All About Phytoncides, Aromachology, and Aromatherapy
How scent affects everything from mood to memory
The healing power of plants is something that never fails to amaze us. A plant-based diet can offer all the necessary protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health, while also preventing a host of chronic diseases. Plant-derived skincare ingredients are also full of active compounds and, when applied topically, these plant extracts have healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial benefits. Simply spending time among plants has been linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being, and even the humble house plant improves concentration and productivity and reduces stress levels.
All plants emit volatile organic compounds, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and even antidepressant properties
Another way to tap into the magical power of plants is to literally breathe it in. All plants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and essential oils, known as phytoncides, from their flowers, leaves, and roots. These compounds act as a defense system, protecting them against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Phytoncides also contain terpenes, the aromatic compounds that give plants their distinct aroma. There are thousands of phytoncides, but the most common are α-pinene, d-limonene, β-pinene, sabinene, myrcene, and camphene–all of which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, and even antidepressant properties. And, when we inhale phytoncides, these beneficial effects are transferred to the body and mind both pharmacologically and psychologically. Recent studies in Japan have shown that “forest bathing”, the practice of breathing deeply while in nature, can improve sleep quality, mood, ability to focus, and stress levels, as on a pharmacological level, terpenes from phytoncides interact with the serotonin and dopamine systems in the brain, stimulating the body’s immune response and reducing oxidative stress, lowering nervous system activity, and reducing cortisol levels, enhancing sleep and even reducing blood glucose levels.
Essential oils, the volatile and concentrated liquids extracted from different parts of plants, are also phytoncides, and the bioactive compounds found in these oils, namely terpenes, can provide many of the same benefits as Forest Bathing. Aromatherapy–the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefit–has been used for centuries by ancient cultures in China, India, Egypt, and beyond to enhance both physical and emotional health and to treat disease.
Breathing deeply while in nature can improve sleep quality, mood, ability to focus, and stress levels
Aromatherapy works by stimulating the olfactory nerves in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, the amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for processing emotion), and to the hippocampus (the area linked to memory and cognition). Neuroscientists believe that this close physical connection between the regions of the brain linked to memory, emotion, and our sense of smell may explain why our brain learns to associate smells with certain emotional memories and why they can also serve as a memory trigger. Psychologically, studies have also shown that pleasant aromas improve mood and decrease anxiety. So, whether it be a body lotion, a bath oil, or a scented candle, plant-powered aromas truly have the power to alter our mood.
Here, our favorite plant-powered products to promote increased alertness and positivity, create feelings of calm, tranquility, and relaxation, provide clarity and focus, and help ease stress and insomnia.
Applied to the pulse points, this Persian Rose Oil, extracted from the petals of the damascene rose, not only smells divine but has been found to deliver analgesic (pain relieving) benefits, promote relaxation, and lower anxiety.
A perennial bestseller, this nourishing Undaria Seaweed body oil combines the green, earthy aroma of Cypress with fresh, citrusy Grapefruit to energize the senses, while also providing antimicrobial and antibacterial benefits.
Breu, a resin extracted from the Almacega tree in the Amazon rainforest, has been used traditionally for centuries to help enhance peace of mind and focus. With a woodsy aroma of rich earth and crushed leaves, this body wash delivers an instant mood boost and mental clarity.
Rich in vanillin, this soothing body scrub formulated with sustainably sourced Madagascan Vanilla produces a calming effect when inhaled, lowering blood pressure, alleviating muscle tension, and helping to reduce stress, insomnia, and irritability, while also offering powerful antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
Re-awaken, protect and clear your body and mind in one deep, calming breath with this blend of immune boosting, antiviral, and decongestant essential oils that clear the mind, ease stress, balance, and re-energize the body and mind.
With its warm, smoky, sweet aroma, Oud, derived from Agarwood, a tropical tree that is native to the Middle East, has been used for centuries to reduce stress and enhance mental clarity; it is also purported to have powerful aphrodisiac properties.