Smell ~ Scent

Smelling is an Art not a Science – A Compilation of Sources

                                                            Jeanne Rose


Sandra Shuff of smelling oils 1.

            There is a fine art to the technique of smelling or perceiving odors.  One cannot just stick an open bottle under your nose and inhale deeply.  Should you do this with certain oils such as California Bay Laurel you would be sure to get a violent headache and may even pass out.  So, what is this technique?

            In Aromatherapy as in all such specialized fields you must learn basic techniques that are essential to know In order to perceive the odor, produce and reproduce quality blends and synergies.  The person blending oils should learn the correct approach from the beginning so that no bad habits will have to be undone.

Let us learn some of the basics.


            One of the most fascinating books that I have read on the sense of smell and smelling is Molecules by P.W. Atkins and published by Freeman in 1987 and available again in a new hardcover edition. Here are some of the tidbits I found most enjoyable.

            “Scents fit into the scent receptors the same way that a key fits into a lock.  And the flavor of food is a combined response to two of the chemical senses; taste and odor.  The sense of odor is more sensitive even in human beings that the sense of taste.  The sense of odor is the major contributor to the perception of flavor.

            A molecule has an odor is dependent on if it can excite and stimulate the olfactory nerve endings inside the nose.  In humans, these nerve endings occupy an area of yellow-brown colored epithelium that is about 5 sq. cm. (square centimeters or 1-inch X 1-inch).  It is in wafting a scent utilizing eddy currents that this area is able to perceive odor”.  When one sniffs and sniffs, it is the eddy currents, not direct blasts, that carry the molecules to this area.

P.W. Atkins: MOLECULES; Freeman; 1987. 2.

is the rule of the aromatherapy enthusiast.

            This means that you wave the scent under your nose inhaling short blasts of scented air (some call it huffs) rather than sticking a bottle under the nostril and inhaling deeply to get those eddy currents.

            Hidden “in the olfactory epithelium, among the mucus-exuding cells, are cells that are part of the system that innervates the face (trigeminal nerve).  It is suspected that pungent and putrid molecules penetrate them, interact with their proteins, and stimulate them to fire.  Thus, there are two types of olfaction: first smell, the ordinary type for specific odors, and second smell for nonspecific pungency and putridity”.

            The color of the  smell  area is important as well. At the upper end of the nostril there are olfactory areas that are yellow and moist, very moist, and they are also full of fatty particles. What we inherit from our parents and grandparents may be the shape of the face or hair color, but it also determines the color and strength of our olfactory areas. The deeper the yellow color the better is our sense of smell and how deeply sensitive it will be.  I am so happy that my familial line has good sense of smell in it. However, my mother couldn’t smell that well because she was a habitual smoker  — oh the bad habits I got away with in high school because mom couldn’t smell what I was doing.

            Animals have much better sense of smell than humans and their olfactory areas are a  rich deep yellow. Ours (humans) are light yellow. The fox is reddish brown, the cat’s an intense mustard brown.  These animals have a more pronounced ability to detect odors.


            The left nostril (left brain-logical) is for  smelling location, homing or the actual scent while the right nostril (right brain-creative) is important in detecting and evaluating the intensity of odor, and this hints at a broad olfactory asymmetry. Study and learn. There is left brain and right brain smell-ability. Left brain smells the scent and location (maybe via the use of EMG waves) while the right brain smells the intensity of the odor. The closer you get – the more intense the odor.

Smell left for the scent and then Smell right for intensity.
Study and Learn.


            Set up your workshop in a well-ventilated space.  This should be a separate area or room that is not contaminated with dust, artificial or chemical smells. No skin care or hair care products either even if  you have made them yourself with herbs and pure essential oils.

            You should have your basic tools available: quality reference books, bottles, measuring devices, scent strips, small and large containers, desk, Scent Organ (which houses samples of aromatic essential oils).  Here is a small part of mine showing about 500 different odors.

The Perfumery of Smelling In the Room of Delight 3.

Books ~ Books are important tools in learning. They are reference works that you can go back too repeatedly and refer to passages that you need to review.  Not everything is on the internet and the best reference books for natural perfumery and smelling are nowhere near the internet. I have two small collections of books left; the old ones and the newer ones. The old ones refer to what was available originally and the newer ones are trying to use what is available now for smelling and products.  They are not the same. In the last 15 years I have given my collections  of books on herbs and aromatics to the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati, Ohio.  There lies the most extensive collection of books about herbs and related subjects probably in the United States and there also reside the garden books, a variety of herbals and even some plant prints, over 1700, that I have personally donated. It is a worthy place to do your herbal and smelling research. 

Useful Reference Books 4.

            Smelling ~ Roudnitska says, “An olfactory test should be undertaken in odorless, tempered (quiet) air of natural humidity and in quiet surroundings.  Perfect concentration definitely requires solitude and quiet.  The substance to be tested is also hard to smell in excessively cold or dry air, or in a draft.”  In some places, such as the South where it is quite warm and most offices have air conditioning, try to set up your Smelling Place out of the direct draft of the air conditioner and set the thermostat on the lowest setting (warm rather than cold), turn down or turn off the fan.  Air conditioning takes the scent out of the room. You might also wish to exercise your Sense of Smell in the cool of the evening or the very early hours of the morning.  Air conditioning is not preferred but might be necessary in very hot climates.  There should be a direct supply of natural air, set up by an open window on a day with  a little breeze.

            Long-Term Adaptation to Odor ~ This phenomenon is apparent when the person blending (Blender) can proceed with a new blend, totally phasing out any background odor.  Marianne the owner at can make new blends and work with new materials throughout the day even though her office at Prima Fleur is in the middle of the room where all the essential oils are kept and where continuous bottling and sampling is going on.  So, once you become experienced, do not be overly worried regarding the background odor in your area.

            Samples ~ It is best to work with dilute samples.  This will help eliminate odor overload and fatigue.  Dilute everything for a blend or perfume 50•50 with neutral grape spirits and then let it age at least 10-days before you analyze the odor and use for a new scent. You can dilute with unscented perfumer’s alcohol and give yourself the time to allow the alcohol to totally evaporate its top note and integrate into the perfume samples. If this is not possible, inhaling freshly poured or new alcohol will temporarily deaden your sense of smell.  Confine your smelling to brief encounters of a very few inhalations.  And as Calkin and Jellinek say, “This should be conducted with the intense concentration of a karate fighter.”  Avoid the casual, thoughtless ‘smell everything all at once’ at the same time syndrome.

            Never sniff directly at a bottle.  Never sniff directly at crystalline materials.  Never sniff directly at powdered materials. Bring a new scent slowly to your nose to get that first smell and always waft the scent under the nose so that both nostrils can study the scent individually and then integrate them at the back of the nose.

            Scent Blotters  ~ Use scent blotters.  These are made of odor free and of heavy-duty paper, sometimes with a fold down the vertical middle of the blotter.  They are 4-6 inches long, often wider at the upper end, and narrower at the lower end.  Blotters can also be tapered, so they can be dipped into narrow mouthed bottles.  Only the narrower or lined end goes into the blend or the bottle.  Always write the name of the material on the back of the blotter and the date, and sometimes even the time of the scent experience. Scent blotters are available from most product houses that sell essential oils. Dip, shake the blotter, pause, bring to nose, waft and waft again, write down your reactions.

Scent Blotter 5.

            OH, TO SMELL ~ You need a scent kit for training. I produce three kits called the “Vocabulary of Odor©” for teaching scent with real words. Refresh your memory by going to your kit or box of named odors, always using the Basic 7© first and before you use the Advanced Vocabulary of Odor©  (Advanced 28). The Vertical 13 Vocabulary© is only used when you are trying to note the difference between like-named oils such as  Cedarwood (Cedrus spp.) and Cedar-wood (Juniperus virginiana or Pinus cembra). Use the Basic 7©  and quickly experience each of the odors in the correct order before practicing or smelling a new blend or single oil.

Basic 7 Vocabulary of Odor

The purpose of the Basic 7 Scents and the Advanced Vocabulary of Odor is to have a common language – A vocabulary that we can use to describe the aroma for anything that you smell. Language is important in recognizing smells. An important part of perfumery training is to develop in common an odor language based on olfactory standards. The possession of such an odor language increases the powers of discrimination. If you name it, you own it.

            If you do not dilute in alcohol, dip your scent blotter lightly into the bottle of essential oil about 1 cm deep, shake the scent blotter to remove any excess oil, waft it back and forth under your nose.       Never sniff directly from the bottle (headspace, fatty notes, rancid bottle caps). Always waft, don’t draft the scent.  Wafting allows the keys (of scent) to be fitted into the correct lock (sensory cell) while drafting the scent (inhaling deeply in one sniff) fills all the locks (sensory cells) instantly with an overabundance of keys (odors and their components) which will totally but temporarily deaden your ability to perceive odor.

            When we inhale through the nose and perceive odor, the nose very quickly adapts when the odor is unchanging.  “Active smelling is therefore a ‘race against time’, an attempt to collect the maximum amount of information and of impressions possible in the brief span of time before perception fades” 2

            To  smell well, you must concentrate, keep the surroundings quiet and peaceful.  Waft the blotter under your nose, close your eyes, waft and breathe, focus on the sensation of odor.  Ask yourself questions, using your Odor Vocabulary; what color is the oil?, is it clear?, what is the viscosity?, what is the intensity?, what is the tenacity in a blend?, what is the taste?; let the layers of odor help you in the sensory experience by also defining odor by color, sound or taste and write this down.3 Always write it down on a chart or in a notebook. Read this article and get yourself the Vocabulary of Odor.

            Keep written notes to which you have added the date and the time. It is a big mistake to think that you can remember tomorrow what you have inhaled today without those notes. Write it down. Review. Express yourself.  Describe the odor that you are smelling and note any mind pictures or events that are remembered.  Write these down.

            When practicing your art of smelling, take breaks.  Go outside, breathe deeply, get that blood circulating.  Clear your nose or rinse with saline solution.  Smell the air and you do not need to smell coffee or your armpits — fresh air is best.  These time periods will allow the nasal mucosa to recover.


Snot is often what shows up after a hard sneeze. It’s your constant companion if you have allergies and the common cold. It’s wet, sticky and — to most people — best left up the nose. But snot, or mucus, also contains many different kinds of proteins. Those proteins may play an important role in something else that happens in the nose: smelling. In a recent study, researchers from Japan’s University of Tokyo showed that proteins in mucus change the makeup of odors before those scents even make it to smell receptors. Smell receptors are also proteins. They stick out from the cells that send signals about a smell to the brain, which identifies the odor. That means that sticky, wet, gross mucus might have a more glamorous role: It may be important for smelling smells.4

Jeanne Rose Perfumery room showing about 85 of the 5000 odors just waiting to be explored. 6.

MEMORIZE YOUR HOUSE.  Then, always pretend you are visiting…. Smell the air, inhale the odor of your life, smell the sheets, smell the books, smell the kitchen] …Never expect your spoons to be in a certain drawer, wonder at the existence of the bathtub with its lion feet. Surprise yourself with the odor of your life. Touch the wood, smell the iron and the glass, and whisper your thanks.  Never breathe a sigh of relief.  This is just the beginning.  This is your house. ___after Clair Siegel•

Box of 1000 Odors – contains resins from 1968 – 7.


Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) added to warm baths improvs sleep and was sedative for both healthy people and those with nervous of sleep disorders
Citrus odors – smell like citrus and other people will think you are 5 years younger than you are
Floral odors – help you to relax in the dentist chair
Jasmine – smell like jasmine and you will smell oily
Lavender – smell like Lavender and men over 50 will be attracted
Men – the smell of young men has a noticeably “depressive effect”,
Older People – smell of older people generally improved mood
Old Woman – the smell of older woman armpit with no perfume is trusted over any other and is uplifting.
Patchouli – smell like Patchouli and people will associate you with hippie or being dirty
Peppermint – relaxes the gut
Rose – smell like Rose and people will think you smell old
Scent of Kindness – fragrances of coffee and baking cookies makes shoppers more than twice as likely to help a stranger
Vanilla – smell like Vanilla and men under 50 will be attracted


A Page from the Badianus MMS – The Aztec Herbal of 1552 – 8.

‘Ladies Auxiliary Distillery’
By Jeanne Rose
“Distilling Responsibly” Introductory paragraph.

Talk given at the event in Spokane, WA in July 2018. “My job today, in 30 minutes is to talk about you and your connection with the earth, from earth to plant to still to hand. To tell you that the future is yours to change or to keep. That we need to be more active in what we choose to use, how we use it and why we use it. We are in a war with the people who deny science, who do not believe that careful study of the environment of plants and of animals warrants anything but derision. Please don’t play at your life. Enjoy it for sure but be conscious of everything that you do.”

Essential oils are not  sustainable in the amounts that we use them. They are not a cure for anything, ingesting is not wise, they should be appreciated in small amounts, application in tiny amounts, and inhalation to enjoy, not necessarily to slather all over yourself in all your products.

           There is an irresponsible exploitation of our world that has been severely disturbing our ecosystem. Your responsibility is to educate your clients and yourself as to the sustainability of sourcing properly, collecting responsibly and not exploiting, distilling thoughtfully, and thinking of plant use, water use, and how to conserve all parts of the products of distillation; and using what you make, making only what you need, recycling any leftovers. It is up to you to think of the future and of your children’s future and teach your students to think of the entire forest not just the tree.  

            Terroir, take notes, keep notes, read books – good books. There is a responsibility in sustainability and of sourcing properly. I have said often

“Grow what you know,
Know what you grow

And Distill only what you know.”

—Jeanne Rose ~ A Jeanne Rose quote from 2010



            It was 1996, I was discussing with friends the ways that smell can affect us (see paragraph above, “SMELL – WHAT IT DOES FOR YOU”). We were sitting at the beautiful bar that once existed in the Financial District and just south of Broadway St., San Francisco, CA. called The Cypress Club with its breast-inspired lighting fixtures, 40’s Hollywood decor, favorite copper clad walls and plush seating. I said that depending on what I put on myself I could attract either younger men or men over 50. At the time, I was already 60 years old and thus not in the flush of my exotic looking youth. Thus, the challenge was on. In any case, the bar was crowded, I was sitting, my friends standing and a 25-year old sat down  on my right side with a group on my left.  I put a dab of Vanilla behind my right ear and Lavender on the left. Vanilla smells like food and young men are inevitably attracted to it. Lavender is rather old-fashioned and reminds men of their mother. And sure enough, the young man started chatting me up. My friends had stepped back and were observing. When his friends arrived and he left, my friends sat so that I was now on the left of them and with that dab of Lavender behind my left ear.  There were many ages of men clustered around the bar and a man my age promptly sat next to me and yes, he started to chat me up right away.  It was a fun and educational evening and specific scents were once again proven to be powerful attractants.


1Atkins, P.W. MOLECULES; Freeman; 1987.
2Calkin, Robert R. and J. Stephan Jellinek; PERFUMERY; John Wiley & Sons, 1994. This is a great resource and a main reference for this work.

Rose, Jeanne; 375 ESSENTIAL OILS AND HYDROSOLS; Frog Ltd. 1999          
Rose, Jeanne; Natural Perfumery Workbook; Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy. 2018


9 thoughts on “Smell ~ Scent

  1. A beautiful post and approach to the art of smelling.! When we approach it like a meditation, it never ceases to amaze me how much more we can learn about any given odor or aromatic. Thank you Jeanne!

  2. Loved it! You’re very good at putting into words what it’s like to wander through your amazing house! I love the blend of the chemistry part of smelling blended with the sensory part. Thank you Jeanne!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog and I am always wanting to learn about this subject. Thank you for sharing your expertise and wisdom. I think I’ll get some vanilla… And remember to waft not draft!

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  6. What a wonderful blog post. I especially enjoyed the ‘Smell- What It Does For You’ list and I wrote the following words in my journal to commit to memory: “Please don’t play at your life. Enjoy it for sure but be conscious of everything that you do.” Thank you for this important reminder.

Thank you for reading and your comments.