Certain aromas can evoke emotional responses and resurface memories, which is a phenomenon many of us have experienced. Maybe you can relate? The smell of freshly baked brownies from the oven might conjure up feelings of joy, comfort, and a sense of feeling at home. The scent of chlorine may bring you back to swimming in a pool as a kid, summoning feelings of fun, playfulness, and memories of past summers. Aroma has a profound influence and impact on our emotional ecology.
Aromatic plants are the key to unlocking the doorway to our emotional healing. Beyond its ability to identify scents and flavors, our olfactory system plays a profound and often untapped role in influencing our emotions, with the potential for supporting embodiment work, personal transformation, and overall health and well-being.
The olfactory system governs our sense of smell and is connected with our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As we breathe in the smells of aromatic plants, their volatile oils travel through our nasal passages, triggering neurochemical responses that can shape our emotional realm and mental states. Our olfaction forms a pathway that bridges the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our existence, reinforcing our mind-body connection. In this way, aromatic medicine supports us in our journey of overall health, wellness, and self-discovery.
In this blog post, you’ll learn about the science of our sense of smell and how it is connected to our limbic system, directly influencing our emotions. Then we’ll dive into the impact of aromatic plants on the brain, body, and emotional realm, and how this interplay can support embodiment work and personal transformation. We’ll also explore several ways you can utilize aromatic herbs in this type of healing journey.
How Aroma Impacts Emotions
Our sense of smell has a direct impact on our emotions due to the anatomy of the human body. As smell journeys through our nose, one of the first systems it comes in contact with is our limbic system. Our nasal passages are quite literally a direct pathway to the limbic system, a group of structures in the brain involved in processing our emotions and memory. This is why certain smells can evoke strong emotional reactions and trigger memories from our past.
This process is so quick that you are often already having an emotional reaction to an aroma before you are actually consciously aware of it. For example, if you’ve ever smelled Lavender before, recall the last time you smelled it. With that first inhale of Lavender flowers, an immediate sense of calm, ease, and relaxation washes over you, even before your brain starts to identify that you are smelling Lavender. The emotional response comes first. In this way, aromatic plants and the emotional response that comes with them are a powerful pathway into the psyche.
Oftentimes, natural healing takes time. Ingesting herbs or supplements, incorporating a new workout regime, or shifting your diet are all important steps on a healing journey, but these healthy choices often take a while to integrate and show positive results. More often than not, aromatic medicine offers immediate effects and sensations within the emotional realm, the psyche, and the nervous system.
Aromatic plants have proven to be powerful medicine for the emotional world. Recent scientific research has confirmed that inhaling the aroma of Lavender can significantly reduce anxiety levels. And another recent study has shown that aromatherapy, specifically aromatic massage, has been shown to decrease feelings of depression.
The connection between the sense of smell and its ability to produce emotions and memories is so strong that it’s now being used in types of therapy for mental and emotional health. While some aromas can have a positive influence on the mental and emotional body, others can have the opposite effect – which is especially true for individuals who have lived through trauma and are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Certain smells can bring back those traumatic memories at any moment, evoking painful emotions of fear, sadness, stress, anxiety, and more.
Due to recent research, some therapists and clinical psychologists are utilizing virtual reality systems combined with custom-made scents to address and treat the traumatic emotions associated with these aromas. According to Dr. Deborah Beidel, this treatment method has shown powerful results with patients who are veterans, first responders, and survivors of sexual assault because these odors can trigger powerful emotional reactions .
Aromatic Medicine and Embodiment Work
Building health and wellness is a reflection of how well we know our bodies and what kind of relationship we have with our bodies. If those connections are broken, it can lead to imbalance and disease. In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, it can be far too easy to get distracted and disconnected from ourselves. We can easily become detached from knowing and understanding the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical bodies.
Aromatic plants are like molecules of communication. They have a unique ability to trigger our senses of smell, taste, and physical sensation, acting as profound tools to help us get to know our bodies better so we can achieve optimal healing. When we can incorporate aromatic medicine into our lives, there's an exchange of information between these beautiful plant compounds and our physiology and the innate intelligence of our bodies. The sense of smell often encourages us to be present in the moment, rekindling the connection between our brain and body.
Because our sense of smell can reach deep into our mental and emotional realms, it can unveil parts of ourselves that we might not even know were there or maybe uncover pieces of ourselves that have been buried for a long time. Aromatic medicine can help bring you back to yourself and deepen the understanding you have of your mental, emotional, and physical realities. Because aromatic plants engage with our senses so profoundly, they are incredible tools for us to tune in to our own wisdom and get to know our bodies better.
Exploring the Emotional Benefits of Aromatic Plants
There are countless ways to explore aromatic medicine and how it can positively influence your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. You can deepen your knowledge and understanding of aromatic plants and learn how to create herbal preparations and personalized blends for specific emotional needs. You can design, build, and plant an aromatic medicine garden. You can create an oasis of emotional well-being at home, by incorporating incense, essential oil diffusers, herbal baths, and aromatic massage oils into your self-care practice.
Through the art of aromatic medicine, the plants are potent allies in our journey of self-discovery and emotional healing. Inhaling the scents of aromatic plants awakens our emotions and holds the potential to harmonize our inner worlds. As we incorporate aromatic plants into our lives, we create a bridge between our conscious and subconscious, allowing suppressed emotions to surface and be acknowledged with compassion and care.
This heightened emotional awareness facilitates a deeper understanding of our body, promoting a more profound connection with our physical and mental realms, and strengthening the mind-body connection. Our physical health is intimately connected to our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies. If one realm is suffering, it can cause imbalance throughout the whole body, leading to potential health issues and disease.
Supporting our mental and emotional health can help create balance throughout our entire being, promoting optimal health and wellness. Aromatic medicine opens a pathway for profound self-exploration, enabling us to communicate with ourselves honestly on deep levels and paving the way for a more holistic healing journey.
Article Written By Melissa Szaro
© 2023 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.