Smelling Some Forest Medicine


Have you ever noticed, that certain smells provoke particular memories in you? Maybe even some long-forgotten memories from childhood?

Our brain handles smells in the same regions as it handles memories and emotions. Our sense of smell is linked to our limbic system. It is in the middle of our brain.  Limbic system affects our learning, motivation, storing memories, sensory perception and even regulates our hormones. That’s why scents can trigger very vivid and emotional memories.

Can you remember the scent of a fresh-cut grass? Maybe the smell of a new school book when you open it for the first time? Do you recall the scent of your mother’s perfume?

Smelling your memories

When I smell the specific brand of cigarette, I get this very strong and vivid picture from my childhood. No matter where that cigarette smell comes from, but it makes me feel very safe and loved. The reason is, that my dad has always been a heavy smoker and that odor of Colt Tobacco was there when I fell asleep in his lap as a little girl. The memory is very precise. His legs were certain way and I can remember many of his shirts and even the feel of the material.

If you have had really bad and unpleasant experiences from earlier years, the memories of those happenings can stay hidden and forgotten until they are triggered by something. It could be a situation, sight or sound, but the most powerful awakener is smell.

Improve your memory with scents

You can also take advantage of this powerful effect that smells have on your memory. Many of us study or our kids go to school and scents are an effortless way to enhance our learning abilities. There are few great scents to use for better learning, memory and concentration, such as rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus and sage. They have known to improve performance in cognitive tasks.

Of course, to get the full benefit, you should use the same scent, when you are in exam or test situation to remember more details and to recall things vividly. There has been research on this matter and smells has proven to be even more effective than background music. When you combine learning with scents, you also remember things for longer period.

Many uses of scents

This power of scents hasn’t gone unnoticed by marketers. Scents can significantly affect our decision-making process. We all know Nike. They managed to increase sales by 80% adding a delicate scent to their shops. The sense of smell is a straight pathway to our feelings and we feel faster than we think.

Aromatherapy offers us an opportunity to fine-tune the advantages of individual plant scents. There was a study 2002 where two separate groups of workers were exposed to different scents. Other group were smelling rosemary and another lavender. The rosemary group had significantly better memory versus the lavender group, which in turn had diminished working memory. Rosemary group did also better in attention-based tasks than lavender group. Studies has also shown, that impairments in the processing of smell is linked to anxiety and ADHD.

Smelling some forest medicine

Well, you may wonder how does this all resonate with forest therapy? When we smell something in forest or in natural settings, we are breathing in the fragrance of the forest. If you have been with me for a while, you already know that phytoncides (forest fragrance) has multiple health benefits. You can refresh your memory here

When we breathe in vitamin “nature”, our body’s response is instant. Vitamin N affects directly on the brain’s mental and emotional responses and on our body chemistry. It’s known in medical field that drugs, such as hormones or vaccines affect immediately through the nasal route. And now they have found out, that the intranasal route is an entrance to the brain for a much wider variety of substances than believed before.

You may have noticed that forests which have different trees in them, smell different. This is due to diverse aromatic components emitted by different trees and plants. Even if you can smell some flowering plants and identify them by their scent, your sense of smell fails to recognize individual phytoncides. A single tree or plant can release several dozen aromatic chemicals. But even though you can’t put the name on these aromas, it doesn’t mean that they have no effect on your health.

So, when we are forest bathing, plant-derived vapours, can enter the brain and into our body’s blood circulation. In forest, there is always a natural combination of plant aromas available, so our walkabout through the forest can be both uplifting and stimulating or relaxing and calming. I tend to believe, that forest and our body know what we need and provide us just the perfect mixture of forest medicine.

Purpose of two nostrils

Have you ever wondered why you have two nostrils? You may have noticed, that face holes usually come in pairs. With two eyes and two ears we can see three dimensional, see depth, hear the directions of sounds and have an idea how far they are coming from. But our nostrils are too close to each other to handle this kind of job. There is still a purpose for two of them.

It’s kind of funny how our nostrils work in shifts of six hours and they take turns of being a high-flow or low-flow nostril. The high-flow nostril smells different aromas and chemicals than the low-flow nostril. Some compounds are meant to stay in our nose for longer time than others and our nose knows how to handle this job. This makes it even more obvious, that our body is smarter than we think.

Important vitamin N

Since these forest chemicals don’t go through our metabolism in the same way as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, we don’t think about them as frequently. We don’t monitor our vitamin N intake the same way as we do our vitamin D intake, we don’t see forest medicine listed on any food ingredients labels or consider them much in our daily life.

Phytoncides, forest chemicals, vitamin N, forest medicine or whatever you wish to call them are as vital for our health and well-being as are the other components of our diet. And when shopping, it’s great to know, that phytoncides increase our critical decision making! In my next post, I wish to cover the health benefits of phytoncides more thoroughly.

Warm and loving thoughts,


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  1. […] Our cognitive abilities are not fixed for the lifetime rather we can improve them with some lifestyle changes. Spending time in nature is one of them. There have been numerous researches, that support the idea, that interaction with nature improves attention and memory. Research paper published in Psychological Science in 2008 studies this phenomenon even further. (Check out blog post about links between nature and memory HERE) […]

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