The Fragrance/Memory Connection
The other day, I was driving with the windows rolled down when I passed a city crew cutting the grass in the medians. The wind was blowing loose hair from my ponytail against my cheeks. I had my left elbow out the window and I could feel the sun on my skin.
I was going over my grocery list in my head at the time because I was on my way to the store. I was thinking my way through the store, thinking about where I would be able to find various items on my list. I was thinking so intently about going to the grocery store that the trip there was completely automatic. My mind was on the task I would be accomplishing in the immediate future.
But as I passed the mowers and trimmers in the median, the fragrance of fresh cut grass with a light aroma of gasoline from the equipment came through my window. And in an instant, I was 15 years old and sitting in the bleachers of my home field softball diamond. The school day had just ended—one of the last few days of the semester—and I was putting my cleats on in preparation for practice as someone mowed the grass field by the batting cages right by the diamond. My teammates were sitting nearby. Some were in the dugout, some in the bleachers behind me, a few still making their way over from the parking lot.
In a split second, I went from being a 30-year-old heading to the grocery store to a 15-year-old preparing for my summer sports practice. I thought about my friends on the team and went through conversations we had before batting practice. I thought about getting home after practice and eating dinner with my mom and dad and my sister at our kitchen table in our old house. I even thought about some of my favorite meals Mom used to make. I thought about sitting outside on our deck and watching our dog Levi run around.
I made my way to the grocery store, parked the car, and was halfway through my shopping list before I realized my mind was still 15 years in the past. It wasn’t being in the car, the road I was driving on, the task I was doing, or much of anything else that reminded me of my life at age 15. It was the fragrance of the fresh cut grass that took me back to that moment in my memory.
This connection between fragrance and memory has been studied extensively by neuroscientists. This quote from the article, “Why Do Smells Trigger Memories?” on Scientific American describes what happens to our brains physically when we smell something and how that may trigger memories:
When we come into contact with an odor, or molecules from volatile substances drifting through the air, the neurons that make up your olfactory receptor cells send a signal to a part of your brain called the olfactory bulb...Your olfactory bulb runs from your nose to the base of your brain and has direct connections to your amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion) and to your hippocampus (an area linked to memory and cognition). Neuroscientists have suggested that this close physical connection between the regions of the brain linked to memory, emotion, and our sense of smell may explain why our brain learns to associate smells with certain emotional memories.
On Memorial Day, we think about loved ones we’ve lost and do things to honor their memory. But more than that, I feel like Memorial Day is an opportunity for us to explore how fragrances can help us remember pieces of our past and work on processing those memories to become calmer, more grounded, and more fully developed individuals in the present.
To illustrate how effective the use of fragrance is in processing memory, consider how fragrances are used in mental and behavioral health sciences. Fragrances are used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of how they can calm the physical body, connect to memories and help make new connections in the brain, release emotions, reduce anxiety, clear emotional shock and trauma, and more. Essential oils in particular are used more and more in the treatment of PTSD and mental and behavioral disorders. The article, “Trauma, the Brain and Essential Oils” on the MN Trauma Project website says, “Researchers have shown how aromas cause the brain to react activating the hypothalamus gland, the pituitary gland, the body’s hormones and the limbic system. The limbic system links the left and right brain and the voluntary and involuntary nervous system centers and is frequently dysregulated in the aftermath of trauma.” Regardless of where you are in a healing or development journey, there is no denying the power of fragrance to stimulate memory.
This Memorial Day, explore the fragrance memory connection with our holiday weekend sale. All of our fragrance products on TheGiftofScent.Com—including essential oils and aromatherapy diffusers, No-Mess Wax Fragrance Tarts™ and wax warmers, candles, fragrance oils and diffusers, car and travel fragrance products, and everything else available on TheGiftofScent.Com—will be on sale for the entire Memorial Day weekend (Friday-Monday).
Explore your fragrance/memory connection with the Essential Breeze® Aromatherapy Fan or any of our Ultrasonic aromatherapy diffusers with Belle Aroma® Pure & Organic Essential Oils.
Happy Memorial Day!
Kate for TheGiftofScent.Com.