Monday, September 22, 2014


By Kate Collins

Seriously, I’m not being rude. This is actually the customary greeting for the Ongee tribe of the Andaman Islands. For them, the universe and everything in it is defined by smell.  I find this amusing. You might surmise I’m easily amused. You would be correct.

But smells are important to me, too. For instance, a strong garlic odor is delightful if I’m in an Italian restaurant, not so delightful when I’m seated next to someone on a train. A heavy floral perfume will give me a headache in ten minutes. Same with cigarette smoke. Also some potpourri mixes.

When you think of Thanksgiving, can’t you just smell the turkey roasting? The pumpkin pies baking? Christmas – the pine scent of the trees?  When you think of summer, do you smell the freshly mown grass?

For the cattle-raising Dassanetch of Ethiopia, no bouquet is more beautiful than a herd of cows. The men wash their hands in cattle urine and smear their bodies with manure to make themselves more attractive to the ladies. The Dogon of Mali rub fried onions all over their bodies. I think I’ve sat next to one of them on the train, too.

Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, physicians like Hippocrates promoted the therapeutic use of scents, which we now call aromatherapy.  Then in the early nineteenth century scientists tried to discredit the medicinal use of aromatics in favor of drugs. (Hint: It’s about the money.) And then the pharmaceutical companies sprang up in the 1950s, and they’ve been doing their best ever since to discredit EVERYTHING that isn’t made in one of their laboratories.  Again, money.

Fortunately, aromatherapy is now making a strong comeback. You’ll find a host of essential oils available at your local health food store, each one good for many uses. Just put a dab on your wrist or under your nose, or put some on a cotton ball and set it in a bowl in the room. Then breath. Ahh. All better.

Here are a few that I thought were helpful:

Depressed mood: Peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and jasmine.

Stress: Lavender, lemon, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver, pine, and ylang ylang.

Insomnia: Lavender, chamomile, jasmine, benzoin, neroli, rose, sandalwood, sweet marjoram, and ylang ylang. (But not lemon oil. It can wake you up.)

I know what you’re thinking. What the heck is ylang ylang? It’s the yellow-flowered tree native to the Malay peninsula and the Philippines from which this oil is obtained.

I would add a few of my favorite scents to the mix. For relaxation, the smell of coffee brewing, or a cup of hot chocolate. To ease a cold, the smell of Vicks Vaporub.  For a sense of coziness, any kind of cookie baking.

What would you add to the list? Have you ever tried aromatherapy?