Ode to spring time smells (no, not the perfume stink you find in stores)

by Monika Meulman

This the season for flowers emerging from their earthly cocoons and growing gingerly through the rain soaked grasses into a world full of birds, bugs, and animals. Tis also a season for smells: some divine like the green, freshly mowed grass; some exciting like the subtle, rich, heavy smell of impending rainstorms; some soothing like the lily of the valley aroma cascading and floating like a cloud across the landscape until it wafts up to your nose.

For those of us unlucky enough to not have the space or time to wallow in mother nature and enjoy these spring time smells, we get to enjoy the plethora of synthetic, imitation, wannabees of perfume. Whether in the department store, restaurant, or confined in an elevator, we all have had the ‘fortune’ of smelling one perfume or another.  So how does it really work?

What is perfume trying to be? What is it trying to accomplish? Ever wonder how that gorgeous aroma you smelled on a stick in the store smells so horrid by the time you get home? Don’t like it – there goes $75.

Maybe we just need to learn a bit about perfumes, the beauty of combining aromatic molecules, no? Maybe we don’t really give a shit and just wish to pretend that we are trying to smell good. Either way, one of my favorite passages about perfume is from Luca Turin (check out his remaining blog posts here) and his book The Secret of Scent. He has an incredible way of making aromatic compounds accessible to the lay person, and while doing so, is funny and interesting. His take on perfume: “smell becomes perfume: chemical poems”


“A perfume, once it has become familiar, works like an accurate clock. The procession of odorants, precipitous at first, stately later, tells us where we are in the story. Spray it on after work. The top notes, the first ones to fly out, say it is still early in an evening that feels full of promise. Next come the heart notes, where the perfumer’s art really shows itself, where fragrance tries (like us) to be as distinctive, beautiful and intelligent as possible. Lastly, by three a.m. the perfume has literally boiled down to its darkest, heaviest molecules at a time when our basest instincts, whether for sleep or other hobbies, manifest themselves.”

Perhaps not every aromatherapy blend, perfume, or household smell has to be a poetic masterpiece. Or, maybe it ought to be. Maybe we should at least demand clarity, pure tone, accurate pitch for what it’s worth.  In Luca Turin’s other book on perfume aptly named, Perfumes, The Guide, he discusses the world of perfumes.

(A good perfume is a complex thing that cannot be thrown together

watch this video on a sample perfume)

There are too many launches in too short a time. They are hastened to be completed before another perfume house gets a whiff (pun intended) of the latest formula. Luca Turin writes that “fine fragrance is getting dangerously close to a ringtone: inventive, often distinctive, catchy even, but with lousy sound quality” p. 17 So that is what our aromatic lives have been reduced to: fun, quick, easy, pop-music smells. Where everyone smells like something, but no one stands out; what is the point?

That’s like everyone riding the subway playing their music outloud – no earphones.

It may be one reason why the natural movement keeps gaining ground. There are a multitude of beautiful perfumes to be had with a few essential oils, or even herbs from the garden. A combination of 3-4 plants easily contains at least several hundred aromatic molecules creating an odorous bouquet. Collect some fine pine needles, with a rind of lemon and steep on the stove. Let the aroma spread through the home without a synthetic residue. Forget the synthetic scents. Try some freshly squeezed orange peels next time you need a fresh fix in the bathroom.

The spring time is one of abundance, when it comes to aromas.

You can pick up lily of the valley, lilacs, growing herbs of feverfew, sage, marjoram, even the sharp ping of chives. Enjoy the freshness that mother nature has to offer and be healthier, happier for it.

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