Why do essential oils exist? Scientists discover plants detect insect attacks by ‘sniffing’ each other

Why do essential oils exist? Did you know that the gorgeous smelling essences we so prize in perfumes are actually a way plants communicate with each other (and defend themselves from insect attacks?) This fascinating report reveals all…

‘Plants have nowhere to run from their enemies – flying, crawling and jumping insects want to eat them alive. But plants are not defenceless. They deploy chemical toxins to deter insects. These can make the plant taste bitter, inhibit the herbivore’s digestive enzymes, disrupt their metabolism or poison them.

But they have a more subtle defence too – perfumed chemical compounds, known as volatiles, that they emit into the air to warn neighbours of danger or convey when they’re hurt. An example is the smell of cut grass, a mix of molecules called ‘green leaf volatiles’ which are released when a plant is damaged.

‘Plants are nature’s chemists. They take a few simple inorganic molecules and produce thousands of different organic molecules by just adding (energy from) sunlight,’ said Professor Matthias Erb, a plant scientist at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He investigates the volatiles that plants emit when attacked by insects for a project called PERVOL.

‘Some of these volatiles attract natural enemies of the herbivore, so, friends of the plant,’ said Prof. Erb. For example, if a caterpillar attacks a plant, these volatiles may attract parasitoid wasps or trigger defence responses in neighbouring plants. He says plants don’t help one another by signaling ‘I’m under attack’. Rather, they snoop on one another’s chemical signals to warn themselves about imminent threats.

Insects

Decoding these signals could teach us how to better protect crops against insects, according to Prof. Erb.

Insects are responsible for destroying one-fifth of the world’s total crop production each year. This is predicted to rise further for grain crops with climate change, hitting the temperate zones hardest.

‘These (plant-derived) molecules can be useful for agriculture in that they are natural protective mechanisms of plants. We could use them instead of synthetic chemicals,’ he said.

Prof. Erb works with maize, a strong emitter of volatiles. One chemical it emits is indole, which has a pleasant flowery aroma in small concentrations. Indole is not released by cutting maize. It requires the presence of a molecule in moth caterpillar saliva that activates defence responses in the plant. ‘(Healthy) maize plants do not emit indole. It is only triggered by herbivory,’ he said.

Prof. Erb and his colleagues found that when indole wafts towards the part of the plant that is not under attack, it triggers what he calls a primed state. ‘(Indole) doesn’t induce a defence response, but it prepares the plant, so that when the plant is attacked by a herbivore, it will respond quicker and stronger,’ he said.

Doing this means it can fend off its attacker more effectively, he says.

 

Why do essential oils exist?

One limitation of indole, however, is that it is also released by some flowers, such as jasmine and orange blossom. To prevent confusion, as a single volatile might be misleading, maize plants often tune into chemical mixtures to deduce attacks.

‘We have shown that indole and green leaf volatiles act synergistically to induce defences in an even stronger fashion than an individual volatile,’ said Prof. Erb.

‘Plants are nature’s chemists. They take a few simple inorganic molecules and produce thousands of different organic molecules by just adding sunlight.’

Professor Matthias Erb, University of Bern, Switzerland

 

To paint a fuller picture of plant behaviour, scientists are also exploring the impact of insect saliva on green leaf volatiles.

This is something that Dr Silke Allmann at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands has investigated in her work looking at how the green leaf volatiles of hurt plants is perceived by both plants and insects.

She experimented on tobacco plants by mechanically cutting them and applying water or the saliva of a tobacco hornworm caterpillar. The results surprised her: overall, the amount of green leaf volatiles did not change much, but the composition of the volatiles shifted dramatically. An enzyme in the caterpillar’s spit changed the compound, causing it to shift from a grassy to a sweet smell.

 

Why do essential oils exist?

 

She then discovered that a shift to the sweet-smelling compound attracted big-eyed bugs, which are natural enemies of the hornworm caterpillar, to the tobacco plant. This seemed puzzling to Dr Allmann, as the caterpillar’s own enzyme helped alert its presence to its enemies.

However, the sweet smell also warned adult tobacco hawk moths that a tobacco plant had already been colonised by caterpillars and steered them towards those with fewer competitors and fewer predators.

Dr Allmann is now studying this compound further as part of a project called VOLARE, and exploring practical uses.

‘A big challenge with plant volatiles is finding applications in agriculture. That is the holy grail,’ said Dr Allmann.

These chemicals can help farmers in a greener way, say the scientists.

‘You could imagine applying plant volatiles at the right moment to trigger specific reactions in a plant, for instance, resistance to herbivory,’ said Prof. ‘That would be a far more environmentally friendly strategy of boosting plant immunity or resistance to stress than applying a bioactive chemical to kill insects.’

Such natural chemicals could be released into fields under threat from pests to activate plant defences at the right moment. Insights into how plants detect warning smells could also allow breeders to develop crop varieties that are responsive to the signals.

Nose

What remains puzzling for scientists is how plants sniff out volatiles in the first place. They don’t have noses like us but can smell.

‘Our hypothesis is that volatiles enter through the stomata, small pores in leaves. We expect that there are sensors inside the leaf, perhaps proteins on the surface of cells, that the volatiles bind to,’ said Prof. Erb.

Dr Allmann is also hunting for these sensors. ‘If we found these receptors, we could find ligands (a type of molecule) that bind to them and switch them on. We could perhaps breed plants to be more or less sensitive to volatiles,’ she said. Plants could be bred that are easily triggered and could serve as sentinels to warn other plants nearby.’

The research in this article has been funded by the EU’s European Research Council. This post Plants can detect insect attacks by ‘sniffing’ each other’s aromas was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

How to find a new fragrance – tips & tricks to try before you buy

We’ve learned all manner of tips and tricks at The Perfume Society, which we’re thrilled to share with you, here. We’ve been privileged to meet some of the world’s best perfumers and foremost fragrance experts over the last seven years we’ve been going, and want to share their advice with you, below.

If you want a fabulous new fragrance to try, need tips on how to smell it as a perfumer does or how to describe what you’re smelling, consider some of these most useful fragrant facts to help you enjoy your fragrances even more…

Your taste in fragrance changes over the years – just as in food preference – and depends on weather, what you’ve eaten recently, your mood and hormones. So, take your time to explore a new scent out of your comfort range.

Spray on a blotter first and come back to it at hourly intervals. Write down your initial thoughts, then re-try a few days (and weeks) later.

Many perfumers trained for more years than a heart surgeon, memorising ingredients by connecting their smell to personal scent memories and images that immediately spring to mind, unbidden.

Smell has no distinct language. If you’re struggling to describe a scent, try likening it to fabric (is it velvety, suede-like, cotton fresh, silken or fluffy?) Perhaps it reminds you of music (played on which instruments? Fast or slow?) Or you might picture a place – imagine the air temperature and scenery it evokes…

Your nose gets used to smelling the same things, so avoid wearing the same thing daily. Try layering to re-awaken your senses or branch out with exciting new discoveries!

Like all artists, perfumers tend to have a certain style. If you fall in love with one (we’re predicting several) of these, research them online: we bet you’ll fall for others.

Scent molecules are volatile and evaporate at differing rates. Citruses are lightest, often found in top notes and disappearing rapidly; florals tend to be in the heart while base notes are heavier, woody or resinous. Make these stages last FAR longer by using matching or unscented body lotion, spray into your hair or on clothes (after testing on tissue!)

Undecided? Spray on a scarf rather than skin: you can take it off and sniff again, later! Spraying on fabric (or your hair) also helps make it last far longer as the molecules don’t warm up so quickly (or evaporate) as on skin. As does…

Use an unscented (or matching) body lotion or oil. Fragrance doesn’t last long on dry skin (or in hot climates). It clings far longer to moisturised skin – so slather up, then spray.

Don’t know what to try next? Use our simple Find a Fragrance tool: just type the name of a fragrance you already know and love, and the so-clever algorithm suggests six new scents with similar characters to try.

Fragrance samples are THE best way to try new things, dive nose-first into a whole new house you’ve never tried or perhaps a differing perfume family than you’d normally go for.

We know that a full bottle can be a big investment and not everyone happens to live near a shop with a great selection. That’s why we put together carefully curated Discovery Boxes. Our Launches We Love Discovery Box is a stunning selection of new names, with gorgeous mini bottles and generous samples from niche and luxury houses we know you’re going to love as much as we do…

By Suzy Nightingale

Why are smell memories so strong? New research reveals startling results

We all know how transporting smell memories can be – the whiff of someone’s perfume as they pass by immediately propelling you to another time, place or person you associate it with. It has long been known our sense of smell is the strongest link to unlocking these memories, but new research has only just revealed why

An international team of scientists, led by Christina Zelano from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, used neuroimaging and intercranial electrophysiology to discover why certain areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, are more strongly linked with smell than any other sense. According to a report on the science news website New Atlas:

‘This new research is the first to rigorously compare functional pathways connecting different human sensory systems with the hippocampus. The striking findings reveal our olfactory pathways connect more strongly with the hippocampus than any other sense.’

‘During evolution,’ Zelano explains, ‘humans experienced a profound expansion of the neocortex that re-organised access to memory networks.’ Basically put, all other senses got re-routed as sections of our brains expanded, but smell remained intrinsically (and directly) connected to the hippocampus. Or as Zelano more scientifically puts it: ‘Vision, hearing and touch all re-routed in the brain as the neocortex expanded, connecting with the hippocampus through an intermediary-association cortex-rather than directly. Our data suggests olfaction did not undergo this re-routing, and instead retained direct access to the hippocampus.’

While this is, of course, fascinating; perhaps the more practical outcome of this, and other continuing research, is a reaffirmation of how important our sense of smell is to our wellbeing, and impacts on our every day lives even more than was previously assumed. Indeed, the discoveries of links between our sense of smell and depression (and how scent might be used in the future to treat it), has been significantly highlighted because of Covid-19 cases often suffering with anosmia (a lack of smell) and parosmia (a distorted sense of smell).

 

 

You can read more about anosmia and parosmia on our website by searching for those terms, and also in Louise Woollam’s piece about how devastating it was to lose her sense of smell as a fragrance blogger. It’s a subject Louise wrote about so movingly, again, more recently for our magazine, The Scented Letter: Perfume’s Bright Future edition. VIP Subscribers receive this magazine FREE, but you can also buy print copies, here, or purchase an International Online Subscription at only £20 for a full year of fragrant reading.

By Suzy Nightingale

Wake up and smell the coral – and climate change?

Caitlin Lawson, a marine biologist at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, thinks we have a lot to learn about climate change from the smells that coral produce

Having witnessed the annual spawning of coral larvae, which takes place every November on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and describing the spectacle as being ‘like an underwater snowstorm,’ – Lawson set about her task of collecting samples of the gaseous (and rather pongy) scent chemicals they release during this orgy of olfaction. Hakai Magazine reported on her research, explaining that ‘Using advanced analytical chemistry techniques, Lawson and her colleagues are working to identify the spectrum of volatile chemicals the corals produce under different conditions. They hope that measuring these gaseous compounds can give them a way to assess the corals’ health.’

Because when you think about it: why do things smell? Why are we so receptive to these scents, and what might we learn by unravelling this secret, sniffable language?

‘All living things release volatile chemicals,’ explains the report, ‘and many species have adopted specific volatiles as communicative signals. Scientists have long studied their function in terrestrial organisms. A plant’s volatile emissions might indicate to nearby flora that an insect predator has alit, for example, or they might be used to attract another species that feeds on that predator. Detecting these chemicals also has medical uses—think of dogs sniffing out cancer or perhaps even COVID-19.’

 

 

But it’s far harder to capture and analyse smells transmitted under water (think baked beans on toast for tea followed by a nice warm bath…) and so Lawson says she and her team ‘are playing catch-up to the terrestrial world,’ when it comes to unravelling the signals living creatures such as the so-endangered coral reefs are trying to tell us.

‘In a recent study’, the report continues, ‘the scientists described how they detected 87 volatile chemicals being dispersed by two species of coral, Acropora intermedia and Pocillopora damicornis.’ A great number of these volatile smells have already been flagged as important to climate regulation, and Lawson believes ‘this is a potentially huge source that, so far, we have overlooked’ when it comes to mapping (and predicting) what’s happening to our climate.

We already know that odours impact people’s social interactions, and sense of inclusion or exclusion from others; and plants signal attack or distress to one another through smell – that’s basically what essential oils are: invisible scent messages whizzing through the air to warn others of their species or deter insects. So, might coral (and other living creatures) send scented signals not only to ring the alarm bell (or perhaps even help warn surrounding creatures of impending danger), but bang the gong for getting it on? Says Lawson: ‘This is still very much in the baby stage of research. There’s so much to explore…’

By Suzy Nightingale

Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression…?

Can you bottle the smell of happiness to treat depression? Scientists are currently reseraching if ‘a spray of happiness’ could be one way to help, according to an article by Alex Whiting in Horizon magazine...

Our bodies produce different scents when we feel happy or afraid. These so-called chemosignals – which are in fact odourless – are believed to trigger happiness or fear in others. It is one of the ways smell impacts people’s social interactions.

‘It’s like an emotional contagion. If I feel fear, my body odour will be smelt by people around me and they may start to feel fear themselves, unconsciously,’ said Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a professor at the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa, Italy.

Similarly, the smell of happiness can inspire a positive state in other people, says Prof. Scilingo.

‘If we had a spray of happiness … If we can find some odour which can induce a happy state – or a general positive state – I think we can help many, many people,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

He hopes scientists can produce one within a few years. This could be particularly important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases of depression rising especially among young people.

‘I don’t want to say having this spray will (cure) people, but I think it’s a very beautiful contribution,’ Prof. Scilingo said.

Sweat

He is coordinating a project called POTION which is researching these chemosignals. The researchers use videos to induce fear or happiness in people, and then collect their sweat to analyse which chemical compounds are released with each emotion.

‘The next step is to synthesise the odours and … investigate how they induce emotions in others,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

Eventually, fear odours and people’s responses to them could be used to help psychiatrists understand more about different aspects of phobias and depression. And happiness odours could be used to help in treatment.

‘If we can use the odour of happiness in addition to the usual treatment for phobias or depression, we (could) increase the efficacy of the therapy,’ said Prof. Scilingo.

The POTION researchers are also investigating how odours impact people’s social interactions, and sense of inclusion or exclusion from others.

Previous research has found that a person’s emotional state can influence how they respond to other people – and how others respond to them, Prof. Scilingo says. Someone feeling fear is less likely to approach or trust people, and others are likely to be wary of them. And the reverse is true for happiness – the happier someone is, the more likely they are both to trust others and to attract them, says Prof. Scilingo.

Mammals

In mammals, the sense of smell is uniquely linked to the part of the brain associated with emotions and the creation of memories, says Dr Lisa Roux, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience in France.

Smell is important for recognition between people. A mother can recognise the smell of her child, for example, and this may be an important part of bonding, she said.

‘We humans use our sense of smell more than we think. It’s more unconscious, and a little bit taboo – we are not very comfortable with it – but there is more and more evidence that smell is important in social behaviours,’ said Dr Roux.

The first region of the brain that processes chemosignals – the olfactory bulb – is directly connected to the limbic system, which controls the ability to identify another individual, the formation of memories, and manages emotional responses.

All other senses – taste, hearing, sight and touch – are processed by other regions of the brain before being linked to the limbic system.

This may be because smell has been the most important sense for the survival of species. ‘Chemical signalling is very important, even for bacteria. It’s a very ancient modality, it’s really key,’ Dr Roux said.

‘We humans use our sense of smell more than we think. It’s more unconscious, and a little bit taboo – we are not very comfortable with it – but there is more and more evidence that smell is important in social behaviours.’ – Dr Lisa Roux, Interdisciplinary Institute for Neuroscience, France

Pleasure and pain

The sense of smell is linked to pleasure and depression, possibly because of its unique link to the limbic system.

Up to a third of people with a defective sense of smell experience symptoms of depression, according to a research paper published in 2014.

This may be partly because of their loss of sense of taste, and concerns about personal hygiene and social interactions. But it is also likely that olfactory loss affects the brain’s functioning and in particular its emotional control, authors of the paper said.

‘This might be because the olfactory system is directly linked to the limbic regions – which include the amygdala that is very important for controlling emotions,’ said Dr Roux.

Mice

Dr Roux is principal investigator of sociOlfa, a project looking at how a mouse brain processes chemosignals when it encounters a new individual, and then uses them to create memories.

‘Mice interact a lot by smelling the different body parts of other mice, and the nature of the smell will carry rich information (such as) the social status of the other individual,’ said Dr Roux.

Animals use scent to mark – and detect – territory. In experimental conditions, if two mice fight, the one that wins will mark an area with its scent using urine. The subordinate one will also release a scent but only in one spot.

‘A dominant mouse will have specific molecules to indicate they are dominant ones. And a sick animal will have signs of sickness within this odour mixture,’ she said.

Female mice use scent to select a mate – usually preferring an unfamiliar male possibly because it promotes genetic diversity, says Dr Roux.

‘For me it’s a (form of) language. It’s a way to communicate important information within a social group, important to maintain the hierarchy within the group, and it’s very important for reproduction,’ said Dr Roux.

Studying how mouse brains process chemosignals will help researchers understand general principles of how their brains form social memories, says Dr Roux.

And the results may be relevant in people too. Understanding how the mouse brain processes chemosignals during social interactions and when forming memories of an individual could help scientists identify what happens when these functions go wrong – for example, in mouse models of autism.

Eventually this could also help scientists understand what happens in people whose ability to recognise others is impaired – for example those with Alzheimer’s – or those who have difficulties with social interactions caused by autism.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.’

This post Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression was originally published on Horizon: the EU Research & Innovation magazine | European Commission.

Taste & Flavour – FREE cookbook for Covid sufferers who’ve lost their sense of smell

Up to 80% of what we taste is actually relayed through smell, and a FREE cookbook, Taste & Flavour, has been written to help those who’ve lost their sense of smell following Covid…

When it first came to light that many of those people who’d had or were still suffering with Covid-19 were experiencing loss of taste and smell, Life Kitchen said, ‘our first thought was – what can we do to help?’ Having undertaken extensive research, and garnered the help of experts such as Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, the anosmia (smell loss) charity Abscent, and Altered Eating; it was ‘discovered that Covid-related taste and smell loss has some distinctive features.’ These included people who ‘found they didn’t want to eat certain, quite common ingredients, including onions, garlic, meat and eggs,’ while additionally (and upsettingly), ‘certain foodstuffs seemed to trigger parosmia (changes to or distortion of the sense of smell), anosmia (loss of smell) and phantosmia (smelling something that isn’t there).’

The loss of smell (and therefore taste) has been devastating to those already suffering other symptoms and feeling isolated, and we’ve written several articles on anosmia and parosmia previously, including an explanation of the help Abscent can offer – with anosmic Louise Woolham writing a feature in our just-published edition of The Scented Letter magazine. The idea behind the book, the authors say, is to be ‘a collection of recipes, ideas and expertise to help you on your journey towards enjoying food again.’

 

 

As Life Kitchen comment, and we know from the reports of many post-Covid patients: ‘Any of these olfactory conditions can have a profound knock-on effect for physical and mental health.’ So, what to do for immediate and – most importantly – practical help if you’ve lost your sense of smell and can’t taste the food you once enjoyed…?

Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke worked with the smell and taste experts, to produce this recipe and self-help book. And – SO generously – they’ve not only produced printed copies you can purchase on the website for only £3.00 to cover postage costs, but have made a digital copy FREE to download, so they can help even if you can’t afford the book right now, and no matter where you are in the world.

‘Using our five principles of taste and flavour – umami, smell, stimulating the trigeminal nerve (responsible for sensation in the face), texture, and layering flavour’ they explain, ‘we’ve taught over 1,000 people with cancer to enjoy food again. We wanted to apply these principles to create recipes for those people who have lost their senses of taste and smell as a result of Covid.

 

Taste & Flavour: A cookbook to inspire those experiencing changes in taste and smell as a result of Covid by Ryan Riley & Kimberley Duke

Dowload the FREE digital edition, here.

Print copies available at: lifekitchen.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale

Scent themed podcasts we’re listening to for spring

Scent themed podcasts seem to be bursting forth like so many buds blossoming, and we’re here for it! When we began recommending perfumed podcasts to listen to a couple of years ago, there really were only a handful around. Now? A whole bunch we’re adding to our ‘subscribe’ list for spring.

Exploring our sense of smell, reviews of new launches and retrospectives with perfumers and fragrance house founders alike, here’s some more direct links to listen, grab a cuppa and some precious ‘me time’ with…

 

An Aromatic Life: Interview with Christophe Laudamiel
Exploring our sense of smell from angles including science, art, literature, movies and health, host Frauke Galia seeks to ‘…shed light on this beautiful sense and increase its profile in a culture dominated by sight and sound.’ With fascinating guests providing insight into wine smelling, aromatherapy and even ‘why we have two nostrils, not just one’, Frauke recently interviewed brilliant perfumer Christophe Laudamiel for the second part of ‘The Art of Perfumery’ (and we highly recommend listening to the first, too).

 

The Sniff: Interview with Kingdom Scotland
Fragrance blogger Nicola Thomis loves taking a deep dive in to all things fragrance and scent related, and in this episode she gets to know Imogen Russon Taylor, founder of the unique Scottish fragrance house of Kingdom Scotland. During their conversation, the two discuss the latest release ‘as well as delving into the influence that Scotland has on their perfumes’ and the intriguing role the Royal Botanic Society of Edinburgh archives have played in inspiring the brand and their scents.

 

Heston’s Journey to the Centre of Food: ‘Heston Smells’
This podcast series invites listeners to hop on board for an exciting trip ‘with the world’s most creative chef, as he explores the amazing hidden secrets within our simplest ingredients,.’ It’s well known that Heston is obsessed with smell and has worked with perfumers and scientists previously to incorporate that sense into his epic food concepts. Here he’s interviewing author Harold McGee on the launch of his new book, Nose Dive (which we recently reviewed, here). A jaw-dropping tome (and it’s a big ‘un!), it reveals the chemical components that make up familiar (and bizarre) smells that surround us.

 

 

The Smell Podcast: Interview with psychologist Dr. Kathrin Ohla
Katie Boateng is an ‘acquired anosmic’ who became anosmic ‘after suffering a post-viral infection that lasted for weeks in late 2008/early 2009.’ She explains that ‘The goal of the podcast is to spread awareness and to make sure that you know, you are not alone in your anosmia journey!’ With Covid-19 having caused a new awareness on the psychological implications of a loss of smell, there’s no better time to tune in. This latest episode being a conversatioj with psychologist, Dr. Kathrin Ohla, and an explanation of how to use ‘GCCR’s Smell & Taste Check.’

 

Every Little Thing: Skewed Smells – A Weird COVID Mystery
Another smell-related podcast in this series (and proof the pandemic is getting everyone talking about our least explored sense), this time with a caller’s personal story. ‘Leña had COVID-19 last October and temporarily lost her sense of smell. As it started to come back, she noticed something strange — fruity things smelled like burnt hair and condoms. Where are Leña’s mystery smells coming from? Rhinologist Simon Gane fills us in on COVID-related smell loss.’

 

Perfume Philosophers: Spring Forward with Floral Street
Fragrantly obsessed friends co-host a podcast ‘about all things that smell good.’ From scented candles they love to explorations of new (to them) fragrance houses and even explaining their love for the smell of marshmallows, this episode is all about their personal first impressions of the Floral Street perfumes. A British house that has recently gone stellar in the United States (thanks to being stocked at Sephora), we’re glad to see the scents from this indie house are getting worn around the world.

 

Pinot & Perfume: Kilian Vodka On the Rocks
‘Do you love perfume?’, host Sarah Chacon asks. ‘How about wine (or any alcohol bevvie)?’ (okay, you have our full attention). ‘If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE.’ Hurrah for that. Each week ‘everything relating to perfume: reviews, news headlines, trends in the industry, and even some educational tidbits (what exactly IS musk, anyway?)’ are discussed – ‘all while sipping on a little sumpin’ sumpin’.’ This time, it’s the refreshing beverage-inspired fragrance of Kilian Vodka On the Rocks that’s tickling her fancy.

 

Mary Portas: On Style: Lizzie Ostrum interview
Talking about ‘the power of style’, guru Portas waxes lyrical with the help of several guests on how to celebrate yourself (and ‘travel through space and time’) through the medium of exploring your personal style. On this episode, one iof the guests is our good friend, fragrance expert and author, Lizzie Ostrom (aka ‘Odette Toilette’) to discuss invisible style, and how ‘Scent is intrinsically linked to memory, and we examine the way it has brought us closer to the people and places we’ve missed in lockdown.’ They also look at ‘how the perfume market fared during the past 12 months, and get some tips from Lizzie on choosing a signature scent online.’

 

Outspoken Beauty: On the Scent Epidose 2
Senior Writer, Suzy Nightingale is once again ‘On the Scent’ with experienced beauty broadcaster and co-host, Nicola Bonn. ‘Suzy is a fragrance expert who describes scent like no one I’ve ever met,’ Nicola says [thank you!] and during the episode they chat about ‘some of the most exciting and incredible fragrances on the market and Suzy also does a fragrance prescription service, answering all of the fragrance dilemmas that you’ve been sending…’

Fancy some more fragrant listening? Simply type ‘podcasts’ in the search bar and even more hours of scented musing will be yours to while away the hours with!

 

Fragrances to uplift (one year on from the first #lockdown)

Oh sweet heavens, how we need something to help uplift our spirits and keep us keeping on. If you’ve just about reached the end of your rope, we’ve some fragrant ways to tie a knot in it and help you hang on

Incredibly, we’re heading for the one year anniversary of the first offical #lockdown in the U.K, and while in some ways it has seemed like wading through treacle, in others barely a day seems to have passed.

We mark the days not in encounters and newness, but with calendars full of red slashes: the things we didn’t do, the people we’ve not seen (perhaps for all of that time), the trips we’ve cancelled and how few hugs we’ve had from loved ones, if any hugs were had at at all. But with the advent of vaccines and a better understanding of how we’re going to live with this virus, we are SO nearly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s not just whimsy and conjecture that fragrance can help in troubled times – your sense of smell is directly linked to emotions and memory, so wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed pick-up for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And there’s research to back up those beliefs.

When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate the Limbic system – some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain – in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.

 

Scientists have conducted studies on single aromas, like lavender, rosemary and vanillin, but not yet on more complex blends. For example, lemon (and other citrus notes) are often regarded as the most instantly upifting smells – they make us feel energised, somehow, and can smell like distilled sunshine in a bottle – but as with all smells, this does depend on the quality of the ingredient and personal preference.

Interestingly, lemon is among the notes in a ’10 smell test’ given to those who may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – along with ‘strawberry, smoke, soap, menthol, clove, pineapple, natural gas, lilac and leather.’ So, although a study published by Frontiers in Psychology found that tests with citrus and feelings of positivity ‘yielded inconsistent results’, they also discovered that ‘Indeed, depressive individuals seem to display a specific preference for citrus fragrances…’

It sounds simple, but it all comes down to finding out which fragrances make you feel happy. An easy way to find six new scents you might like is to use our Find a Fragrance tool – just type the name of a scent you love and the algorithym searches for fragrances with similar emotional characters.

Whatever your preference, we have no doubt there are perfumes out there to help you feel brighter, more alert and ready to face the day…

 

Shay & Blue Mermaid Kisses
The perfect pocket-sized pick me up, this is all swaying palm trees and wiggling your toes in warm sand as you drink that first holiday cockyail. If citrus doesn’t do it for you, try crispness and zing via apple and salty samphire sea lily atop luscious honeydew melon. You can practically feel the warmth on your skin and breathe a sigh of satisfaction from the very first spray. We recommend applying the second that clock hits 5pm, for a hit of hopefulness!
£12.50 for 10ml eau de toilette
shayandblue.com

(PS: Try a 2ml sample of Mermaid Kisses in the Scented Retreat Discovery Box)

 

Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1
Sparkling fresh, this citrus scent with a rich floral heart is ‘perfect for spritzing any time your spirits need a boost,’ as they put it. It’s that sudden snapshot of summer memories, memories of laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that these better days will come again.
£54 for 50ml eau de parfum
uk.lizearle.com

 

Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot
Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. Wrapping cedar with flirty floral tendrils, the musky trail of sunshine-infused happiness surrounds you like a much-needed hug, which lasts even longer in this formulation. Plus, layer up the sunshine and try the scent in the matching bath & shower gel, also included in The Scented Retreat Discovery Box!
£120 for 50ml eau de parfum
moltonbrown.co.uk

 

Clarins Eau Dynamisante
A revolutionary fragrance and body treatment that was first launched in 1987, the invigorating aroma was unisex way before the word became trendy, and offers uplifting essences along with the promise of moisturising, firming and toning. Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment. Book the appointment and splash this on at will as you countdown…
£52 for 200ml eau de Cologne
clarins.co.uk

 

La Montaña First Light Reed Diffuser
It isn’t only fragrances we wear that can lift our mood – scenting your home with something to give you a boost of happiness is another brilliant way to use scent in everyday life. We adore the freshly squeezed sparkle of citrus in this – delivered via candle or reed diffuser – along with a fresh, herbaceous breeze that altogether evokes the tendrils of sunshine, that kiss of dawn that wake you from a dream. Try the entire La Montaña home collection in mini room mists to find your most uplifting home scent within The Scented Retreat Discovery Box.
£35 for 120ml reed diffuser
lamontana.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale

Nose Dive by Harold McGee – a joyous celebration of our most under-appreciated sense

There are some books that really transcend the boundaries – appealing not only to those already immersed in the subject, but to the wider public – and Nose Dive by Harold McGee is most definitely one of the best we’ve read. So wonderfully connecting the dots between the worlds of smell and taste, it’s no wonder the Sunday Times named it their 2020 Food Book of the Year, calling it ‘A joyously nerdy study of how and what we smell, the effect on our appetites and much more.’

Having worked with some of world’s most innovative chefs, including Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal; McGee has dedicated over a decade of his life to our most overlooked sense, and here gives us not only the facts about the chemistry of food, cooking and smells; but widens this (and encourages us to widen our nostrils) by explaining the science of everyday life and the various whiffs we may encounter along the way.

Think of this as a manual to re-connect you to your nose, heightening your enjoyment and understanding of food but, much more than that – enriching every single part of your life. Along the way, McGee introduces us to the aroma chemicals that surround us, which make up our entire world and colour the way we experience it. It’s a joyous book that should be read by cooks, perfumers, fragrance-addicts and absolutely anyone who has been struck by a smell, wondered what it was and wanted to know more.

Something we especially loved was how clearly this information is laid out – so it can be easily referred to. Each smell mentioned is laid out in a chart of its name/species, the component smells to identify it with, and the molecules that create those smells. Gleefully, some have a column respresenting ‘Also found in’, so we learn, for example, that Some Smells of Cat Urine are like blackcurrant, which is caused by methylbutyl sulfanyl formate, and can also be found in beer and coffee. More fragrantly, many flower varieties are described, along with plant pongs, animals, humans, food (raw, cooked or cured) and the scent of space itself.

Managing to be both scholarly yet immediately accessible, it’s his passion for that subject that really sporings off the page and makes you want to run out into the street and start smelling things with a new appreciation for what you might find. Whether he has you bending to smell wet pavements and marvelling at ambergris, exploring the fruit-filled Himilayan mountain ranges, literally stopping to smell the roses or cautiously approaching a durian fruit… this is a celebration of something the majority of us take so foregranted – until we have it taken away from us. Witness the huge rise in smell-related news stories, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps now the media are focussing on our sense of smell at last, and realising how important it is to our enjoyment and understanding of every day life, there will be further books like this to enjoy a wider readership than they may have previously. And maybe that will lead to proper funding for the much-needed further research we still so desperately need. Now that’s something to celebrate!

If your intrest in pongs has been piqued, perhaps you’d like to perfuse the many other books about smell and the senses we have reviewed for our Fragrant Reads bookshelf…?

By Suzy Nightingale

International Women’s Day – celebrating female founders of fragrance houses

For International Women’s Day this year, we want to give a fragrant high-five to the strong women who’ve founded – and continue to successfully run – many of our favourite fragrance houses.

In previous years we’ve flagged up female perfumers we think you should know about, and we’ll be taking a look at fragrance houses run by mothers and daughters in a forthcoming Mother’s Day post; but for now let’s celebrate and support just some of the incredible and entrepreneurial women who strode their own paths in the world of perfume

 

Amy Christiansen Si-AhmedSana Jardin
A former social worker whose c.v. includes time with the Bill Clinton Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation and the Cherie Blair Foundation; Amy set about ‘changing the world, one bottle of perfume at a time.’ Working with perfumer Carlos Benaïm, she sources ingredients via a women’s co-operative where, locally, they can now market orange flower water, candles made from flower wax, and compost made from the waste flowers.

 

Mona Maine de BiranKierin NYC
Following a successful international modelling career – which allowed Mona to traverse the globe and visit remote, exotic locations – returning to New York, Mona turned her experience into a successful  arts and lifestyle blog, before honing her passion for perfume and storytelling by launching her own. Wanting people to be ‘…inspired, not defined or confined, by fragrance’, the house celebrate ‘Diversity and inclusion… for young people of all ages, colors and nationalities.’

 

Mona KattanKayali
Huda Beauty have been wowing the world for over a decade, building an empire that went from a humble beauty blog to a blockbusting makeup and beauty business. Believing ‘scent is our most transformative part of our beauty routine, It has the power to completely change how we feel’, Mona and sister, Huda, are American-born to Iraqi immigrants, both now running their businesses from Dubai, embracing diversity and often opening up about the bullying they faced in childhood.

 

Annabella Fasano-Leslie & Holly HutchinsonContradictions In ILK
Creative Director Annabella is a free-spirited perfume-lover with a background in human psychology and eight years of advertising industry experience; while Holly was already known for her luxury niche line, Memoize London. Melding their skills and passions, Ilk embodies none of being summed-up by a single character trait, so why not play with perfume & layer people’s expectations of you?

 

Olivia da Costa  – Olfactive O
From Chelsea College of Art, Olivia went on to become fascinated by scent as a literary device in turn of the century novels, while then studying English Literature. The psychology of perfume led her to working her way up from shop assistant to buyer at John Lewis, and when a friend introduced her to a distinguished perfumer, the passion became reality in her personality led, story-telling scents.

 

Michelle FeeneyFloral Street
Following her time at the Estée Lauder Companies, then revolutionary tanning name St Tropez, the always enterprising Michelle Feeney unveiled a fragrance line ‘built on the streets of London’. With an ethos of sustainability, the vibrant fragrances celebrate florals in a so-modern way, and from a flagship Covent Garden boutique to huge success in Sephora, these bouquets are blooming.

 

Ruth Mastenbroek
Having discreetly created fragrances for many famous private clients, she made the famous Grapefruit candle for Jo Malone (which Jennifer Lopez loved so much, she bought 300 for her hotel room). The first perfumer to use advanced micro-encapsulation (in a scented bathrobe) she now has her own fabulous fragrances evoking treasured memories, perfectly balanced and captured forever.

 

Sarah McCartney4160 Tuesdays
Having written for LUSH for 14 years, Sarah studied essential oils, acquired a small kit of rare ingredients and made her first fragrance. She then wrote a novel about ‘a woman who makes perfume to remind people of a time when they felt happy’ and turned her hobby into a business. There are 4160 Tuesdays in the average lifetime, and Sarah squeezes the scented juice out of every single one.

 

Emmanuelle MoeglinExperimental Perfume Club
Completing her extensive training at the French perfumery school of ISIPCA, Emanuelle worked as a Scent Design Manager for various global fragrance brands, then become an independent perfumer based in London. Wanting to make the fragrance world more inclusive, she runs incredibly popular workshops which led to her own line of exceptionally exciting scents, including kits to make your own.

 

Nathalie VinciguerraAnima Vinci
From 2006 until 2015, Nathalie was Head of Fragrance Development for Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur – working with some of the world’s best perfumers on award-winning fragrances. This prepared her for the massive leap in founding her own fragrance house, with a very particular aim in mind: fragrances encouraging you to embrace life full force, just as she has, with optimism and joy.

 

Nancy Meiland
Apprenticed to one of the UK’s experts in custom perfumery, Nancy began her career creating bespoke fragrances, she took her dream and made it reality – all the while, dividing her time between town and country and raising a family. Now with her own artisanal line, she has the knack of conjuring emotional responses with lyrical fragrances that are contemplative yet so effortlessly sophisticated.

 

Rebecca HarrisonVines House Parfum
Having seen first-hand the amount of work that goes into the creation of a brand and already achieved a successful career in the beauty industry, Rebecca began her work in skincare, which ultimately led to fragrance, and planted the seeds of a new passion: to be a perfume creator. Living amidst vineyards gave her the creative spark to launch her own fragrance house, ‘with its roots in vines, both metaphorically and geographically.’

 

Rebecca RoseTo the Fairest
Inspired by storytelling and female strength, Rebecca first explored perfume via treasured vials from her grandmother. Later, still scent-obsessed, meeting fragrance expert Lizzie Ostrum encouraged her to launch her own company. Dedicated to giving back, Rebecca donates funds to charities, including a horticultural project working with vulnerable people; and during the pandemic, Head to Toe, who support people receiving mental health, community and social care.

Whichever of their perfumes you choose to explore, you will be amplifying and applauding the hard work and bravery of these female founders, every single time you spritz…

By Suzy Nightingale