An Introduction to Essential Oil Scents

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Find the right essential oil for you by holding and smelling the individual oils.
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“Nature’s Essential Oils, by Cher Kaufmann, invites readers into the world of essential oils and guides them through the retrieval and blending of scents.

Nature’s Essential Oils (Countryman Press, 2018), by Cher Kaufmann, is a necessary read for an essential oil beginner. Kaufmann teaches readers about oil safety as well as the uses for many oils. Learn which essential oils are right for you and your needs. Find this excerpt in Chapter 7, “Essential Oils to Have in Your Home.”

You do not need every oil discussed here. It is fine to begin with just a few and then add more from there (it can be helpful to have a few options according to your needs). But please read this first before proceeding to the individual oils.

Allow an Introduction

When many people first open a bottle of oil, they take a big sniff and decide immediately whether they like it or not. But remember, an oil is an accumulation of ancient wisdom within the plant as well as a concentrated version of that plant’s protective and attractive properties. You need to engage your senses more fully from the start:

1. Feel: Hold the bottle, cap closed, for a moment and be still. Very sensitive people can feel the vibration of the essence of the oil as it connects with them simply by holding it. Others may not feel anything at first, and that’s okay. But if you are sensitive, it is important to trust even the smallest responses of your body.

2. Smell: Open the bottle and hold it down by your waist, the core of your body, with your eyes closed if possible, rather than near your nose. See whether you can smell the oil from there. Slowly move the bottle upward and notice when you first begin to smell the aroma as it approaches your nose. This exercise can help you understand the potency of how “big” an aroma is with a certain oil. Let the aroma find its way to you. A secondary exercise is to wave just the cap, beneath your nose, which may sometimes share deeper notes than the lovely top notes that first leave a bottle.

3. Taste: Inhale with your mouth slightly open, to allow your taste buds to participate. (Caution: This is about breathing; do not put the essential oil in your mouth!) They have systematic responses that can help you smell better, the same way your sense of smell can help foods taste better. Some oils, especially those that help support digestion, may stimulate your taste buds. For example, you might notice your saliva production increases just by your smelling a warm, spicy oil. You might also notice right away that smelling an adulterated or synthetic oil will leave a chemical taste in your mouth.

4. Notice: What is the initial response your body or mind has to the oil? Do you find you want to breathe deeper? Does it remind you of something or is it new and unfamiliar? Do you immediately start to relax? Does your brain begin to focus better? Does a deeper part of yourself begin to feel more connected? It’s okay if you don’t notice anything at first. It takes training for you to become aware of the ways you respond to an oil. I call these “indicators.” With awareness and practice, you will learn to trust your indicators.

5. Invite: Sensory experiences are more than physical. Exchanging the wisdom from an aromatic plant through its essential oil is very much like developing a relationship. Inviting a new experience, allowing the oil to share its character and personality, may open observation in a whole new way. Some people develop a resonance with certain essential oils by simply inviting the exchange to be deeper than superficial. For instance, smelling a base note oil can give the impression of a low, deep drum vibrating through the body or lying on the earth totally supported head to toe. Each experience will be unique and individual. It might be as simple as “there is something about this oil I really like.”

In the world of essential oils, you will find descriptions go far beyond “It smells like a flower.” The following guide lists ways that aromatherapists describe certain oils. See whether these words help you identify aromas as you begin to explore essential oils for yourself. It will help train and strengthen your sense of smell, too!

Fragrance, Scent, and Odor Guide

• Aromatic
• Balsamic
• Bitter 
• Bittersweet
• Camphoraceous
• Citrusy
• Clean
• Cool
• Earthy
• Fecal
• Fiery
• Floral
• Fresh
• Fruity
• Grassy
• Green
• Haylike
• Heavy
• Herbaceous
• Honey-scented
• Hot
• Intense
• Leafy-woody
• Light
• Medicinal
• Mild
• Musky
• Nutty
• Penetrating
• Peppery
• Powdery
• Powerful
• Pungent
• Radiant
• Rancid
• Refreshing
• Resinous
• Rich
• Rootlike
• Rosy
• Sharp
• Smoky
• Soft
• Spicy-sweet
• Tenacious
• Terpenic
• Uplifting
• Vannilic
• Warm
• Woody
• Zesty

Many brands of essential oils are available from reputable sources that are direct distributors from distillers. Keep it simple for yourself.

•Ask questions: Where does a distributer obtain its oils? Does it use online resources or have an established relationship with a distiller? Where did the oil come from? (Oils’ aroma may vary, due to differences relating to location or harvesting/distillation.)

•Use multiple sources, if necessary, rather than being married to one brand. Support the industry and your health at the same time.

•Be mindful of the differences between species within a genus; read the properties and purpose of each essential oil.

•Seek good-quality carriers and dilute properly, and be aware of any cautions or contraindications.

•Avoid outdated, oxidized, and synthetic oils as well as “fragrance” oils (not the same as natural perfume).

•Each oil has distinctive properties, so before using, read about and learn to distinguish among the many oils. Unless suggested to do so, do not simply substitute one for another.

•If you already have some essential oils, I highly recommend smelling them while you further research them, to help you identify their observable components as you read.

•Beyond all practical suggestions, learning about and being open to the subtleties available through essential oils is just as important.

The Essential Oils

Like a Venn diagram, all essential oils innately have overlapping qualities as well as areas of uniqueness. In some cases, there is also overlap in which part of the plant is used. The essential oils are arranged in categories according to the part of the plant from which they are associated. For instance, I have placed rosemary in the category of stems, leaves, and needles, but its flowers can also be included in distillation, and so also reading about petals and flowers would be helpful. Normally placed within the category of berries, I have placed black pepper with seeds as the amount of fruit is minuscule compared to the size of the seed in the harvested plant material (but do note that the entire fruit is technically harvested, then dried). You may also think of these groupings as reflecting plants’ stages of development, to help you associate some of their character traits.

These wonderful oils will get you started on a wide range of single notes you can use individually or to make your own blends for personal and home use. Enjoy!

Story Thyme

Getting to know essential oils is a lot like discovering music.

At first, you might like a song you hear on the radio, then begin to recognize the lead singer’s voice in other songs, then the band’s distinctive sound. Soon you know more about the members of the band, and share their music with others.

Essential oils are a little like hearing that song on the radio. First, you like a scent, learn its name and character, and begin to identify it within a blend, and then you share its qualities with others.

It is easy to fall in love with the individual voices of essential oils and it is quite amazing to become part of their song.


Reprinted with Permission from Nature’s Essential Oils by Cher Kaufmann and Published by Countryman Press, 2018.

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