Of all our senses, our sense of smell is the most underutilised. However, it is a quintessential asset which enables us to enjoy all the wonderful fragrant plant material surrounding us — the most enchanting being flowers. The smell of the earth at the onset of the much-awaited rains is a divine fragrance which no perfumer in the world can duplicate.
The true experience of delicious food, is not just indulging with the eyes, but also with the nose. Just imagine how humdrum the response of your taste buds will be if not for the aroma. You may end up not enjoying your meal, however tasty it may be. It is your nose and the sense of smell which predominantly determines the taste of the food.
Flower aromas can instantly change your mood, did you know this? I urge you to try it for yourself; whenever you feel mentally troubled due to stress, worry, fear or anger, just pick up a flower which has its own natural aroma (I say this as many flowers are grown only for their look and lack fragrance) close your eyes and just keep smelling it. This will certainly elevate your state of mind. Nature has given wonderful qualities to flowers — and this is a gift, the gentle aromas they carry. Or pick a flower whose fragrance you like and that alone will relax your mood. This happens because what you like and what appeals to you is what you require to balance your mind.
The aroma of a flower is released through its volatile molecules which also carry its therapeutic value. Man recognised this property a long time ago and invented methods to capture this aroma to enjoy it in the future. Methods such as effleurages, steam distillation, maceration or infusion were used for different plants. The term Aromatherapy was coined in the 20th century but the aroma and therapeutic power of flowers and plants has been captured and used to enhance well being for many years before that.
Attars or ittars as they are commonly called are the perfect examples of ancient Indian perfume industry. As chemicals did not exist in those times, all perfumes were made with natural oils extracted from different parts of various plants. Attars of gulab(rose) chameli (jasmine), mogra, rajnigandha (tuberose), champak, kewda were infused in sandalwood oil and named accordingly. Many other attars such as hina and amber were blended only with pure essential oils. Sandalwood oil was used as a base because of its sweetness and its power to retain its own aroma and that of anything infused in it for a very long time. Indian sandalwood oil is reputed as the best among all its cousins from around the world.
The attar trend faded over time as the cost of sandalwood oil and the flowers kept rising, making it unaffordable for most people. This paved the way for synthetics to emerge and dilute the charm of this wonderful ancient science. But since synthetic perfumes could never supersede the exotic aroma, healing, soothing and balancing properties of pure and natural essential oils, people came back to using these natural oils again.
In the last few decades, Aromatherapy with the use of essential oils has become widely used in Western countries and the demand for pure oils, irrelevant of it’s cost has revived the extraction and availability of these natural gifts of nature.