“A good fragrance is really a powerful cocktail of memories and emotion.”
The olfactory system is an incredibly impactful and often under-appreciated network of the human body. Have you ever smelled a certain scent and were cast back into an old memory or a previous experience? Maybe the smell of apple cider brings you back to fall picnics with the family, or the smell of chlorine takes you to summer evenings at the neighborhood pool as a child.
Unlike other sensory systems, the olfactory system, the one in charge of how we smell, is directly linked to the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for processing memories and emotions, creating a neurophysiological connection between the brain and the nose, which explains why smell is considered the most prominent trigger of memories, compared to the other senses. Since scents have a profound impact on our nervous system, they can be used to our advantage. Patrick Süskind put it perfectly in his novel, Perfume, as he wrote “odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into our bodies like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally.”
Many different scents have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, support memory and attention, and even help you sleep, among many other benefits.
Delectable scent combinations:
- Liquid Sunshine: Orange, grapefruit, lemon & bergamot
- Morning Refresher: Wild orange, peppermint
- Spiced Cider: Cinnamon, ginger
- Silent Night: Lavender, wild orange, roman chamomile
- Allergy Relief: Peppermint, lavender, lemon
- Breath Fresh: Lemon, lime, peppermint, clove, rosemary, eucalyptus
- Fall: Sweet Orange, Cinnamon, balsam Fir, cardamom, cedarwood, bergamot.
- Winter: Lavender, white fir, peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood.
- Spring: Geranium, palmarosa, juniper berry.
- Summer: Lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin.
- Vintage Perfume: 1-part Rose and 3-parts sandalwood
- Vanilla Garden: Rose, lavender, and vanilla
- Romance: ylang-ylang, orange, and patchouli
- Mother Earth: Red Clove, Sandalwood, Oak, and Cedar
Other Enjoyable Scent Combination:
- Lavender, rosemary eucalyptus
- Eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree
- Geranium, sandalwood & mandarin
- Bergamot, lemon, spearmint
- Rosemary, lemon, vanilla
- Cinnamon, clove, orange
- Vanilla, lavender
- Vanilla, peppermint
- Basil, lemon, lime
- Lime, lavender
Try to recreate the scents that are tied to a memory, whether it is a specific place, person, experience, or period of your life. A good scent can bring you anywhere, back to when you were a child, camping with your siblings, or annual bonfires with a group of friends. While hard to recreate the exact scent, with the precise tinge of cedar or smoke, who knows, maybe in the process of chasing down an old nostalgic scent, you craft a new favorite.
If you’d like to get overly technical and just slightly snooty with it, like those who can claim to determine the weather patterns and cloud formations of a specific northwestern region of France after taking one whiff of a red wine, learn to identify aromatic notes of essential oils. Unfortunately, there is currently no class to take, no guild to don, no certification to receive based on your outstanding ability to identify specific terpenes in a diverse profile like there is for wine sommeliers. Maybe one day.
Perfumers and aromatherapists catalog aromas into ‘notes.’ The language is similar to the language of music, like the notes of a chord. An individual essential oil can be categorized as a top, middle, or base note. Some oils can have components of all three notes, so you’ll notice that each oil can have a top, middle, and base note. However, individual oils can be predominantly categorized as a single, dominant note. So, when we blend, we choose oils from each category, essentially creating an aroma chord.
Each blend is composed of three main notes:
Top Note: This is the first noticeable impression in a blend and is often the characteristic feature of the oil. It springs swiftly from the aroma, has a sharp tone, and does not last.
Body or Middle Note: An essential oil that is a middle note will last for longer (about one to two hours) on a perfume testing strip. The middle note of a blend can also be referred to as the ‘heart’ of the aroma. It is the primary contributor to the overall scent.
Base Note or Fixative: The base note within a blend arrives much later than the first two notes. This is the note that gives a blend staying power. The base note can appear a few hours or even a whole day after the perfume testing strip is dry. Also called the dry out note, this note helps you discern the lasting ability of your essential oil blend. Effective blends with powerful base notes help soaps maintain their fragrance.
DISCLAIMER: Scents can be multilayered, and a chord of note may smell delectable, but you may come off as quite pretentious if you begin rambling about the base notes of a particularly fresh cucumber oil, so maybe ease into it.
I urge you to find your ideal scent, it does not have to have one of each note, it can be any variation of any oil, terpene, or ingredient. Personally, I like a mixture that is 2 parts lavender and 1-part bergamot. It smells like you fell asleep near a fire and woke up in a field of lavender.
A Bouquet of Benefit
Combinations of oils can also be used to create a pleasing fragrance with added benefit. Using a few from the list to achieve the required benefit is acceptable, as attaining all of the oils in the following formulas would be challenging and expensive. Bolded oils serve as integral oils in each respective recipe:
Essential oil nootropic - Bergamot, Black Pepper, Caraway, Cardamon, Cinnamon Bark, Clary Sage, Coffee, Frankincense, Ginger, Lemon Eucalyptus, Nutmeg, Rosemary, Spearmint, Sandalwood, Vetiver
A nootropic is a cognitive function enhancer, particularly with memory and creativity, so using this combination in a candle would be beneficial when writing, studying, or doing any sort of creative venture. Sandalwood promotes mental clarity memory, and overall cognitive function. Studies have evaluated the effect of sandalwood oil on attention, memory, and arousal levels. Those who received the sandalwood oil, when compared to control subjects, felt more mentally aware and demonstrated behaviors linked to increased attention and cognitive brain clarity. Vetiver is often used in trauma helping with self-awareness, calmness, stabilization and brain focus. This is oil is great for boosting energy levels during exhaustion and has been proven to lower anxiety level in rats.1
Sleepy - Bergamot, Chamomile, Lemongrass, Lavender, Marjoram, Neroli, Sandalwood.
Psychologists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut had 31 men and women sniff lavender essential oil one night – and then distilled water the following night. Researchers monitored their sleep cycles with brain scans and found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, instrumental for slowing heartbeat and relaxing muscles.2
Ocean - Eucalyptus, Lime, Tangerine, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Cypress Leaf, Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Neroli, Peppermint, Scotch Pine, Ylang-ylang.
Terpenes like geraniol, alpha-pinene, limonene, para-cymene, and 1,8-cineole can be found circulating through ocean currents and inhaled by beach-goers. But not all of us live near an ocean where we can experience the relaxing crashing of waves and the soothing smell of salt water. Lighting a candle loaded with terpenes found in ocean or air is a great way to bring the ocean to your home when you can’t make it to the shore.
Forest - Black Spruce, Douglas fir, Sandalwood, Bergamot, Black Pepper, Cedarwood, Lemon Balm, Lime, Peppermint, Rosemary, Scotch Pine, Spearmint Turmeric, Wild Orange.
Sexy - Allspice, Cinnamon Leaf, Lavender, Lemon, Manuka, Sweet Orange, Vanilla, Ylang-ylang.
Sensual and exotic ylang-ylang oil is an active ingredient in many perfumes and colognes as it has a pleasing floral scent and is believed to attract potential partners. The oil is renowned for its aphrodisiac qualities and is often gifted to newlyweds because of this stimulating characteristic. Ylang-ylang oil is a perfect candle to use when getting intimate as the gentle, flickering flame on the wick illuminates the room comfortably around you while it exudes an invigorating scent. I urge you to experiment with oils and terpene isolates to create your desired scent and effects.
Deeper and Lucid Dreaming – Rose, Helichrysum, Sandalwood, Palo Santo, Patchouli, Clove, Mugwort, Anise, Clary Sage, Lavender.
This formulation of oils will not guarantee lucid dreaming, or dreams in general, but these oils have been repeatedly linked with improved dream recall, better sleep and stronger visualization ability, all of which are associated with lucid dreaming. Spraying a combination of these oils onto your pillow at night, or diffusing as you get into bed, along with other lucid dreaming techniques like dream journaling, reality testing (consistently paying attention to your environment and asking if yourself if you’re dreaming), and setting an alarm for 4.5 hours after you fall asleep, may assist in you in having lucid dreams and more dreams in general.
These oils along with a sleep interruption may be the best method in attaining a lucid and alert state in dreams. According to a study undergone by PLoS One, a sleep interruption period that was started on average at 4.54 hours after lights out and lasted 36 minutes recorded impressive results. In total, 62% of participants reported one or more lucid dreams during the study.1
Dreams are extremely important in your well-being and health, and terpenes like linalool and myrcene, found in many of the aforementioned oils, have profound sedative effects. Dreams are your subconscious mind taking over, presenting you with the images, people, themes, ideas, symbols, or metaphors which are stewing (and potentially festering) in the background of your mind. They serve as a window for the things your conscious brain may still be trying to work out, a movie put on by your brain, of emotional conflicts, unresolved trauma, or merely complete absurdity. For example, if you have a recurring dream where your teeth are falling out, it may be your unconscious brain telling you to look deeper, as there may be as serious, unresolved issue causing you stress and anxiety and still needs to be worked out.
Jeffrey Steppakoff once said, “a good fragrance is really a powerful cocktail of memories and emotion.” Finding your ideal scent, whether its for a perfume, a candle, a cleaner, or a diffuser, can take you back to a more care-free part of your life, or invoke certain cherished memories from your past. With the use of terpenes and certain oils, you can aim to unlock such memories with certain scents and seek to create new ones as well.
1 - "Pre-sleep treatment with galantamine stimulates lucid dreaming: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study." PLos One, NCBI, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082533/.