With the nights drawing in and the school term restarting, September is a time for change and for reflection for many of us. So, as we make new memories and look back on months gone by, we’re asking: How does scent help us create and recall memories?
If you’ve ever walked by someone in the street and been instantly reminded of a loved one after catching a hint of their perfume, or found yourself reminiscing about playing outside as a child after smelling freshly-mown grass, you’re not alone. Scent has the power to instantly transport us back to a special time and place.
This is because our brains are hard-wired to create powerful links between scent and memory. Once our noses detect aroma molecules, the scent is processed by the olfactory bulb in our brain. This processing directly stimulates the limbic system, which is also the part of the brain that processes emotions and memories. So, very often, our olfactory memories will be registered in our brains next to an emotion.
While we may recall memories when presented with a sight, sound or texture, the connection between smell and memory is far stronger for the great majority of people. This is because the relationship between the olfactory bulb and limbic system helps our brains to subconsciously connect scents with memories – often, for our entire lives. Moreover, smell is a “chemical” sense and is known to be our oldest sense; we’ve had centuries of our central nervous systems being stimulated by the detection of scent molecules in the air.
Because of these phenomena, we can deliberately evoke memories – and the emotions they entail – by choosing scents wisely. You may have been aware of this fact as a child without realising it and sought to smell your grandmother’s perfume or grandfather’s cologne when you were missing them, or to hold on to a cherished toy or blanket mainly for its comforting and unique scent.
As adults, we can fine-tune this process, selecting home fragrance products which remind us of specific moments, places or people. If you wish to be reminded of a relaxing evening stroll taken by the seaside on a past holiday to Europe, for example, a mix of jasmine flowers, lavender and citrus fruits is likely to do the trick.
Sandalwood, cedar and juniper, on the other hand, will likely bring back any memories you have of hiking through forests, skiing in the mountains or staying in a cosy log cabin in the colder months.
Our recommendation for fragrance blends which will take you back to….
Sandy beaches and blue skies: Summer Days
Rich sunsets, balmy air and citrus fruit groves: Summer Nights
Alpine getaways and hiking at natural beauty spots: Chalet
Romantic strolls through world-famous cities: Intimacy
It is worth noting that the limbic system has an impact on our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, stress levels and hormone balance as well as our emotions and our memory recall, as detailed in our recent journal entry on using essential oils to help with sleep.
When these healing benefits of natural fragrances are combined with memories which evoke joy, relaxation or romance, the result is a blissful feeling of pure escapism. So as the days get shorter and as our schedules get more hectic, now is the ideal time to harness this feeling.