23 Ways to Bring More Scent into Your Life

If you’re looking for a way to engage your sense of smell — and you should — here are 23 fun ways you can bring more scent into your life.


1. Use a candle to set the mood

Brooklyn Candle Co.

Brooklyn Candle Studio

Is lighting a candle a part of your life? It should be! Candle light is romantic, yes, and it certainly creates an atmosphere in the home. But the scent it releases in your space can help make your house feel like a place of respite and safety. How do you find the right one for you? If you know which essential oils you prefer, you should be able to choose a candle without smelling it, assuming that the candle maker uses quality oils. Otherwise, go shopping! If you’d like to meet some contemporary candle makers who are using natural scents in their tapers, vessels and votives, please read my blog post on the subject, 8 New Candle Makers Using Natural Scents. I’m particularly fond of Archipelago’s Driftwood, a combination of Water Hyacinth, Driftwood and Tonka Bean that burns a long 90 hours.

2. Buy an aromatherapy diffuser


If you have a stash of essential oils you adore, you can send them into the atmosphere with ease by using an aromatherapy diffuser. I am particularly partial to the Essential Oil Aromatherapy Diffuser by InstaNatural. Try altering your mood by your needs by choosing an essential oil known to enliven, relax or soothe, like Peppermint or Bergamot (uplifting), or lavender (relaxing). Most aromatherapy diffusers, fed with 4-5 drops of oil, will work for about five hours.

3. Wear a natural perfume

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Caption Blankenship is one of my favorites.

Wearing a perfume made by an artisan can bring happiness while making you smell like nothing else on earth. Natural perfumes, made using only natural ingredients such as essential oils, alcohol or base oils, harness the power of natural ingredients and are a luxury experience like none other. Don’t know which one to try? My favorite indie perfumers of late working with natural ingredients are Jessica Hannah, Mandy Aftel and Jana Blankenship.

4. Travel by nose

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

The Young Lycidas is the most fragrant rose at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens.

Have you ever noticed how you respond to a place based on its scent? How a spice market feels so different to you not just for what you’re seeing, but what you’re smelling? That a city has a smellscape all of its own, how a trip to the woods can restore you with every breath? Paying attention to what you are smelling is what I call traveling by nose. It simply requires you to be present and notice the differences between places based on what your olfaction is telling you. What are my favorite smelly places? Well, the Pacific Northwest, of course, home to lavender, ponderosa pine, hops, mint and many other aromatic plants. But every geography has its intrinsic scents. A walk around the neighborhood will reveal its own smellscapes.

5. Go “Forest Bathing”

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

Truffle hunting is a great way to travel by nose.

The Japanese call working through the forest atmosphere Shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing, or taking in the whole environment of the forest. The next time you walk into the woods, pay attention to the scents coming off the coniferous and broad-leafed trees. Look for the smell of geosmin, which is the damp earth smell, peaty and decaying. Experience how the water makes your nose smell more powerfully after a light rain. Forest bathing reduces stress, blood glucose levels and can ease depression. Can’t make it to the forest? Well, drizzling some Oregon Truffle Oil on some pasta is a fine replacement.

  1. Create scented bath salt


Baths solve everything. Really. So next time, use a scented bath salt using your favorite essential oils. I mix a combination of 2 C. Epson salts with 2 teaspoons Jojoba oil, 5-10 drops of my favorite essential oils (I like lavender, cedar wood and clary sage for baths). Shake it up in a container of your choosing, a Ball Jar is fine.

7. Make a scent spray

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

I use Monster-Away Spray to help my toddler assuage his fear of monsters.

If you need a mid-day pick-me up or are just in a foul mood, a scented spray can do wonders. Recipes abound on the web, but for a simple sleep spray, I like to use a spray bottle with about 2 C. of water. I like my spray heavier on the lavender side, so I do a mix of 8 drops lavender to 4 drops Roman chamomile for each cup of water. So if your spray bottle holds two C. distilled water like mine, use eight drops Roman chamomile oil and 16 drops lavender oil. Shake well before each use.

8. Get Cinematic


Olibere is a perfume company that creates short films to go along with its perfumes. Neat idea! But there are also full-length movies that harness the power of scent. How about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, after the novel by Patrick Süskind? Now Smell This, one of my favorite scent blogs, has a wonderful post about perfume usage in the movies.

  1. Make a DIY seasonal potpourri

FactoryDirectCraft.com is a good source for potpourri if you don't have access to your own materials.

Each season demands its own scents, and fall (happening as I write this), has some of the best (decorative gourd season, anyone?). Take some whole cinnamon sticks, slightly crushed, use a teaspoon of vanilla essential oil or extract, a handful of anise seeds, a dash or two of allspice, a ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and ground or whole cloves (based on how much you like gloves). Set to simmer on your stovetop in some water et voilá! It’s autumn in your house.

10. Meditate with scent

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Lavender is an excellent oil to use for meditation, as is sandalwood.

Medtation has proven benefits for well-being. But did you know that focusing on the body’s breath can be made even more enjoyable and meaningful by adding scent? Millennia of prayer with incense cannot be wrong. You can even add scent to your yoga practice. Scent is rarely the focus of such activities; it is simply a way to enter the practice. Adding scent to your meditative practice can be as simple as burning a scented candle or scented incense or dabbing a few essential oils on your temples.

11. Pick some flowers

When possible, enlist help!

When possible, enlist help!

Bringing fresh flowers is said to energize the home (or office, or garden, whatever) with great energy. Scented flowers work even better since they infuse spaces with the aromas of the natural world. Want the smelliest flowers? You’ll do better to choose flowers that are local to your area, which aren’t bred to travel long distances. Don’t go too stinky, though. The smelliest flower in the world, the corpse flower, smells like rotting meat. Instead go for roses, lilies, peonies, cherry blossoms, daphne, hyacinth, honeysuckle or whatever is growing seasonally in your region.

12. Clean with essential oils

If you don't want to make your own, Meyer's Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

If you don’t want to make your own, Meyer’s Mrs. Clean Day is a good producer of scented cleaning materials.

Don’t want to clean? Me, either. Unless I get to use a homemade cleaning product made with hand-picked essential oils. Williams-Sonoma, Aura Cacia, and a host of other companies are now making green cleaning products with essential oil bases if you don’t want to invest in your own oils. Some great oils you can add to water for simple dusting include peppermint, bergamot, eucalyptus, cedarwood, grapefruit, lavender, pine and geranium.

13. Make your own body oil/ Do Self-massage


Self-massage might be your answer to a good night’s sleep. It’s as simple as buying some carrier oil such as jojoba and adding essential oils in a combination that provides an uplifting or relaxing scent experience. One of my favorite oil blends is featured on my post 7 Benefits of Daily Self-Massage (and essential oil blend to do it). I also really like the Vata oil and other Ayurvedic products from Banyan Botanicals.

  1. Read some smelly literature


I can’t get enough scent cues in literature. If you pay attention to them, you’ll notice they reveal much about characters’ psychology. If you don’t, they just add to the story. I’ve been compiling my favorite scent writing in a project called “The Scent in Literature Project.” I’ve been adding new entries for about a year now, and the scope just gets richer. If you’re looking for books specifically about scent, Base Notes as a great conversation going about the subject.

15. Drink your flowers

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

The Meadow in N. Portland is one of my favorite places for exploring flower syrups.

One of my favorite kitchen items is our Sodastream, which allows us to make our own sodas. It’s an easy way to make a flavored fizzy drink without worry about all the additives and extra sugar that ends up in commercial sodas. You can drink your scents this way. My household loves Elderflower, Rose, Lavender and Violet! One of my favorite places to explore bitters and flowers you can drink is The Meadow in Portland.

16. Cook with essential oils

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

Aftelier makes an excellent line of essential oil sprays for cooking.

There was a time when many ketchup recipes used essential oils instead of the aromatic plants themselves. That time has come again! Using essential oils in recipes is often favored over using the plant matter since the oils harness the finest qualities of the herbs and spices without some of the drawbacks. Think: pepper oil instead of pepper (you lose the heat and retain the aroma/flavor). You can use any of the oils on the USDA Generally Regarded as Safe list. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of sourcing your own oils, you can try one of the great cooking sprays by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier.

  1. Journal while smelling something from your past


Scent is deeply connected to memory. So the next time you decide to do some journaling, get something smell-laden from your past. Breathe it in deeply, and write for 20 minutes on whatever comes to mind. Who knows, you might just have a text worthy of the Olfactory Memoir Project!

18. Explore the nearest scent shop

Credit: Josh Partee

Credit: Josh Partee

Do you have a perfume shop in your city? Do you have any boutiques that carry indie perfumers? Is the closest place to find perfume a department stores? Take it slow. If you’re new to perfume trying three perfumes in one day might be enough. As you start to understand how perfumes are composed, using top, middle and base notes, you will become more interested in types of perfumes, like Oriental, Fougere, Floral and Herbal. You’ll start being able to identify them, even seek them out. My new favorite place to explore scent is at Spruce Apothecary in Portland, which carries several lines of European fragrances not often found in the United States.

19. Feng shui an important room in your house

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray :)

Some rooms need more than an essential oil spray 🙂

Okay, so feng shui isn’t actually a verb. But you could space-clear a room according to the principles of feng shui and then bring energy into it using an aromatherapy spray. I like this post on how to space clear using sage, but more often, I simply clear a room of clutter, wipe down the surfacing using one of my aromatherapy sprays. It freshens up the space in a way you can feel down to your bones.

20. Drink pinot noir

For great wine, a great vessel.

For great wine, a great vessel.

Do you love wine. Well, then I’ve got a wine varietal for you. Pinot noir is said to be the most fragrant of varietals. In Oregon, where I live, we even put our pinot in a glass that could ACTUALLY HOLD AN ENTIRE BOTTLE OF WINE. Don’t believe me? Try drinking pinot in an Oregon pinot noir glass. The glass maximizes the surface area of wine touching the air and funnels the aromas in a way that captures the scent of the varietal. I won’t drink pinot in anything else.

  1. Add essential oils to your tea


Ah, the tea habit. So civilized. But even if you just have some loose green tea leaves, you can make it more interesting by spraying some essential oils in there. Maybe some bergamot, or rose, or lavender. Florals are great here, as are citrus. If you want to make your own essential oil food and drink spray. You can mix a Cup of vodka with 4-5 drops of essential oil. Be careful, a spray or two is enough.

22. Find your signature scent

If you can't find your signature scent, make your own!

If you can’t find your signature scent, make your own!

Your signature scent will likely change over your lifetime as you age and your olfaction changes. That’s to be expected. What you love at 20 is not what you love at 80. So consider your journey towards finding your signature scent a lifetime one. Remember: Scent is a deeply personal experience. You don’t have to like what other people like. Some people change their signature scent seasonally. Others change it day by day! If you’re ready to begin that particular journey, I recommend this story by New York Magazine.

23. Replace all of your spices

If your cinnamon has been grandfathered into your cabinet, if your cloves smell kind of off, if even your basil smells stinky, you really need to just do a full sweep and gets some new spices. Your spice collection is not intended to last forever. They are organic products with real shelf lives. Indeed, investing in better spices will please your nose and palate and make cooking more fun. My favorite new spice company is the Curio Spice Co., launching this autumn by my friend Claire. In addition to having my favorite logo of all time (a bear! Supersniffer!), Claire blogs about spices (and why sourcing them matters) at her Aromatum blog.

What’s your favorite way to bring more scent into your life? Please share with me in the comments section. I read every one!


7 Benefits of Daily Self Massage (and an essential oil blend to do it)


perfume-1If you have anxiety, there is no panacea for you. Everyone’s anxiety is their own, your own personal chatty Cathy sitting on top of you in a plane that’s going down.

But I feel compelled to share one of my tips for anxiety self-care: Self-massage.  It’s such a small but important addition to a self-care routine,  and one with enormous benefits for the body and soul.

I’ve been doing self massage for a few years now after reading Aveda Rituals : A Daily Guide to Natural Health and Beauty. Now, I can’t stop talking about it.

The benefits of self-massage are many:

7 Benefits of Self-Massage

1. Massage is said to reduce toxins in the skin
2. Lustrous skin from all of the oils
3. Deep relaxation from the massage; increased circulation to nerve endings
5. Deeper nighttime sleep (really)
6. Almost immediate relaxation response
7. Boosted immune system response

How to Do Self-Massage

If you’ve never done self-massage before, it would be helpful to watch this video, which walks you through an entire full-body massage. Note that the video is only about six minutes long. A good self-massage, done completely, should only take you about 10 minutes a day.

The Scent Connection

While you’ll find a lot of naysayers out there on the benefits of aromatherapy, studies have shown it to have great effects on one malady in particular:


I have my own theory of why this may work. For one, researchers recently discovered that you have olfactory cells all over your body.  So it follows that if you use a scented oil, you are harnessing the scent power of the oil and delivering it to your entire body.

Scented oils also work for anxiety because:

1.) You receive the benefits of massage, even if you are doing it yourself

2.) Paying attention to what you are doing feels like a meditation

3.) Smelling essential oils during the process works a little like it does for a monk smelling sandalwood or a Christian smelling incense while praying

4.) Scent has a way of establishing you in the moment when you focus on it

MassageOilRecipe: Citrus Blend

This recipe I have been using is the one below I modified from www.naturallivingideas.com, which also guides you through a wonderful how-to on mixing oils. Though it is intended to promote emotional well-being, but the effect on me has been nothing less than extreme contentedness (that might be the same thing).

Clary Sage: 3 drops – (middle: dry, tea-like and floral)

Jasmine: 2 drops – (middle: warm, rich, deeply floral)

Bergamot:  12  drops – (top note: fresh, spicy, floral, citrus)

Benzoin: 5 drops – (base: rich, sweet, similar to vanilla)

Ylang Ylang:  2 drops – (base: rich, sweet, floral)

Grapefruit: 2  drops – (secondary top note: fresh, tangy, citrus)

Carrier Oil:  2/3 C. Jojoba oil (most like human oils, little to no scent)

***My friend Amy says this oil I’ve been making smells like Napoleon’s iconic perfume Eau de Cologne which he had custom-made.

I can’t help but share the self-love. My new plan is to develop half a dozen different types of self massage oil for my friends to try out and comment back on. Have you tried self-massage? What do you do for anxiety?

8 New Candlemakers Using Natural Scents

If Yankee Candle is your idea of hell on earth (as it is for me), consider these artisan candle makers, who are using natural essential oil blends in wholly interesting combinations.

1. Paddywax Library

ExLibrisThese candle makers have made an entire business targeting me! Paddywax makes soy wax candles using real essential oils inspired by great writers. Lately I’ve been using the “Oscar Wilde,” which is a delightfully herby combo of cedarwood, thyme and basil. Together the smell very leathery, like how you might want an old library to smell.

2. Archipelago

driftwoodcandle_5These candles are the height of luxury, incorporating natural scents in a way that feels like perfume, but is subtle enough for use in the home. They burn for a ridiculously long 90 hours. Driftwood, my favorite, features Water Hyacinth, Driftwood and Tonka Bean.

3. Hi Wildflower Botanica

HiCandlesTanwi Nandini Islam is my new hero. She’s a scentaholic in Brooklyn making her empire of candles, natural perfumes and other body care products. They feel global but personal, which is an interesting feat. Sourcing from all over the world and mixing herself, she makes scents that have a strongly floral component. For an amazing seasonal approach I’d try the Wildflowers and Rain showers soy candle.

4. Brooklyn Candle Studio

BrooklynCandleEverything about Brooklyn Candle Studio’s approach to making candles (nodding to 19th century apothecaries, using natural scents) is awesome. The company uses long-lasting soy wax and braided cotton wicks as well as natural essential premium grade and phthalate-free essential oils. Try the Montana Forest candle for place-based serenity.

5. 1820 House


This fascinating artisan candle maker in Ohio is harnessing ideas and scents from the Rust Belt in place-based combinations such as blackberry and arugula, moss and brownstone, or thistle and milk. For a truly location-inspired scent experience, try one of her Rust Belt candles.

6. Vancouver Candle Co.

VancouverCandleThese artisan candles from a Canadian candle-maker burn clean and are long-lasting, with simpler scents harnessing the individual essences. Rarely does Nick Rabuchin use more than three oils at a time. Try the Point Grey, a marriage of cedarwood, balsam and vanilla.

7. D.L. & Co.

dl-co-pomme-thumb-620x311-72782While I’ll always fall for the pared-down, apothecary aesthetic of most artisan candle makers, I’m a sucker for a funny package. At over $100 a pop, its Poison Apple candle is a splurge worth reckoning with. But for the right receiver, it might bring just the right amount of subversive whimsy to gift-giving.

8. Himalayan Handmade Candles

himalayan_candleCandlemaker Julia Leaphart spent her childhood in the foothills of the Himalayas, and her candles are inspired by a sense of nostalgia she carries with her. Try the Bluebell Forest, with woodland florals, – bluebells, violets, jasmine, rose and lily of the valley.

Do you have a favorite alternative to mass-produced, icky-smelling chemical candles? Please tell me about it.

The Dangers of Jasmine Absolute



Do not. I repeat: DO NOT decide that you are in love with jasmine and you absolutely must dab a concentrated form of it on your wrist. Heed a worst case scenario warning from a girl who’s been there and done that. This is a terrible, terrible idea.

My jasmine story starts on a cold, rainy Oregon winter day with a potted pink jasmine plant I received from my husband.

Be a little more specific, you say. This is Oregon, the temperate rainforest, aromatherapeutic spray bottle of the United States. You could be talking about any day November through the present, right?

Okay, it was Valentine’s Day, and because I have the most wonderful, fantabulous husband in the world, a man who knows that gifts for me are also gifts for him, he got me the most delicate, stunning, blooming pink jasmine plant for Valentine’s Day. For weeks afterward, it sat there in our living room, just being gorgeous and fragrant and sending out the most intoxicating scent. I could be doing dishes just a few feet away and I would catch the scent, fleeting, as he had breathed the smallest breath on my cheek.

My husband gives great gifts, but this might have been the most romantic in our 13-year history.

I didn’t, until now, have much of a personal history with jasmine. My grandmother grew some in the retirement village she shared with my grandfather in Venice, FL and I have a few memories of picking up its scent while running sandal-clad through fire ant-infested St. Augustine grass. More recently, I had picked some blooms off a blooming jasmine bush recently at the Evergreen Aviation Museum here in my hometown when on an afternoon outing with my two sons.

But now, I had one, a real memory of jasmine, so when I got to the part in Mandy Aftel’s Workbook I for home perfumers where you are tasked with learning about jasmine by smelling it deeply and profoundly, I was ready for some major transformation.

This, after all, is the true joy of the perfumer, isn’t it? Harnessing a deeply pleasurable, sensual and evocative experience and expressing memory through a scent you can access whenever you want. Part of what draws me to perfume is this aspect, how so completely selfish it is.

The jasmine absolute I was working with was sourced from Liberty Naturals essential oils. It is a costly, solvent-extraced absolute in Egypt, an ounce of which costs about $153.  Jasmine is processed as an absolute because the flowers are much too delicate to be pressed as an essential oil. Some say it has a sedative property, but I experience something slightly different.

After experiencing jasmine absolute first on a fragrance strip, I got it in my head that a better idea to really understand it might be to dabble a little bit on my wrist and wear it around to see how the scent changes over time. That was my first mistake. Jasmine is so concentrated and powerful as an absolutel that it is far too heady to wear by itself. Better to dilute it in a perfume, with another oil, or in a solid perfume.

At first, I was mesmerized by myself — I walked around the house like I was floating. I rushed to see my visiting mother-in-law, stuck my wrist in her face to smell it. I shared it with my friend Lea. I caught my own scent trail as I walked through the house. I practically glided through the world. Then, I got in the car. The weather hadn’t yet settled into a mood — it had drizzled all morning and now, as I sat on McMinnville’s Third Street waiting to pick up my mother-in-law from the bookstore, it began to hail.

All of a sudden, the scent was so strong I was practically coughing. Sickening, blooming flower. I couldn’t breathe. I opened both windows to let in some air.

Better to be pelted in the face with hail than be wearing too much of any scent.

Time to lay off the jasmine for a while. Even a flower knows how much is too much.