December 27th, 2009
When you think about the pleasure you get from a garden, or being in a garden, one of the most important elements is undoubtedly scent. Scent is perhaps the most powerfully evocative of all sensory stimuli. The average person can distinguish around ten thousand different smells. For professional ‘noses’ the total is even higher. Our ability to taste depends about 85 per cent on our sense of smell, which is why wine experts judge a wine primarily by smelling it.
Scent offers a very pleasurable experience. That is why people throught history have paid large amounts of money for perfumes. A perfume can contain up to 100 different ingredients. A few of these ingredients come from animals, but the vast majority are plant-based. Essential oils extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, gum etc. The five main categories are: Floral: Lavender, lily of the valley, violet.
Green: basil, lemon balm, pine, rosemary
Citrus: Orange, mandarin, lemon
Woody: Cedar, birch
Spicy: Carnations and pinks, bay, fennel seeds
While you are not setting out to be a master perfumier, it is worth bearing these groups in mind when you are choosing scented plants for your own garden.
The pleasure that scent gives also does you good! Research in the relatively new science of psychoneuroimmunology is showing that if we feel good, if our sense of well-being is enhanced, then our immune system is stronger and we are better able to fight off illness. Scent also works on a physiological, molecular level, with the scent molecules passing into the bloodstream either via the lungs or through the skin and being carried all around the body. This fact was discovered over two thousand years ago by the Greek botanist Theophrastus, when he found that a scent applied to the skin as a plaster or poultice could be detected some time later in the patient’s breath. While scent is at its most powerful in essential oils extracted from plants, the fragrance you smell from plants growing in the garden, though less concentrated works in the same way. That is why you feel so good after weeding in amongst the rosemary or in the herb garden.
Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy that is becoming increasingly recognized as having real merit. Mandy aromatherapists apply essential oils, which are distilled from plants, by means of massage – by itself a very useful therapy for relieving physical and mental stress, which is made even more beneficial by the oils. Others use the oils purely for inhalation, either by means of a burner, in bath water or applied to fabric – a pillow or handkerchief for example. While aromatherapy techniques rely mainly on the use of highly concentrated essential oils, growing scented plants in your garden offers at least some of the same benefits. Certainly, there is nothing like sitting in your garden on a warm evening breathing in all the scents and just relaxing.