Charlie’s note: WOW! What a thought-provoking piece are you about to read. This post –another splendid essay by guest blogger Dr. Ellen Weber — is about the relationship between the ‘nog and the noggin; between the scents and the sentient being. You’ll find plenty of food for thought below (and links to even more good reading throughout the essay). Gentle reader, I give to you the art-of-scent….


by Dr. Ellen Weber

And oh how I love spices… I relish their rich aromas and flavors, which have summoned the gods… I am wooed by the earthy-dry-fruity-perfumy grassy-acrid-flowery-musky-woodsy pungencies that are sifted from nature and distilled by our imagination. (Charlie Fern … Memories from the kitchen …)

Who hasn’t had a memory flash of grandma’s kitchen when you smelled an apple pie? Or have you recalled a warm family gathering because cinnamon bun aromas send their flavors by to tease your nostrils? Memory magically reappears when you breathe in certain scents of soap, causing you to experience the flooding back of a forgotten holiday. Or when chemicals permeate the air, you may recall a specific workplace setting.

Even the smell of a funeral home evokes recollection, although not always one you’d choose. Simply put, smell stirs deep memories, increases brain chemicals such as serotonin, and alters emotions in the human brain.

Your sense of smell likely goes underrated, though, if as many people do, you use visual first to decode your world. A surprising reality, since smell enables you to gather key facts from any setting. Researchers affirm how different scents influence sensibilities – from well being to difficult decision-making. One recent study showed participants on a tight budget, who splurged on new clothing, when they smelled fresh chocolate chip cookies. Not exactly an ideal recipe for recession woes, as much as one perhaps to stoke an appetite for caution.

Sour as Lemon Juice or Sweet as Syrup?

The ability to smell offers an interesting dimension to life. One that could easily go unnoticed, in spite of the fact that humans distinguish more than 10,000 unique aromas. Is lunch today sour or sweet? Was that beverage bitter or salty?

Speaking of drinks, wine experts harnessed and identified many different categories of scents in an attempt to organize and standardize distinctive flavors in an aroma wheel for wine tasting. The idea was to provide a common language for odors rarely spoken of in similar ways.

It’s still difficult to describe any aroma, though, and we tend to disagree on good or bad scents. Yet different flavors impact our brains in strikingly similar ways. Even if you don’t drink caffeine, for instance, aromas from coffee beans likely leave you with a sense of well being. The same is true for chocolate, vanilla, and scents from freshly baked bread. You may not be aware that the olfactory bulb near your nasal sinus connects to a cranial nerve, or that impulses sent to your brain’s temporal lobes create an aroma, but you’ll often link scents to different reactions stored in your amygdala.

Research shows brains as better able to distinguish smells than previously thought. Scientists observed rat brains to identify coffee aroma effects on 17 genes in the brain. In addition they found that several brain proteins changed in ways that calmed rats under certain levels of stress. Furthermore some scientists suggest that caffeine aroma may be stimulant enough – even without drinking a cup of coffee.

Smell Can Cause Risk or Create Healing

About 3 million American lack a strong sense of smell through injury or age, and that impairment can lead to disaster. Smell something burning, and you’ll likely rush to turn a stove off, or unplug an empty kettle.

Smell gas and you’ll contact experts who can determine if your pipes have sprung a dangerous leak. Open the fridge and smell an odor in order to toss spoiled meats or clean out unsafe casseroles. Can you see where impaired smell can create hazardous situations?

Increasingly psychologists and other brain experts recommend aromatherapy, such as lighting candles or heating essential oils that stir emotions and inspire imaginations. Benefits of oils from sandalwood, peppermint, lavender and white fir, stretch from healing emotional upsets, to reducing stress, to increasing productivity. Not bad dividends for an average nose. Scents that trigger a variety of reactions from the brain, play key roles in healing people from horrific traumas. Through flavors that evoke positive memories, scents tend to bypass left brain thinking, and boost endorphins, that improve moods and alter right brain activity.

Research suggests several theories about how and why we crave some smells, repel others, since odors influence people differently. Yet experts generally agree that certain smells boost brainpower, through altered moods, and promote alertness while reducing stress. Could any aroma boost your brainpower today?

Dr. Ellen Weber is director of the MITA International Brain Based Center for renewal in Secondary and Higher Education. She is an author, blogger and columnist who shares her expertise with audiences worldwide — through her writing, lectures and appearances on radio and television. Dr. Weber’s experience includes extensive work in multiple intelligence research and teaching at the high school and university level. Dr. Weber is author of the eBook “MITA in the Classroom and Beyond.” For more information, visit