Roses in full bloom, the aroma of brownies fresh from the oven, and so many other everyday smells add beauty to our lives in ways we often overlook and are taken for granted. However, when you experience a loss of your sense of smell, a condition called anosmia, it can negatively affect your enjoyment of life, which may lead to feelings of depression, disappointment, and disconnection.
Smell and taste are closely intertwined in our brain, working together to create our perception of flavor; so when you lose your sense of smell, you also lose your sense of taste to a degree. Loosing these simple but important pleasures in life can be extremely frustrating and disorienting.
Anosmia is a common symptom of COVID-19 – anywhere from 40-70% of people who get the infection lose their sense of smell (and consequently taste); it can often take weeks, months or even years to regain. Most people do recover their sense of smell over time, however, almost 15-20% of people end up with parosmia, a long-term symptom where usually normal smells are distorted and now smell unpleasant or even repulsive.
Thankfully, our aromatic plant allies are here to offer healing guidance. There is a method you can use to potentially help you regain your sense of smell and taste faster, and even potentially avoid parosmia. It is called olfactory training or smell sensory retraining – professional incense crafters and perfumers have used techniques like this for centuries to support and strengthen the sense of smell.
Smell Sensory Retraining
Smell training with aromatic plants can stimulate your olfactory nerves and help you regain your sense of smell. This specific method is based on a scientific study conducted by Professor Thomas Hummel in 2009, where at least 30% of participants with anosmia experienced improvement in olfactory function after repeated short-term exposure to different aromas over a 12-week period .
To practice smell retraining on your own, routinely smell 4 different plant aromas a couple times every day over the course of up to 16 weeks. Some people choose to practice for just a couple weeks, but some folks may want to do this for 16 weeks or more, depending on the severity of their condition.
Every morning and evening, open one bottle of essential oil, hold it close to your nose, and inhale slowly for 10 seconds. Take a few long, deep breaths. Repeat this step for each of the other essential oils you choose to use, making sure to always practice with a total of 4 different aromas each time.
Aromatic Plants to Use in Smell Training
Many of the smell training research studies have used the same 4 aromatic plants successfully: Rose, Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Clove. These have shown to have the best results in a large number of people, however, there are no “right” smells to choose – it is ultimately up to you. You may want to use other aromatic plants; any kind of olfactory stimulation will be helpful. Choosing smells that you are familiar with and have memories of could be beneficial.
You will want to work with the same aromas consistently at first. Over time, once you start to be able to smell your chosen plants, you may want to expand into smell training with other aromatics that you aren't able to smell very well to help expand the depth of your sense of smell.
You might also consider cooking with fragrant, stimulating spices; exposure in any way to aromatic plants will help you regain a broader spectrum of smell. Smell training can also be practiced with incense in place of essential oil.
This process is not a quick fix; it is a practice. It will not work overnight. Every body is unique and while this method works for many, it will not work for everyone. Never put essential oil in your nose, as it is very potent aromatic medicine and can be irritating to the skin and delicate mucous membranes inside the nostrils. When practicing smell training, simply take the essential oil cap off and inhale slowly for 10 seconds for each of 4 different essential oils.
1. Hummel, T., Rissom, K., Reden, J., Hahner, A., Weidenbecher, M., and Hüttenbrink, K.B. “Effects of olfactory training in patients with olfactory loss”. The Laryngoscope, Volume 119, Issue 3, March 2009, pg 496-499. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lary.20101
© 2022 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.