Photography: Meredith Whitely
Need a little burst of happy? Just take a sniff of one of these.
It’s easy to take your nose and the power of smell for granted. You might only get an inkling of its importance when your nose is all blocked up with a cold and you realise how little food tastes.
And smell affects more than just taste. It’s also linked to other areas of your brain, including those affecting your mood.
So how does smell work? It starts with the detection of aromas through your nose and your mouth. The olfactory bulb, up at the back of your nasal cavity, processes these incoming aromas. The olfactory bulb also has connections with some other areas of the brain linked to the processing of emotions (and memory): the amygdala and hippocampus.
The latter part is why some aromas, like your favourite meal from childhood, are automatically uplifting when they’re linked to pleasant memories and experiences. However some smells have their own mood boosting properties in their own right.
Oranges and lemons don’t just brighten your fruit bowl. A 2012 study exposed people to citrus or vanilla aromas and then compared their different mood states. There was indeed a positive effect on moods when participants inhaled the citrus smells. There’s even been a positive calming effect of orange aromas reported in what is often a very stressful environment: the dentist’s office.
Most of the aroma from citrus fruit is from the oil in the skin of the fruit, so make sure you use the zest and the juice to get the full citrus hit.
Rosemary oil is used extensively in aromatherapy and you may know from firsthand experience the delicious fragrance left after gently rubbing fresh leaves. Rosemary has been the subject of a number of smell studies showing its stimulatory effect on humans – and even dogs!
One study focussed specifically on the inhalation of rosemary oil and its effect on mood, as well as the Autonomic Nervous System (the part of our nervous system responsible for regulating bodily functions – mostly unconsciously). Rosemary did make people feel fresh and more active, with an overall positive contribution to good mood. It’s therefore worth being liberal with your use of rosemary in the kitchen.
Chocolate has a particularly heady sensory blend of aroma, texture and taste that makes it very pleasing to the human palate. However even just smelling chocolate could help you feel better.
The positive effect of chocolates’ scent was tested in an experiment using something called an AromaCube. This aroma-releasing box exposed people to a variety of odours and measured their brainwaves in response. While it was only a small study, it did indicate the relaxing effect of chocolate aromas. Maybe after a hard day, breathing in a little chocolate could be just what you need for a lift. Swiftly followed by a little nibble too!