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.

Nose

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

Instanatural

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

Tub

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

PerfumeStory

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

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

PaulaHawkinsSlider-1024x716

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

Kit

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

SmithTea

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

Curio
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!

 

The Scent in Literature Project: The Best Smelly Writing

Smells like a good book!

Smells like a good book!

perfume-1It’s no secret that for the past year and a half I’ve been writing a memoir through the lens of scent. What I smell has been my compass, my barometer, the way I gauge my reaction to the world and the tunnel I go through to access the memories I am writing about.

It has been a deep struggle to learn to write about scent in a way that doesn’t seem too direct or too all-consuming. Scent isn’t everything, but once you start paying attention to it, it may seem like it is. It is the perfect mind/body metaphor. The best writers understand this and know how, and when, to use it.

Part of the problem with scent in writing is that — like scent itself — it tends to sneak up you in a text and doesn’t always announce itself prominently. But that is exactly where its power emerges, in its ability to fall into the backdrop of a scene and leave a trail or a trace that isn’t always immediately recognized by readers. Because of scent’s sneakiness, we don’t always have the right vocabulary for speaking about it.

Olfactory scientist Avery Gilbert, who wrote one of my favorite books on olfactory science, What the Nose Knows, calls this the “Verbal Barrier” to scent.

“Clearly, there are plenty of words for smell. This means that the Verbal Barrier is not a vocabulary problem, it’s a cognitive problem.” — Avery Gilbert

I am deeply motivated to help people understand the power of scent and I want to see more writers exploring how to use it effectively. That’s why I’m announcing here a new web project of sorts, a single web page that will collect great, effective uses of scent in literature to show students of the craft the limitless possibilities of making their books smell — for better or worse.

Hey, I didn’t say this scent stuff was always pretty.

I’m calling it Scent in Literature: The Best Smelly Writing.

My list currently has just six items, not for lack of me running across any in my favorite books, but because I would like this to be a community project directed by tastes other than just my own. If you have a favorite example of great writing that uses scent as a metaphor, scene-setting device or just a way into the story, please add it in the comments section.

Before long, I expect this page to be the smelliest website on the web!

Want to read more? Follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or you can read some of my writing at www.emilygrosvenor.com.

Smells Like Teen Spirit: Kurt Cobain’s olfactory genius

KurtCobain

With the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death just behind us, it seems fitting to look at Kurt Cobain’s connection to the world of scent.

We can imagine that scent must have played a huge role in Cobain’s childhood growing up in the Pacific Northwest. How could it not? Scent is more discernible in climates with higher humidity, and scent molecules are easier to discern when incorporated into water and mists. Aberdeen, Washington, though something of a cultural backwater, must have been a wet place for childhood adventures of the nose.

But where is scent in Cobain’s work?

Scent in “Nevermind”

teen-spirit-2.3ozSmells don’t play a huge role in Kurt’s body of musical work, beyond the reference in Nirvana’s first big mainstream hit to the teen deodorant “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”” As the story goes, the song is named after the moment when Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna sprayed Lady Speed Stick deodorant, “Teen Spirit,” on Cobain’s wall, and Cobain was said to “smell like teen spirit” from time spent hanging out with his then-girlfriend  Tobi Vail, who wore Teen Spirit. Cobain purportedly saw in the phrase “Smells like teen spirit” more than a whiff of revolution, though he didn’t understand that it was the deodorant brand name until a few months after the song was released, in 1991.

Is it surprising that Cobain and his friends would latch onto smell left onto a body, or a the co-opting of a deodorant scent as a symbol for teenage rebellion? To a scent hound, no. The sense of smell, unless you are actively engaging it, as perfumers do, tends to peak during a person’s late teens and early 20s. That’s no news to Lady Speed Stick (by MENnon!), or to this ragtag group of musicians.

Scent in Cobain’s Journals

The journals, released in 2006 by Courtney Love to both excitement and disgust — excitement from fans who wanted one last chance to touch his genius, disgust from the critics who saw their release as an invasions into a private space for a troubled soul — are where you can truly get a sense of how important scent was to Cobain.  At the very least, you can sense how connected he was to smell for metaphoric inspiration, how large a role scent played in his imagination.

Upon their release, Seattle critic Tim Apello wrote a piece for Seattle Weekly decoding the “Dream World of Kurt Cobain’s Journals.” In it, Apello writes about the musician’s affinity for German writer Patrick Sueskind’s olfactory tour-de-force Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, a novel about a scentless man who becomes obsessed with killing them. beautiful young women and capturing their scent.

Now is a great time to revisit Apello’s article, which pulls scent-related passages from the journals for interpretation:

“[Cobain’s] favorite book, Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (which inspired his song “Scentless Apprentice”), concerns an olfactory prodigy, cast off by his mother and shuttled among relatives (as Cobain was), who kills women to collect their scent for perfume—reminiscent of Cobain’s habit of picking the brains of various aesthetic mentors. “I use bits and pieces of others personalities to form my own,” [Cobain] writes.”

In one passage of his journals, Cobain wrote about a lover who leaves the scent trail of Obsession in his home.

“Stranded, abandoned, he obsessively identifies with beached whales, disemboweled to make perfume from their blubber. (Perfume isn’t actually made that way, but he thought it was; on p. 224, he writes that whales beach themselves to convey a message of suicidal despair to humanity,) Apello writes.

Indeed, Cobain was obsessed with smells.

“The journal clarifies that in “Lounge Act”—one of a half-dozen songs on the epochal Nevermind album that he wrote to express his raging grief at getting dumped by Olympia’s haughty Riot Grrrl Tobi Vail, the first girl he loved so much he threw up (and probably played Twister with: hence the lyrics of “Aneurysm,” “Come on over and do the twist . . . love you so much it makes me sick”)—the original lyric went, “I can still smell him on you.”

The references to scent are legion.

Scent on Kurt Cobain

I haven’t spent much time wondering what rock idols smell like — perhaps I should — but luckily, there is the internet out there to do that for me. He may have looked like a rat’s nest, popularized the fashion aesthetic behind the Grunge movement, and smoked like a chimney, but by these accounts, Kurt Cobain smelled amazing. His ex-girlfriend Mary Lou Lord credited his clean scent to Aveda-brand confixor styling gel, purportedly a product he would filch from the group’s sound engineer, Monty. Aveda is known for its sustainability mission and for using plant essences, including essential oils, in all of its products.

An olfactory-inspired genius or a scent-touched teen rebel snuffed out while passing through a stage when his sense of smell was heightened? I could see myself in both camps.