The Olfactory | Essence + Origin


Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any of the other senses, hearing, taste, touch and sight. Our recognition of smell is immediate. When aromatherapy essential oils (or any other scent) are inhaled through the nose, aromatic molecules are carried to the olfactory.


The olfactory system is the sensory system used for olfaction, or our sense of smell. Smell begins at the back of the nose, where millions of sensory neurons lie in a strip of tissue called the olfactory epithelium. The tips of these cells contain proteins called receptors that bind odor molecules. These receptors are like locks and the keys to open these locks are the odor molecules that float past.

People have about 450 different types of olfactory receptors. Once an odor molecule binds to a receptor, it initiates an electrical signal that travels from the sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb (a structure at the base of the fore-brain that relays the signal to other brain areas for additional processing). One of these areas is the piriform cortex, a collection of neurons located just behind the olfactory bulb that works to identify the smell. Smell information also goes to the thalamus, a structure that serves as a relay station for all of the sensory information coming into the brain. The thalamus sends smell information to the hippocampus and amygdala, key brain regions involved in learning and memory. These quick signals coming from thalamus to different parts of the brain are what conjure up emotion and scent memory. 


Smell is the strongest link to the subconscious and we retain memories associated with smells for very long periods of time. Scents are highly emotive, our emotional response is governed by association. For example, the scent of an orchard in blossom can conjure up memories of a childhood picnic. Although scent preferences are highly personal, essential oils can positively influence how you feel. Smelling lavender, chamomile and jasmine essential oils can make us feel more calm and relaxed, whilst smelling citrus essential oil scents make us feel more energised and awake.