This week I have been reviewing the things we have done since the start of 2020, and I was reminded of the 19 Ways to Stay Connected with Nature booklet that we put together last March. We've learned a lot since then about nature connectedness and the 5 Pathways to Nature Connection, so I was pleased to see that the things we suggested back then fit into those pathways, particularly contact, using your senses to get in touch with the natural world. I was thinking about this as I walked into our kitchen yesterday evening and was met with an unusual smell. We were trying a new recipe last night which required Sichuan peppercorns, so last weekend we went on a mini-adventure to a Chinese supermarket to acquire some. An internet search revealed that they smelled of grapefruit, which frankly seemed entirely unlikely, until I opened the packet. They did, indeed smell exactly like grapefruit. The taste was a different matter, when eaten it makes your mouth tingle and go slightly numb! Apparently this is due to the presence of a substance called hydroxy-alpha sanshool, but you'll be relieved to know this isn't a chemistry lesson! Unfortunately the smell of grapefruit didn't linger, as the next stage of the recipe was to fry green beans until they were pretty much charcoal, but it tasted very good and I heartily recommend the recipe!
Whilst this isn't a science lesson, there is a lot of science involved in discovering just why nature is so good for us, and the smell of trees is one of those areas being studied. The air in a forest is full of phytoncides, which trees release to protect themselves from bacteria, insects and fungi. These are one of the things responsible for forest bathing (that's just walking amongst trees, no actual bathing involved) helping to relieve anxiety in humans, but it turns out they do so much more. Dr Qing Li, one of the world's leading experts on forest bathing, and a professor at a medical school in Tokyo, has run experiments on the effects of breathing in phythoncides on the human immune system, and discovered that it decreases the levels of stress hormones, increases the hours of sleep, and increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells. People with higher NK activity show a lower incidence of some diseases, so that's a good thing. Ever since I read that I try to surround myself with the smell of the forest, either by going to the woods, or by using cedarwood oil, and other woody aromatherapy products in the house. The concentration of phytoncides is at its highest at temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, so no wonder I felt good when I stood in the woods last evening after a hot hot hot day, and took some deep breaths.
Trees aren't the only things filling the air with scent just now, even in our very unkempt garden, the smell of honeysuckle greets you when you step outside. Walking through town, gardens and parks are filled with blooms wafting summer smells across your path, if you take the time to (sorry) literally smell the roses. There are of course other smells, the charcoal being lit, an overcooked sausage, a wet dog emerging from the river, a sweaty runner passing by, over-ripe strawberries in the supermarket, but when you live in the west of Scotland and get a run of weather like we've been having, you can't help but celebrate it all. Best of all, you know there is one more wonderful smell to come: petrichor, that smell of clean air and wet earth that comes particularly after a long dry spell. A company called the Library of Fragrance who make over 300 different fragrances, all based on everyday objects and experiences, used to stock petrichor amongst them, but I'm not going to lie, it didn't really capture the essence of wet earth and rain for me. On the other hand, I wore their gingerale perfume for years. (Don't judge me, it was a step up from the Body Shop Fuzzy Peach.) Don't rely on a bottle of scent though, if you're able to, get outside, go to the woods, and breathe.