1. We owe it to baked pears.
In the first century A.D., chemist Dioscorides was baking pears between two dishes and noticed that the steam smelled and tasted of pears. This led to the identification of distillation as a way of accessing substances’s properties. The Egyptians had already been using resins and oils from such materials as cedar and myrrh in their embalming process in the ancient world. And, of course, Ayurvedic texts from 5,000 years ago refer to spikenard, ginger, myrrh, coriander, cardamom and sandalwood used for their therapeutic qualities. You may recognize some of these names as popular essential oil medicines used to this day.
2. Your nose knows … and remembers
We smell by inhaling chemicals released by an object, whether that’s the rind of an orange or fumes dispersing at the gas pump. These chemicals rush into our nostrils and are trapped by tiny hairs and a scent mucous membrane which transmits the chemical information to our brain. This sense is called olfaction. The scent signals are taken to brain areas that are part of the limbic system, which is where we store all memories and emotions, as well as pleasure and pain. This is why scent is known as the fastest route to memory. As we know, memory and emotions are part of the essence of what makes us human and can have an effect on our wellbeing and healing. Ayurveda taps into this physical and emotional balance when utilizing aromatics.
3. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s harmless
Don’t be fooled by a sweet smell — essential oils represent massive amounts of plant material and require respectful handling. Distillers know to always use gloves when working with oils because of the transdermal effect. Oils are absorbed by the skin and travel directly into the bloodstream. It doesn’t take much to get a big effect. DeAnna notes that some essential oils are detectable on our breath within 10 minutes! Some oils can be used on a daily basis and others are much harder on the body systems and should only be used rarely. It’s important to learn the effects of an oil and safety considerations.