The Nose Knows

Recently I went snowshoeing for a little while. I say “little”, because even though we left early in the morning to reach Snoqualmie Pass, there were still too many people on the trail for us to feel comfortable. Not everyone was wearing a mask, and when you live in a high-risk household every decision to be outside comes with a calculus of risk tolerance.

But I digress.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep

It was HEAVENLY being on the snowy trail surrounded by pines, cedars, and firs, strolling (as much as anyone strolls in snowshoes) under the forest canopy. Quiet—lovely, dark and deep as Robert Frost wrote—with that sweet, sharp, refreshing evergreen smell that is so quintessentially Pacific Northwest. You know what I mean. A sensory experience in which scent arouses emotions and memory with every breath.

The fragrance of evergreens is not only delightful to the nose, but also confers health benefits. Pine bark and needles contain vitamin C and going for a walk in the woods (shinrin yoku, or forest bathing) eases stress through the natural aromatherapy of phytocides. Phytocides, or wood essential oils, are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees that are thought to improve immune function through parasympathetic nervous system stimulation.

How do we smell? Glad you asked. Olfactory receptor neurons are smell-specific nerve cells that are located high in the nasal cavity, located in the upper septum and turbinates. These smell neurons turn on when airborne molecules pass through the nasopharynx and send information to the brain via the olfactory nerve.

It’s more complex than this, obviously. But, fun facts: neurons regenerate regularly, and, as Patrick Süskind shows in his novel, Perfume, smell brings social and emotional depth to human interaction.

The Power of Essential Oils

The power of essential oils is nothing new to Katie Smith, of K.Smith Oils and Fitness. She started her own journey in essential oils when her daughter was 4 months old. Katie says,

She was struggling with something respiratory and my friend was like use “Breathe” Oil. Get in the shower, put the oil on the bottom of the shower and stand there with her. It was a night and day experience with her. And so I just started to ask well what else can I do? She would get constipated and cry so I would put some “Digestion” Oil on her tummy and feet. I had a new kid.

Although there are many companies that sell essential oils, Katie recommends Doterra as a company that brings a high level of scrutiny to sourcing and harvesting oils. Katie is passionate about her role as an essential oil educator who provides support for people who want to learn how to integrate essential oils into their self-care.

To expand your knowledge is to lean on someone in your community who is taking that active step. Another way to expand your knowledge is to get a resource. I really like The Essential Life which lists all the oils. You can dive in if you’re struggling with digestive support and the book will guide you with what to apply and how often to apply it. I really try to hold women’s hands along this journey.

Wise about the Body

But Katie still gets pushback from those who equate aromatherapy with wizardry or witchcraft. That makes sense to me. Only women are described as witches. And the women who were, historically, called witches were often wise about the body and understood the importance of the medicinal and healing uses of flowers and plants. They were, as Katie is, sources of education and empowerment.

Oils are A-Z

Of course, essential oils are not going to solve all of our problems. But Katie believes that adding essential oils to our daily routines, alongside getting more sleep, drinking more water, and moving your body, is supremely beneficial. Moreover, oils multitask. Katie notes,

Take peppermint and wild orange. What those oils can do is a total A-Z. Tension? Try your peppermint. Tummy ache? Try your peppermint. Low energy? Try your peppermint. You see how it can hit a couple things and that’s really where it starts to build trust with that person because everybody has something they need support for. And I am trying to build that nontraditional space to help be proactive with our energy. People go “Oh I just need more sleep or I need to drink more coffee” but there’s other things you can do.

Oils might not have an immediate effect. As with any behavioral change, we must be patient. That’s my experience with yoga, too. It’s a practice, never a one-and-done.

The Smell of Evergreens Rising

I’m home now, walk in the snow over. But I can recreate the sensory experience.

I add a few drops of Douglas Fir oil to my diffuser. My inhales are saturated with olfactory information, neurons react, and I am transported back to the forest, with, to paraphrase John Steinbeck in East of Eden, the smell of the earth and the evergreens rising, a chorus in my nose.

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