this tuning out of sensory input is a way of adapting to potentially overwhelming stimuli, or sensory numbness probably somewhat depends on the situation and level of shutdown. The normal mucus in our nasal passages act as a conductor to scent, and being in a somewhat humid and warm environment will also enhance our ability to smell things in a more complex and detailed way, whereas cold or dry conditions can make it more difficult to pick out subtle or faint scents. Humans have a comparatively weak sense of smell in relation to many other animals, and especially compared to most top tier predators. Nevertheless, what we do smell effects us intensely and intimately, touching the primitive reptile brain with a fierce kiss that invokes passion, rage, fear, and wonder in a way that little else can match.
Food of Gods, Seduction of Men: Botanical Scent in Adornment, Ritual, and Devotion
Asmodeus, god of lechery, enlists fragrance as his assistant, filling the night with lethal honeysuckle, unfailing acacia, wanton lime-blossom, to ravage hearts that remember and shatter ones that resist.
from the Slav Epic by Alfonse Mucha
Perfumery is an ancient art, and one that is intimately entwined with medicine, magic, seduction and religion. It has been revered, outlawed, and obsessed over by turn, depending on the cultural context of the time and place. We may first think of France when hear the word perfume, and certainly our perfumes even now are based in classical French methods. Nevertheless, the origins and reach of perfume are far older and broader.
One of the first known perfumers was a woman name Tapputi in ancient Mesopotamia, two thousand years before the birth of Christ, but the art of perfumery seems to have its roots in ancient Egypt, with records referring to perfume going back at least 3,000 B.C. Perfume as we think of it now only arrived in Europe in the 14th century, it’s popularity most concentrated in Hungary before spreading to Italy, and finally France in the 16th century.
Despite the elaborate and complicated history of perfume as precious and rare substances, new fragrances now seem to be released on the market every time a commercial flashes on the TV screen. These new perfumes are often represented by a scantily clad, surgically enhanced pop star and given the fact that they frequently smell like nothing so much as bubblegum, suntan lotion, and public restrooms, it’s not surprising that we often forget what an art fragrance creation truly can be. On the other hand, perfumery has also long been at least much about covering up what we don’t want others to smell as much as enhancing or creating a scent we want to impart. In Renaissance Europe, perfumes were tools of the privileged to mask the scent of unwashed bodies and the open sewers that ran through the cities, and were applied not just to skin, but to every surface that would hold scent.
I have very mixed feelings about the sustainability and ethics of large scale essential oil production, given the enormous amount of plant matter needed for even minute amounts of these precious substances, even from companies who claim sustainability. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the absolute pleasure of both creating and wearing botanical perfumes. Many complain about the short livedness of these fragrances, generally lasting from two to eight hours (depending on the person’s individual skin chemistry and the plant essences involved), and yet I much prefer the short-lived but lush authenticity of an entirely botanical scent over the clinging longevity of chemicals that carry nothing of the wild spirit of the flowers, leaves, roots and resins that I consider the embodiment of true perfume.
Subjective as scent is, there are certain ones that have widespread appeal, not least the heady blossoms of Jasmine, and the dark richness and wild honey of Roses that make up the heart notes of the world’s most well known and loved perfumes. Deeper are the base notes, tenacious in nature and lacking the quicksilver volatility of top notes. From the butter-sweetness of Sandalwood to the forest berried notes of Spruce, Pine, and Fir absolutes. Perfume is an entanglement, an evolving seduction as layer after layer of scents evaporate on warm skin, blooming not on top of human flesh but in conjunction with our own unique aromas.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– To read the entire article, subscribe or resubscribe now to: www.PlantHealerMagazine.com
New Mexico Locust, Robinia neomexicana