How to Smell with Your Brain, Not Your Nose - Everyday Essentials

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How to Smell with Your Brain, Not Your Nose

Ready to smell with your brain? You might also be asking, what does this necessarily mean? Today we have an interactive blog post that is a fun way to experiment with your essential oils and explore the complexities of each aroma.

Brain Smelling

Stephen Dowthwaite, renowned perfumer and educator,  wrote an article with an in-depth discussion on how to properly smell with your brain, and not just your nose. Although perfecting these techniques can take quite a bit of training, it can be a fun experiment to perform yourself. With practice, you can learn to smell all the subtleties that make up an essential oil!

Choose Your Essential Oil

plant therapy lemon essential oil

An easy one to start with is Lemon, as it’s easily identifiable and a staple in almost any essential oil collection. Then you’ll need to gather anything that can be used as a test strip. This will include a coffee filter, a paper towel, and two different types of perfume strips (you can purchase new ones here). Next, use the various “strips” to see which would provide the best smell. Chances are, the perfume strips will be the best choice.

Sitting vs. Standing

plant therapy essential oil journal

Once you establish the best strips to use, it’s time to prepare your space. You’ll need room for your supplies and a notebook to mark down your research as you begin to smell with your brain. You’ll also want to find a comfortable chair to use while you perform these tests. Put one drop of your chosen essential oil on the strip. Then sit down in a relaxed posture and sniff your prepared strip. Stand up and repeat the sniff. Did you notice anything different?

For example, while sitting, you might notice a bright, fresh scent. While standing, the scent may be slightly duller and had less of a sparkle. This is a result of a lowering in blood pressure while sitting that allows the body to devote more resources to the act of smelling (Dowthwaite, 2009).

Eyes Open vs. Eyes Closed

How to Smell with Your Brain, Not Your Nose

Next, perform the same experiment with eyes open and then closed and record what you notice. For example, you might notice that the scent remained bright and fresh with your eyes open. Once you close your eyes and take a second whiff, notice how the aroma changes. Perhaps the scent took on a tang and was deeper, less bright. Whatever happens, be sure to write down how the fragrance changes.

Odor Fatigue

To do this experiment, put one drop of your essential oil on a strip, mark it, and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Then prepare a second strip with a fresh drop of the essential oil. Return to your first strip that has been sitting for 30 minutes and sniff slow and deep. Continue inhaling, keeping a tally of how many sniffs you’re taking. When you reach a point where you can no longer smell the essential oil on the strip, set it aside and immediately pick up your second strip and sniff.

The scent on the second strip could potentially be the same fresh and bright aroma, flat and dull, or have almost no scent whatsoever. Note the time it takes for the scent to return to its original aroma. By using odor fatigue, professionals are better able to evaluate samples to note differences or even adulterations (Dowthwaite, 2009).

plant therapy lavender and lemon essential oils

All of these experiments will hopefully allow you to learn to smell with your brain while appreciating the deep complexities of your essential oils. If you have questions or comments about this or anything you find on our blog, please contact us by email at [email protected]


Dowthwaite, S. (2009) ‘Using the Brain (not the nose) to smell: A systematic approach
to the most fundamental of techniques for perfumers and flavorists’ Perfumers World (34), pp 42-47.


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