Scientists at several major research centers have concluded that certain odors can affect mood and behavior. Lavender and vanilla, for example, can relax a person, says Dr. Alan R. Hirsch of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.
Hirsch and his colleagues have found that the quickest way to change a mood is with the sense of smell. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have shown that odors provide the best memory cues because a person's oldest and most emotionally laden memories are connected with smells.
Michele Erwin, who runs a small aromatherapy business on the Internet from her home in Colorado, has found that vanilla triggers a tremendous feeling of happiness because it reminds her of making ice cream as a child with her great grandmother in Ohio.
"For me, vanilla is tied to one of the best things in life," says Erwin, who now lives in the small town of Telluride in the San Juan Mountains.
"There are a lot of wonderful memories connected with that — spending time with my great grandmother, turning the crank, eating homemade ice cream." Erwin, who is 30, learned about aromatherapy while trying to figure how to get rid of acne that cropped up about five years ago. Nothing seemed to work. She tried natural skin products and then started experimenting with aromatherapy.
She learned to make facial masks of green clay, floral water, eggs, lavender and juniper berry. Her acne cleared up and has never returned. She also works as a bookkeeper, but her real love is aromatherapy.
"Aromatherapy has enhanced my life in many, many ways," Erwin says. "I have become confident and happy. My emotions can always be changed with a single whiff. I am more emotionally balanced, and stress over everyday life is less of an impact."
According to Hirsch, the future of medicine lies in aromatherapy. "We're already seeing aromatherapy more and more in the treatment of patients. Ten years from now aromatherapy will be a regular part of the physician's palette." Hirsch says that in the future, instead of simply prescribing valium as a sedative, a physician will prescribe a small dose of valium supplemented with lavender. For male impotence? A small dose of the revolutionary new drug Viagra along with a mixture of lavender and pumpkin, known to heighten male sexual arousal.
Erwin is likewise convinced. "With the right oils, my muscle aches heal faster, my burns and bruises disappear, and fatigue is no longer in my vocabulary ... All of these things have made my life safer, simpler and more enjoyable."