O is for Olfactory

So, as part of the AtoZChallenge, we have so far looked at essential oils from A to M, we have discussed how to dilute and blend essential oils with a base oil, depending on the time of day you are going to use them, we have looked at marsupials in the Antipodes, but we have not yet looked at how aromatherapy works at the human level.

It is all down to our Olfactory sense. Have you heard of it? Probably not! It is our sense of smell, which is  very primitive, very definitley linked to our sense of survival, a very basic need for the species. Think about it………….! Long before we can hear or see anything, our sense of smell alerts us to something there, for us to decide whether it is safe or not. Think of the smell of gas, the smell of dog poo? How do you feel? Have you been alerted that something not nice, or even dangerous needs avoiding. So that’s how unpleasant smells, even the thought of them, can evoke an emotional response, and for some a physical one. The thought of dog poo wants to make me heave, and as far as I know there is no dog poo within at least 50 yards of me, but just the thought of that smell makes me have a physical reaction.

Now let’s look at the pleasant side of our olfactory system. Imagine that someone has just walked in the room, wearing the perfume or aftershave of your first boy/girl friend. What comes to mind? Are you suddenly reminiscing in your head of all those places you visited, the fun times you had, have you been transported back in time? That is the power of smell and the association with memory, in what is known as the limbic system, which is in the part of the brain which is referred tolfactory nerveo as the Reptilian brain. It is the most basic part of our brain, where things get processed at the very basic level. There is no logic here, as with the neo-cortex. This part of the brain is where we survive. Think early man out on the Plains, needing to keep clear of the predator that he is hunting………. hunt or be hunted. Our scent carries on the breeze long before we can be seen or heard, and we could pick up the scent of an animal too.

An essential oil has the abilty to excite and stimulate the olfactory nerve endings inside the nose, as shown in the diagram above. The receptors will be activated by the molecules of the aromatic oil, when it is wafted under the nose. It is the eddy current of the waft, not the direct sniff, which excites the nerve endings. There are 50 million or so receptors, and they are all bare nerve endings, which means there is no barrier between the outside world and the Reptilain brain via this cranial nerve. This connection to the limbic system, which is the seat of the control of emotions, may be the reason that scent can have such a powerful impact on our psyche. This makes the sense of smell the oldest and most primitive of our senses.

So next time you find yourself thinking of another time and place to the one you are in, it will be the aromas and scents that are around you, that are taking you there. Happy Smelling!

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Thank you for reading this post, which is part of the AtoZChallenge.

Blessings Joy

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