I am often accused of having too sensitive of a nose. Like many people who have studied natural perfumery, or who have removed as many synthetically-produced scents from their life as possible, my sense of smell has been heightened by my interest and experiential education in aromatic botanicals.
The accusations against my sensitivity come from a lack of understanding; from people whose noses are not as sensitive as mine. Every time this happens, I feel a small amount of sadness for these individuals, knowing they are not able to enjoy the world from this special perspective.
A Scentual Awakening
Luckily, we see a continued rise in urban farming; in locavore and “slow-food” movements. The general population is reconnecting with the taste and smell of real food; grown close by and harvested at the peak of ripeness.
This, combined with the elimination of synthetic cleaners and perfumes, has helped us find our taste buds again, along with our sense of (and more importantly, appreciation of) smell.
True lovers of wine, coffee, chocolate and green tea know that how, where and when a food is harvested, greatly determines not only its taste, but its aroma. They understand how inextricably smell and taste are tied to pleasure.
For these people, every sniff, sip or bite is a new experience, filled with information about the subtleties of a soil, the geography of a land and the story of a people.
For these people, a synthetically-fabricated world is simply not a pleasurable one.
For those of you unattuned to the scentual world, I suggest you try to replicate the experience described below. It is my hope that it will give you greater understanding into what it means to truly experience scent in all its decadence.
The Experience of Scent
Imagine in one hand you are holding a sprig of fresh rosemary; in the other hand, fresh mint. Now slowly, with an affection for the herbs and a curiosity to see the result, rub the leaves in your hands, sensually rolling them through your fingers.
Using a combination of heat and friction, you will start to liberate the aromatic character of each herb; breaking open the secretory structures of the leaves. Before your hands even reach the level of your nose to take that first inhale, you will be aware of each herb’s olfactive presence, and perhaps even the physiological response each is eliciting in your body.
The experience of smelling the oils of fresh crushed herbs is a bit like listening to music. It is a full-body sensory experience. It not only stimulates your olfactory bulb, but also your limbic system, your cerebral cortex and an infinite number of synaptic possibilities in between. It is transient and ever-changing.
There is an introduction. You recognize that smell exists; that rosemary and mint are producing an aromatic piece. The awareness is at first subtle, but you are eager to see if the smell unfolding turns into a quiet melody or a dynamic symphony.
As you continue to heat the leaves in your hands, the aroma develops more; it gets stronger and louder. As you bring the sprigs to your nose a second time, you are inhaling much more than a single note; you are inhaling a series of chords. These chords make up the herbs we call rosemary and mint.
Smell them individually; then smell them together. See how the harmonics of each herb can stand alone or blend with the harmonics of the other. Allow your nose-brain to assist in the composition. Keep returning to each handful, inhaling the shifts and changes, the intermingling, the evolution and the eventual fade-out.
Note your emotional response throughout the entire process. What feelings are evoked? What thoughts come up for you? What is the quality of those feelings and thoughts?
When you meet someone you really like, someone with whom you feel connected, you are filled with a special enthusiasm. You are left with an impression of that person that lasts long after he/she has left you. You may even create a story around his/her life.
Scent is precisely the same. It fills you up and then leaves you with nothing more than an impression; it leaves you with a song, or maybe a story. This is how we make the intangible, tangible. We invite all of our senses to help solidify the impression of rosemary and mint in our minds. We catalogue the song as to be able to recognize it again when we encounter it in the future.
That future may be very near. Perhaps you find a trace remnant of scent on your fingers. A single inhale and you are reliving the entire event of rosemary and mint anew, finding company in their scent long after they have left you.