Aromatic plants and oils have been used for thousands of years, as incense, perfumes and cosmetics (including food and medicine, of course). Traditionally this ritual was part of most early cultures where religion and therapeutic roles was intertwined. Moreover, some of these rituals are still used today. In the East, sprigs of Juniper are burnt in Tibetan templates as form of purification. In the West, frankincense is used during the Roman Catholic mass.
Between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, there were many great Arabic men of science. Avicenna (AD 980-1037) was a very gifted physician and scholar and wrote over a hundred books in his lifetime. For instance, one was entirely devoted to the most cherished flower in Islam, the rose.
After that, rose water became one of the most popular scents and came to the West at the time of the Crusades, along with other exotic essences, and the method of distillation.
At this time it was mostly philosophers that took up the art of distillation. Whilst already practising alchemy, they followed these two processes hand in hand. In addition, they felt the aromatic material can be distilled as a pure potent essence, in the same way as a person’s emotions, refined to reveal their true nature.
John Steele define environmental fragrancing is the ambient transformation by scent of personal, work and public spaces. Environmental fragrancing change our living environment and therefore change the aroma of the spaces in which we live, work and play.
According to Steele the benefits of environmental fragrancing are:
- improved interior design aesthetics
- reduced sick building syndrome health problems
- optimised performance and creativity in the workplace
In addition its confirmed that pleasant smells tend to:
- enhance creative performance and setting higher goals
- generate more positive evaluation of words and pictures of people
- make more happy memories
The mechanism of smell
How do people perceive or experience smell of scent? This is quite a complex process, that involves many parts of the brain.
First the odour molecules interact with the lining of the nose. The odour molecules interact with the tiny hairs in the nose. This then sends a signal through the cells that is lining the inside of the nose. The signal travels along the olfactory nerve into the olfactory bulb as well as the forebrain.
The olfactory nerve and bulb reach the limbic system of the brain, which is responsible for emotions, feelings, and the storage of memory. These parts simultaneously register smells and retrieve memories and their associated feelings and emotions.
Therefore, when a person smells, currents and chemicals let the brain react and create a variety of responses and behaviours within the body. These odour molecules enter the brain, as well as the lungs. Fragrance is probably one of the most unnoticed ways that chemicals enter our bodies and our most vital organs.
Essential oil scent groups
Below is a circle chart showing the essential oils scent groups, which can help with blending choices. Therefore, everyone’s favourite aroma belongs to just one or two groups.
Whilst there are no rules, scents tend to go well with those in their own group or with the neighbouring group.
You can also try to blend oils from opposite sides. Take note that not all opposite groups work well together.
Then spicy and floral works together, even though not from opposite groups.
Top, middle and base notes
In addition, fragrances are built using ‘accords’. Individual scents, or notes, are blended to create a new, unified aroma. For instance, each fragrance is made up of top, middle, and base notes. Combined, gives structure to the blend and create appealing, balanced, long-lasting fragrances.
- Top notes are light and refreshing and give the first impression.
- Middle notes are the heart of the fragrance and include most of the herbaceous scents, such as clary sage essential oil.
- Base notes are rich aromas such sandalwood essential oil or patchouli essential oil.
Mix small quantities of oil to start with, as you learn the art of blending. Enjoy experimenting with scent combinations and discovering which aromas appeal to you. Over time, you will develop an instinct for blending. For more information, also read our article Blending essential oils for your diffuser.