power of scent

The Power of Scent


When I was a little girl I used to play the “stupid choice question game” with my girlfriends and sisters. Like “which sense would you rather give up – Sight or smell?” A stupid game – but I remember it because I was always reluctant to give up the sense of smell. I love smells, aromas, fragrances. Smell has a lot to do with how I experience life: food, the changing of seasons, home, love.

This past summer I had the pleasure of listening to Michael Scholes, of the Laboratory of Flowers, and Secretary of the Washington Spa Alliance, speak about the history of perfume. Here are a few of the things I learned.

He confirmed my choice or not giving up my sense of smell. “In the beginning, there was smell

  • Smell was the first of our senses – we have a brain because we smell; we think because we smell.
  • The olfactory system ha a direct link to the brain which is primarily subconscious recognition.
  • Smell is a prime mover of higher brain function.” Thank you smell.
  • The sense of smell is wired directly into our limbic system, where we process emotions, memory, basic drives, hormonal responses, and also the part of the brain that tells us when we have had enough.

Scholes continues: “Our nose contains hundreds of difference scent receptors that allow us to distinguish between odors. Scientists have recently found that these receptors are similar to the ones found on taste buds, and also all over our bodies. In effect, our bodies smell and taste things for us. When you go into your garden and you pull vegetables, your body smelling what it wants to have – you are choosing your food based on scent, based on how you feel.”

Scholes taught us about the history of fragrance from the medieval times through the modern times. And then most interestingly he showed us pictures. See below – amazing parallels in fragrance ads. Amazing evolution in advertising styles (what defines sexy?). And the must-read quotes about perfume (including a few from Coco Chanel of course).

In case I needed an extra reason to stop and smell the roses, Michael sure gave it to me.

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Slides by Michael Scholes, Laboratory of Flowers.


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