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How important is smell to you? Obviously,  to me, as an aromatherapist it’s pretty vital.

But how does smell work and why do we need it?


Smell is one of our five senses: taste, touch, sight and hearing being the other four. Often though, smell is considered not that important, but let me set that record straight!

Like most other animals we use smell for communication, although a lot of this goes on without us realising. Did you know for example that we are attracted to certain people because of their particular smell?  We used to rely on smells a great deal more before we had fridges to keep our food fresh and access to clean water to wash! But we still recognise the smell of burning for example as a warning.

Other animals still use aromas for attraction, to mark their territory and to repel predators. We often only think of aromas as soap, perfumes or food smells.  But when we smell something a rather magical experience takes place.

Aromatic molecules are all around us, and our noses are beautifully designed to capture those volatile aromatic molecules. Inside our noses the molecules are transformed into a chemical signal which is picked up by the Olfactory Bulb which sits right at the top of our nose. From here the signal is sent along the Olfactory Tract to a part of our brain that is really ancient, the Limbic System, often called the Reptilian Brain, as it’s been a part of our brain structure for a very long time. It’s where we process basic survival needs, like telling us we’re hungry, tired or thirsty. Its also where we process our memories!

This tells you why a certain smells can transport you somewhere and rekindle a memory!


Olfactory nerves are unique as they can repair, not something the rest of our nervous system does that easily.  Loss of smell, Anosmia, was thrust into the limelight through Covid when certain people lost their sense of smell. We all know that feeling when we have a cold. But smell training can help to reignite the nerves. How amazing is that!?

There are organisations that offer smell training so if you need to explore this, I recommend the following:


Smell however can deteriorate with age, if you’re a smoker or if you’ve suffered trauma to the head. And as a side note, women have a stronger sense of smell than men.

When we can’t smell, people report feelings of depression, despair and that the world is flat.


Obviously smell also plays a really vital role in taste, as when we eat, aromas are passed from the back of the throat into the nasal cavity and just seeing some foods elicits a response to get our salivary glands to get to work to help us digest our food. Its all intricate but fascinating!

Smell is also very personal, one aroma that I may love may be abhorrent to you, and visa versa.


I am very drawn to citrus, floral and wood aromas when using my essential oils.

We also know, through research, that certain aromas have physical and emotional consequences, like Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, helping us to sleep, Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinale, helping us to feel alert, and the Citrus essential oils helping us to feel uplifted and refreshed. The science behind aromas is not new and there are some very exciting discoveries being made around the science of Olfaction, particularity around memory loss and Dementia.

In summary smell isn’t just about peasant fragrances, it’s a fundamental sense that impacts various aspects of our lives from health to social interaction, and like most things it’s important to ‘use it or loose it’…so take a moment to stop and smell the roses!