"A smell can instantly beckon age-old memories or summon emotions in a whiff."
I like to think my husband, Levi, and I moved to Berkeley because of the jasmine. Our first visit was in April, and the fragrance washed over everything, a bright watermelon haze tinged with narcotic floral waves. At the time, I had no idea that jasmine was one of my favorite smells,but walking by walls of jasmine vines immediately lifted my spirits. While I still relished the scents of the natural world, I mostly buried my nose for fear of a negative reaction from synthetic fragrance.
One day, I walked into a friend’s store and smelled a solid perfume made from jasmine absolute, grapefruit, and blood orange essential oils, beautifully encased in a sterling silver compact. It smelled sweet and breathtaking, like the flowers and citrus growing in the hills outside. I bought it, wore it, and was smitten. I sought out the amazing perfumer who made it, Mandy Aftel, studied with her, and never looked back. The world of essential oils opened to me a rich and invisible palette more evocative than anything I had ever encountered.
Scent is one of the first senses to develop in the womb. When a baby meets its mother, it recognizes her by smell, and she recognizes the unique smell of her child. If you were to ask most people which sense they would first sacrifice, most people say smell. But if you lose your sense of smell, an affliction called anosmia, much of the pleasure is stripped from your life. Food doesn’t taste good if you can’t smell its aroma. The people you love lose dimension without their characteristic smells. Familiar things become dull without their signature scents.
Invisible pillars made of scent hold up the architecture of our individual and sometimes collective memories. Smells travel through our nostrils to our olfactory bulb, which links to two areas of our brain: the amygdala, which is tied to emotion, and the hippocampus, which is linked to memory. Knowing this, it makes complete sense that a smell can instantly beckon age-old memories or summon emotions in a whiff.
“Our sense of smell, like so many body functions,
is a throwback to that time, early in evolution, when
we thrived in the oceans. An odor must first dissolve
into a watery solution our mucous membranes
absorb before we smell it.”
In her seminal book, A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman describes the prehistoric evolution of smell in our amphibian ancestors to help them find mates and avoid danger, tools that we could still harness with our noses. To think about scent evolving deep in the ocean was a revelation to me. Ackerman describes an epiphany she had her first time scuba diving, “Scuba diving in the Bahamas some years ago, I became aware of two things for the first time: that we carry the ocean within us; that our veins mirror the tides . . . I was so moved, my eyes teared underwater, and I mixed my saltiness with the ocean’s.”
Ackerman’s realization resonates with every cell of my watery being. Some of my greatest moments of belonging were floating on a salty ocean, feeling rocked gently by the waves. Nature, which we sometimes regard as other, holds the secrets of our being. For me, the privilege of working with botanical scents is getting to relish in the beauty of plants and celebrate their power and medicine. Just as we evolved in the mother ocean, we must still look to nature to nourish and help us evolve.
Try this formulation by Blankenship:
Good Vibrations Clearing Spray
YIELD: 4 OUNCES
This spray is designed to help you clear energy and set intentions. Since it is formulated as an alternative to smudging, you can spray it liberally on yourself, in your space, and wherever you feel needs some cleansing. I personally like the ritual of spraying it around myself at the beginning of a new day.
4 ounces distilled water
20 drops lime essential oil
15 drops eucalyptus essential oil
10 drops white sage essential oil
Optional: 1 teaspoon high-proof alcohol
Combine all ingredients in measuring cup; stir with spoon. Pour into 4-ounce glass bottle and screw on sprayer.
Shake well before use and spray as desired. If stored out of direct sunlight, will keep for up to 6 months. Adding alcohol will keep the spray fresh for up to a year.