Scent and memory
Do you remember the smell of baking in the kitchen, the rich aroma of fresh bread and the tantalizing spices from holiday meals? These are scents you will often find in candles and oil diffusers. It is no secret that scent and memory are connected, and the scents that remind us of home or safety vary from person to person. For me, the sharp citrus tang of oranges reminds me of summers from my childhood. Somehow summer equals oranges. Together with the lemon of my grandmother’s furniture polish, combined with the heavier fragrance of sandalwood and cedar, the spicy sweet frangipani and gardenia wafting in from the garden, these are the smells of home. Weekends added the dusty, sharp, resinous aromas of the Australian bush and the salt and seaweed wrack from the beach.
Nowadays, I burn sandalwood incense near the front door, use gardenia bath products, and keep apple and citrus guest soaps handy. In the winter, I like to keep mulled wine on the stove, and all year around I cook curries that keep the whole house fragrant with aromatic spices. The scents help me remember the good things.
Aromatherapy makes use of a variety of scents to change moods, to alter surroundings, or to craft a specific kind of atmosphere in a space. Beginning to work with aromatherapy can be as simple as using scented candles, or as complex as blending custom scents for every area of your life and home. I like to take an approach where I research the herbs and plants, and then make my own blends. Then I can change them as the mood takes me.
Spreading the aroma through the house
An incense burner can be a terrific way to spread the scent through a room. However, if smoke bothers you, it is easy to use the essential oil directly with an oil diffuser. There are handy ones that plug into a wall socket and do not require open flame. There are also really pretty glass, brass or ceramic ones that float the oil on water and heat the oil via a votice candle underneath a small dish that sits on top of the diffuser. This works much the same way as heating brandy to release the full flavor.
Some thoughts for playing with oils
- For calming end-of-day relaxation, try jasmine and cedarwood, lavender and sage.
- For subtle changes in atmosphere, try light pear, vanilla or sandalwood candles.
- To become more energized, add some citrus scents like grapefruit, orange or lemon.
- If you want to sharpen your thoughts, try some lemongrass, peppermint or carnation.
Blending your own scents
The main thing to keep in mind if you are going to blend your own scents is that you want essential oils rather than fragrance oils, as these are extracted from natural sources like plants, roots, fruits and flowers. They do not have additives that weaken the scent. Scents that traditionally come from animal sources such as musk and civit are now available as synthetics at a reasonable price; a plus is that this eliminates the element of animal cruelty that was associated with the animal based products. Win.
When blending the scent, you need a base, middle and top note
- Base note – the scent that lingers for the longest, and is the foundation of the scent
- Middle note – the body of the blend, or the main scent that gives the character
- Top note – the lightest scent that you notice first
There are scents that fall into categories such as herbs, spices, alpine flowers, tropical flowers, resins, gums, roots, fruits and seeds. Some complex blends include elements from multiple categories, while most simple compounds may use two or three elements to combine into a single fragrance.
Testing a sample fragrance blend
To begin, select a couple of oils that you like, and using a separate fresh toothpick for each bottle, put a drop of each of your chosen oils onto a piece of blotting paper, next to each other. Wave the blotting paper a couple of inches away from your face and when you breathe in, you will be able to perceive how the scents work together. Do you like it? does it need more of one or the other? If so, add one more drop of the fragrance you want to increase. Does it need anything else? Try adding another fragrance to the mix, one drop at a time. Write down how many drops of which essential oils you use as you go. This becomes the basis of your recipe.
Making the final blend
Take a look at your notes and see what the proportions are from your test. If you have three drops of sandalwood, two drops of jasmine and two drops of vanilla, then your proportions are 3:2:2. I usually add a mixture in increments of 1 part = 5 drops, so the three drops of sandalwood would become 15 drops with an eyedropper, two drops of jasmine becomes 10 drops, and two drops of vanilla becomes 10 drops. I put this into a glass bottle with an eye dropper, shake it to mix together and then decide if I like it once I have this quantity. I repeat the process (always using a separate dropper for each essential oil to avoid contaminating the main bottles, until I have a full bottle of my blend.
Diffusing fragrance in a room
If I have made a scent and now want to diffuse it through the room, I can add a couple of drops of my mixture to a diffuser and light a candle under it. I can add the mixture to a special sponge/blotter and insert that into a plug-in diffuser. I can also dilute the mixture and use an atomizer to spray it around the room. If I choose the latter, I add it to purified water. To use it as a perfume, I may add it to ethyl alcohol, and to use as a massage oil or perfume oil, I may add the mixture to pure almond or jojoba oil.
Sources for essential oils
Go to Bing.com and search for essential oils, or go to amazon.com and do the same thing. Both will turn up lots of places where you can order small kits (6 oils), medium (12-24 oils) or large full sets of 64 oils. Personally, I love kits, so this is the route I recommend. You can also find essential oils at vitamin places, bookshops or massage supply locations.
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