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Scents on the home front - scented possibilities are all around...

Scent invokes everything: memory, mood, sensuality, appetite, and more. Sure, there are phonemes we all have and Internet ads assault you with (!)  but there are other ‘naturals’ like jasmine, lilac, cedar, myrrh, and tuberose, are just some of nature’s floral and forest options that are also riveting.  There is also the cheering warmth of cinnamon, fig, and orange. Home ambience, the new age answer to ‘air freshener” (move over Glad Pine Forest-in-Can, hello sandalwood) makes the most of more sweet and fresh scents – smells that are lovely in the air but you do not want on your skin. You don’t have to invest in store bought stuff to make your home smell nice. There are plenty of ‘naturals’ to do the trick.

When people enter my home, which doubles as my baker’s and cookbook author test kitchen, sure, they encounter sugar and spice and everything nice. But I also take time to create an oasis of fragrance, using every secret of my trade as a chef and aroma experimentalist, to provide it. There are some tips and techniques that are easy enough to master – and most, cost little, if anything.

To properly introduce home aromas with some lasting power, ‘layer’ the scent. Try to pick the same or compatible scents in oils (for oil burners) candles, and incense or use an orange candle, orange zest in a simmer kettle and a brew of orange spice tea to extend the impact. Layering on scents gives them more dimension and helps them last and permeate the air, even if you only have them ‘on’ (candles lit, etc.) for a short time. My best bets in home ambience fragrances span a few fragrance areas and approaches. Here are my trade ‘treasures”:

A simmering kettle is the simplest approach to home fragrancing. Try some water, orange oil (Boyajian Orange oil or orange extract in the cooking section of a supermarket) or use a cast iron teakettle from or an heirloom enamel affair called a Steamer. (there are still widely available or be on the look out for one at a country fair or flea market. The lattice top on a steamer allows the perfumed steam to escape (you can also see water evaporating and know when to refill) and gently suffuses your kitchen and surrounding areas with spicy aromas. Alternatively, I fill the steamer with lavender or lilac oil and a handful of potpourri. Much depends on the mood or season. A steaming kettle is a wonderful seasonal gift that does years and years of wonderful, scented service.

For more simmering scent, you can always find oil burners, as well as oils made for them, in many stores, even dollar shops. These are metal or ceramic and feature a open dish where you put the scented oil and a cavity down below, where a tea light (scented or plain), rests. The lit tea light heats the oil and the result is subtle perfume in the air. Scented oils vary in quality so test out a little first (and before you invest in vials and vials of inferior or possibly rancid oil). Be adventurous here. You can use vanilla oil, or strawberry or kiwi, or combine oils: a touch of vanilla, with a wee amount of ginger oil and peach is sublime. Remember oils come in either fragrance oils (natural and artificial – so beware) and aromatherapy ‘essential’ oils – like bergamot or lavender.

Fresh (and all natural) cedar fir and balsam perfume waft out of a lot of scent for the buck. I wrap up chopped pinecones and spruce or cedar sprigs in a cloth handkerchief. Then I use my rolling pin to press out the oils, wrap it all up in little sachets and have homemade scented bundles to place under pillows, around the house, or in the car.

If you are diligent about collecting things like sprigs of spruce, as well as rose petals and lavender and other fragrant flowers, you can make other sachets as well. Or, if you are nimble with a thread (or have a friend who is), make a scented ‘sleep pillow’ by mixing rose petals, chamomile buds, lavender and other flowers. Sleep with this pillow near by and you will indeed, sleep well and enjoy good dreams as well.

Vanilla also packs its punch and you might remember to touch your wrists with some as a home brewed perfume or if you want to wash fish or garden odours off your hands, a warm wash of milk and vanilla to soak in does wonders.

Vanilla, spruce, roses, lavender…..and then there is the heady citrus family of lemon, orange and lime. Mix the peel of any citrus in simmering water for a refreshing aroma or rub the zest underneath wood cabinetry to enliven the house.

Cinnamon sticks, simmering in water, also do wonders to warm up a home and are great for a chilly summer evening, when all you want is to relax and remember the day. Actually, grinding your own coffee is aromatherapy of the first order!

Do remember to apply scented oils around your computer, or in your car; everything is an extension of our home environment. Why not take the time to make those places more welcoming? Scent is also a natural in the bath but did you ever think to use it in letter writing? I always douse correspondence with a dab of fig or cranberry oil or scatter in some lavender in an enveloped I am mailing so that scent becomes my calling card. (although sometimes letters get mysteriously waylaid and I have a hunch some postal worker, somewhere, is inhaling and enjoying. )

These days, there are a ton of places to find scent naturally. If you do venture to craft stores or online, find quality scents to use – whether you invest in neutral incense sticks, candle wax or soap base.  But mostly, take the time to gussy up your life with the blessing of fragrance.

If it Smells Good, Is it Good For You?

Aromatherapy is the buzzword these days - and essentially it is the use of aromatic plant essences to bring about positive changes or effects in the mind and body. Moreover, pain takes something like 12 seconds to register as a sense; whereas a scent is experienced in something like 5 seconds. Wow. Good smells travel fast!

Essential oils, as opposed to fragrance oils, are at the base of this science/craft and inhaling (or bathing with, misting, etc) various ones have been found to relax you, relieve headaches and the blue, energize, assist with weight loss, or otherwise cure what ails you. Vic’s Vapo rub is in fact, a sort of aromatherapy (not one that beguiles me but an example nonetheless). There are aromatherapy practitioners and experts (I am neither), as well as magazines dedicated to this, stores, mail order places, health food sections that promote essential oil lines, and websites galore. Lavender is the classic relaxant; grapefruit oil is the diet tonic of note. Everyone from product developers at Proctor and Gamble to the most marginal organic company are touting essential oils and aromatherapy. It goes with the new age books, tarot cards, and herbal teas - all of which seem to be saying we are looking for some sort of oasis or respite from daily lives. It is the millennium spin of the earthy sixties perhaps, but it is a pleasant enough pursuit - for some, it is a mission; for me, it is a ‘good scents make me happy’ thing. So, I go with one suits me. Grapefruit and other citrus scents are known pepper-uppers. Geranium and rose, are known as the ‘Prozac’ of the aromatherapy world, as are myrrh and frankincense and clary sage. In the end, you can choose a bit from the tried and true lists of what works for what ailment and/or combine it with what suits you. Health food stores can be helpful, but in the end, the Internet and books are your best bets.

For more on scent, enjoy my other features:

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