Aromatherapy: How and why it works, and how the loss of smell turned my world upside down

Have you ever walked into an old bookstore and immediately felt a surge of comfort and joy? Or perhaps the opposite—you’ve strolled into a large appliance store and felt suddenly assaulted by the overwhelming scent of chemicals and disinfectants?

Our sense of smell is a powerful part of our anatomy. There’s a lot of science surrounding how odors are tied to emotion and memory and intricately linked with our brain functions. 

This is the basis of Aromatherapy, the practice of using essential oils to trigger therapeutic responses in the body. It is an ancient natural remedy that historians believe dates back as far as the Babylonian empire. 

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are distilled from the most potent parts of a plant and carry its natural properties in concentrated form. Depending on the plant, these oils can be derived from the flowers, leaves, roots, bark, or fruit. 

To use them, you can use a diffuser or vaporizer, or they can be added to carrier oils and applied to your skin. Keep in mind that undiluted essential oils are very powerful and may cause adverse side effects if applied directly to the skin. 

How Does Aromatherapy Work? 

When you smell freshly mowed grass, baking bread, or an aromatic Christmas tree, you likely have an emotional response. That’s because smell is so closely tied to our limbic system, which controls our feelings, learning, and memory.

When odor particles make their way into your nose, they activate your body in intricate ways, producing hormones that affect not only how you perceive your surroundings, but also how you will process that information and store it for later. 

Because of that, different essential oils can have different effects on the body. They can boost endorphins which help you feel happy and alert and can also reduce pain. Or they can stimulate serotonin production to regulate feelings of stress. Others still can have a very calming effect and help your body prepare for sleep. 

Lavender Essential Oil

We have two kinds of Lavender Essential Oil at Sage Creations Farm. 

Lavandin Essential Oil is slightly stimulating and has a more energizing effect. Angustifolia Essential Oil has a softer, sweeter smell and creates a relaxing sense of calm. 

You can find these in our body products as well, such as balms, lotions, and body wash. When used regularly, the lavender essential oil can have a powerful effect on your mood and daily attitude. I have found aromatherapy keeps me feeling less anxious, more alert and energized, and joyful throughout the day. 

The Science Around Aromatherapy

Though it is a very old practice with lots of tradition behind it, the science of aromatherapy is still considered controversial by modern science. 

Part of the problem is a lack of standardization around it. Because essential oils are not controlled by the FDA, there can be wide variation in concentration levels, how it is distilled and prepared, and how it is applied. 

You can read more about our own distillation process and VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) here.

Since these methods vary from study to study, some show statistically significant effects, while others produce no results. 

Among the studies that have shown significant results, we have evidence that aromatherapy is effective for relief from many uncomfortable symptoms including: 

Even more studies with less conclusive evidence suggest essential oils are effective for improving memory and cognition, indigestion, headaches, joint swelling, and skin problems. 

It’s important to remember that while aromatherapy is an excellent way to reduce symptoms of pain, anxiety, insomnia, etc, you should always report these symptoms to a doctor to understand the underlying causes and appropriate treatments. 

Losing My Sense of Smell and Taste from Covid-19

Back around Thanksgiving(cooking Thanksgiving dinner was challenging) I actually lost my sense of smell and taste due to Covid-19. As you might imagine, smell plays a big role as a grower  and distiller. 

When we create aromatherapeutic products like balms and salves, we use our sense of smell to determine if the essential oil qualities and the smells will blend will with the other oils we may be wishing to use. When we are distilling we use our sense of smell and taste to fine tune our distillation time, I often taste the distillate that comes from the still to determine when a distillation is complete. Apart from the visual observation of the plants stage I will use my nose to smell the flowers or leaves to see if they are at the optimum stage to harvest.   

Bringing a salve up to my nose and smelling nothing at all is a discomforting sensation. I feel clumsy, almost lost. For a formulator and distiller, your nose is truly a tool, and one we often take for granted. 

Since my experience with Covid-19, my sense of smell and taste is still a little off. I strive constantly to exercise it, training it with different herbs to work back toward what I once had. And slowly, it does return. 

As farmers, I think we are more attuned to the joy our sense of smell brings us, and are perhaps more affected by its loss. 

I hope that your sense of smell remains strong and intact, and that you cherish it for all that it is. 

And if you’ve never tried our aromatherapy products, check out our selection today


This blog is intended to inform and discuss and is not medical advice. If you are having physical or mental discomfort you should always consult a doctor or certified professional. 

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