On the wisdom of the ‘smell brain’ and how aromas affect our body

The sense of smell is one of the most neglected senses of the body. We heed our nose for everything, but we fail to recognize its specialty and role in our day to day activities like eating, remembering and even emoting. Aromatherapy touches this particular sense of the body and evokes the desired response from an individual. But how is this possible? How can a mere sniff affect a whole lot of emotions and regulate bodily functions? This article has answers to all questions on how aromas work and have the power to alter almost anything in the body.

The smell brain and the limbic system: Let us go technical and look into details on how we perceive and respond to smell. Though the nose is said to be an organ of smell, it is just a mere organ, engaged in nothing but being a passage to the brain. Olfaction or the sense of smell does not begin at the nose, but the brain or the olfactory bulb. Each of the nasal passages contain about 50 million sensory receptors waiting to carry ‘odor’ messages to your smell brain. When the receptors or neurons sense odorous molecules coming through the nasal passages, they send their axons to the olfactory bulb, a projection of the brain on the upper part of the nose. Specific odor molecules bind to their respective chemoreceptors. The process then moves into the limbic system of the brain, where memory is used to recognize and sort out the odors as pleasant, unpleasant, old, new or recent.

The limbic system is one of the oldest parts of the human body and was initially referred to as ‘rhinencephalon’ or ‘smell brain’. It is the smell brain which plays a vital role in making aromas effective. Since the limbic system is also the seat of emotion, memory and important body parts, smells are associated with memories, so much so that particular smells evoke particular memories from the  past. Basically, the memory aroused will evoke an emotional response depending on the experience associated with the memory. A simple example would be, if you had a bad experience with beef tallow in your young age, the smell of tallow would evoke an unpleasant response from your limbic system. This, in turn, will set off a series of unpleasant sensations and unhealthy changes in the parts of the body controlled by the limbic system.

Aromatherapy and emotions: Aromas can have a huge impact on your emotions. After being processed through the olfactory bulb, aromas enter the limbic system and affect your emotions, moods and even your health quotient. The concept of aromatherapy is pivoted on one basic fact – changes in emotion/mood can help relieve the symptoms or disorders caused by a disease. As the limbic system or smell brain controls other regions also, it regulates bodily functions too.

Mood-effects and Hedonics in aromatherapy:
Not all essential oils are liked by everyone and not all aromatherapy sessions suit every patient. Only specific oils, scents and herbs work well with regard to particular ailments. This is because of a factor called Hedonics – the personal degree of pleasantness a person would place on a specific odor or smell. Research reveals that smells can effect mood-swings and alter health conditions in a person. This means, a pleasant smell can increase your health ratio while an unpleasant odor can take you toward disease and ill-health. Since odors can create or alleviate stress, aromatherapy or essential oils can influence a person’s positivity and self-confidence levels.

In brief, the limbic system or the smell brain is more than just a brain. It is an integral part of the human body, which creates a profound effect on your body cells. When treated with aromas, the smell brain responds instantly (unlike drugs or medications) and cures immediately, without side effects or other medical issues. With aromatherapy, nothing chemical happens as everything is 100% natural and effective.



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Latin Name: citrus limata
Alternative Name: citrus acris, limettæ fructus
Forms Available: essential oil, fruit

Lime – citrus limata – A small evergreen tree, up to 15 feet, with stiff, sharp soines, smooth ovate leaves, and small white flowers. The bitter fruit is a pale green color, about half the size of a lemon. The essential oil is extracted from the fruit peel.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Antirheumatic, antiscorbutic, antiseptic, antiviral, aperitif, bactericidal, febrifuge, restorative, tonic. Use for Acne, anemia, brittle nails, boils, chilblains, corns, cuts. Key Qualities: Refreshing, Uplifting; Active.

Other Uses: The peel is useful in purification and protection spells. The peel is used in love mixtures and incenses.

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What happens in a therapeutic aromatherapy session? An insight

Aromatherapy, as we know, is a holistic medicinal system, which uses oils extracted from plants, herbs and scrubs for treatment. These oils, the “life-force” of plants, are used in appropriate proportions and are either massaged on to or inhaled into the body. Essential oils are never ingested unless approved and prescribed by an expert aromatherapist. For all the talk we do about aromatherapy, there is no sufficient information on how an aromatherapy session takes place and how a client is handled by the aromatherapist within four walls. This article will provide insight on what is an aromatherapy session is and how it is conducted for a new customer.

Aromatherapy for beginners: The first thing that is daunting to beginners is the question of trust. A novice customer maybe worried about the safety, confidentiality and the modesty of an aromatherapy session. Understand that all reputed aromatherapists respect your modesty and keep customer’s interests first. And every customer’s personal wishes would be addressed in the session. So, if you prefer massaging only certain body parts, your aromatherapist will definitely address your wishes and act accordingly. You should be frank and open with your therapist as the therapist has your best interests in mind.

Start of an aromatherapy session: How does an aromatherapy session begin? An aromatherapy session begins with an analysis and examination session with your aromatherapist. Your expert aromatherapy practitioner will analyze you for the following:

  • Existing body condition
  • Current ailments
  • Current treatments
  • Any previous treatment through aromatherapy
  • Your sensitivities & vulnerabilities
  • Root cause of your problem

After thorough examination, the aromatherapist will check which essential oils have a positive effect on you and to which scents you respond well.

Initial Massaging: Based on the above analysis, your aromatherapist will choose five essential oils and a carrier oil and will blend them together. Then, the oil blend is massaged on to the affected areas of your body to stimulate a positive effect. If your body responds well, you will notice a relaxing effect and a pleasant feeling. Basically, the oil blend will aim to do the following:

  • Improve your blood circulation
  • Increase supply of oxygen & nutrients to cells
  • Improve tissue drainage
  • Reduce harmful stress hormones
  • Enhance immune system
  • Stimulate energy and have a relaxing effect

If your response to the oil blend is positive, the same approach is adapted during the next session. If it is negative and you have a distaste or unpleasant effect toward the blend, another set of 5 oils will be tried on you. The duration of sessions and the number of times the sessions ought to be carried out may vary depending on the ailment addressed. If you find relief in the very first session, you may not have to go in for more sessions. Generally, it is considered best to do more than one session over a period of time to alleviate the symptoms of any ailment.

Things to follow during aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is not like visiting your hairdresser. You cannot go through an aromatherapy session without preparation. You need to free yourself from regular chores on that day and spend your time only for the therapy. This will not only set you in mood for a session, but will also make your therapist’s job easier. In the same way, you should take rest after a session. You should not travel nor take bath. This is because the essential oils applied will take about four hours to be absorbed into your body. Since the absorption time varies with several blends, it is better to leave a gap of four hours of rest after the session.



Latin Name: tilia spp.
Alternative Name: lime tree, linden flowers, linn flowers, common lime, flores tiliæ, tilleul
Forms Available: absolute, leaf, flower, whole, twig, bark

Linden – tilia spp. – Linden have small highly fragrant flowers, and can be hard to identify, since they hybridize freely. The flowers are brewed to make a tea, the classic digestive end to a continental meal, and a treatment for insomnia, nervous tension, and overwrought children. The world’s most valued honey is made from Linden blossoms and is used in liqueurs and medicines. The inner bark treats kidney stones, gout and coronary disease.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Relieves stress and tension. Eases headaches, menstural pains, colic. Reduces high blood pressure.

Other Uses: Bark used for protection, leaves and flowers or immortality. Good Fortune, Sleep and Love. Hang branches over the door for protection or grow in the garden.

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Litsea Cubeba

Litsea Cubeba

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Latin Name: litsea cubeba
Alternative Name: may chang, litsea citrata, tropical verbena
Forms Available: essential oil

Litsea Cubeba – litsea cubeba – belongs to the same family as the rosewood or cinnamon tree. Sweet, spicy and citrus fragrance with vegetative notes. It is antidepressant, antiseptic, astringent, insecticide, calming and sedative. Very uplifting and stimulating. It is a known tonic to the heart and respiratory system. May be helpful in cases of bronchitis and asthma. Used as an insect repellent. Blends well with lavender, neroli, and verbena.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: It is antidepressant, antiseptic, astringent, insecticide, calming and sedative. Very uplifting and stimulating. It is a known tonic to the heart and respiratory system. May be helpful in cases of bronchitis and asthma. Used as an insect repellent.

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Latin Name: lobelia inflata
Alternative Name: indian tobacco, asthma weed, gagroot, pukeweed
Forms Available: root, flower, seed

Lobelia – lobelia inflata – annual or biennial. One to two foot high. Native American Indians used this herb for smoking, hence another name for it, indian tobacco. It was smoked to relieve lung problems such as asthma, pleurisy, whooping cough and bronchitis. It has expectorant properties, loosening phlegm. Chemical properties similar to nicotine so is a herb used to help escape addiction to nicotine. A poultice of lobelia can be used to relieve sprains, bites, stings, muscle spasm, rheumatism, boils. etc. Large doses of this herb can be emetic and induce vomiting.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Relieves lung problems such as asthma, pleurisy, bronchitis. Nicotine substitute for people attempting to quit smoking. Emetic in larger doses. Can be used in a poultice for various external skin problems.

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Latin Name: lythrum salicaria
Alternative Name: blooming sally, lythrum, partyke, purple willow herb, rainbow weed, sage willow, salicaire
Forms Available: leaf, flower, stem

Loosetrife – lythrum salicaria – Purple Loosestrife has a creeping rootstock, angled stems with lance-shaped leaves, and spikes of purple-red flowers. The leaves are eaten as an emergency vegetable and fermented into a mild alcohol. The flowering plant is an intestinal disinfectant, treating diarrhea and food poisoning. It acts as a typhus antibiotic, a sore throat gargle, and is given for fever and liver problems.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: The flowering plant is an intestinal disinfectant, treating diarrhea and food poisoning. It acts as a typhus antibiotic, a sore throat gargle, and is given for fever and liver problems.

Other Uses: Placed in the corners of each room, this herb restores harmony and brings peace. Give as a gift to bring about an accord.

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Latin Name: nelumbo nucifera, nymphaea lotus
Alternative Name: sacred lotus
Forms Available: leaf, node of the root, bud, seed

Lotus – nelumbo nucifera, nymphaea lotus – This aquatic herb’s waxy leaves rise high above the water its long-stalked fragrant flowers open at dawn and close at sunset. Lotus stalks, leaves, petals, seeds and rhizome are all eaten. The flowers are a religious offering in many cultures and are planted for devotional reasons.
The leaf of nelumbo nucifera is used for fever, sweating, irritability, dysentery, diarrhea, and scanty urine. It is a styptic -stops bleeding- and has been used to antidote alcohol and mushroom poisoning. It affects the liver, heart, and spleen energies. The nodes of the root are used to stop bleeding and to break down blood clots. All types of internal bleeding are affected. The plumule -bud- affects the heart, kidney, and spleen. It is used to calm mental agitation and worry, relieve insomnia, and lower fevers. The seed affects the kidney, heart, and spleen. It is used for agitation, insomnia, palpitations, dry mouth, dark urine, and chronic diarrhea. It strengthens the heart and kidneys.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: The leaf of Nelumbo nucifera is used for fever, sweating, irritability, dysentery, diarrhea, and scanty urine. The nodes of the root are used to stop bleeding and to break down blood clots.

Other Uses: Lotus is an all-purpose spiritual elixer. Burned as incense, it encourages the dead to seek their highest possible reincarnation. It reminds the living of their inner sanctity and divinity. Anyone who breathes the scent will receive its protection.

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Latin Name: pulmonaria saccharata, pulmonaria officinalis
Alternative Name: jerusalem sage, bethlehem sage
Forms Available: leaf

Lungwort – pulmonaria saccharata, pulmonaria officinalis – Perennial evergreen native to Europe and Turkey. Used for lung problems such as bronchitis, laryngitis, coughs, congestion – reduces bronchial congestion. Has demulcent propterties, soothes sore throats.

Aromatherapy & Health Uses: Used for lung problems such as bronchitis, laryngitis, coughs, congestion. Soothes sore throats.

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