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The Science of Smell

Did you know that smelling peppermint can help you lose weight? Or that the aroma of lavender can be used to help you relax?

According to aromatherapist Lynn Sterling, of Cranberry, PA, the fragrant properties of essential oils can actually help the body heal everything from burns to headaches.

“Peppermint oil is remarkable because just by inhaling it, it will increase your mental acuity. It provides instant relief for sore muscles, a little on the back of your neck will perk you right up,” says Lynn, adding that peppermint acts as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. “When my kids have a fever, I use peppermint oil on the bottom of their feet. It’s cooling, and at the same time, it addresses the virus and brings the fever down.”

We don’t need scientific studies (although they do exist) to tell us that the sense of smell is closely linked to memory — just walk into a candle store and take a whiff of one that smells like hot apple pie. Such an experience awakens senses and evokes memories.

But that’s not all — “If you inhale peppermint when you’re studying for a test and then inhale it again when you’re taking the test, you’re more likely to recall what you’ve studied,” she says. “And putting a couple of drops in a glass of water helps suppress the appetite and soothe any digestive disturbances, as well as clean the liver. It also works well as an insect repellent.”

This information may make you want to run out and purchase peppermint oil, but Lynn advises against it.

“Ninety-five percent of the world’s essential oils are adulterated,” she cautions, “So it’s important to used only Grade A oils. But they’re very difficult to find because true natural oils can’t be patented, and companies synthesize their products so they only have the smell — but not the chemical constituents.”

Aromatherapy is a phrase that was coined in 1928 by French cosmetic chemist Renee-Maurice Gattefosse. Says Lynn, “He was working in the lab and burned his arm in an accident. He plunged his hand into what he thought was a vat of water, but it turned out to be lavender oil. This cooled the burn and healed it without any scarring. As a result, he began studying the chemical properties of oils and determined that they contain healing properties.”

Defined as the art and science of using naturally extracted essences from plants to promote the health of mind, body and spirit, aromatherapy is used as a preventative measure, as well as an active treatment during illness.

Lynn can’t say enough about the benefits aromatherapy has brought to her family’s health and well-being.

“It’s not an accident that analgesic creams smell like wintergreen, because wintergreen has a cortisone-like effect,” she notes. “We’ve known for a long time that these natural substances work, and there are lots of references to their use in The Bible.”

Essential oils are indeed amazing, but they shouldn’t be used in place of medications, Lynn pointed out. “But if you can do these things first and save the meds for when you really need them, then it’s better for everyone.”

© Jill Cueni-Cohen

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