A field guide to aromatic plants
The human nose is a powerful thing. It’s estimated that our scent receptors can detect or distinguish roughly 1 trillion different scents. This is great news because there are so many aromatic plants with scents in which we can immerse our olfactory senses.
Of the 1 trillion and growing scents that we have to choose from, there are some that rise to the top of various “preferred scents” lists, and which are favored by perfumers, fragrance aficionados, candle makers, and the like. The fragrances and essences most highly regarded by scent experts and perfumers, however, are those derived from natural sources such as flowers, herbs, shrubs, trees, and roots.
These core plant-based ingredients are by far the most sought-after ingredients for those who work with and create the smells and aromas that we recognize as we walk around, spray on ourselves each day, use to scent our homes and businesses, and generally speaking, find the most enjoyable.
As the experts in interior landscapes and ambient scenting, we wanted to give you a look inside the aromatic plants that create the scents and smells with which we interact and are familiar. From the iconic perfumes to the most subtle of scents, these are some of the most important plants at work in creating the fragrances that we have ingrained in our brains.
The Lavender plant derives its name from the color of its flowers and is known for its sweet floral fragrance and purple flowers. Lavender is one of the most popular fragrances on the market today and has a long list of practical, medicinal, and commercial applications such as soaps, oils, and bath and body products.
More recently, Lavender is being used in candies, ice cream, kombucha, and teas. The Lavender fragrance often elicits a feeling of relaxation and has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy and stressed-out individuals. In a 2011 study by Ambius, this relaxing, anti-anxiety effect was also observed in hospital patients who were anxiously waiting for their treatment (1).
The Rose flower is one of the most iconic flowers in the world. They are the staples of love and romance, the pride of many gardens, and can be found in everything from cosmetics and perfumes to culinary favorites. The rose scent varies depending on a variety of factors such as type of flower, color, and the age of the flower when it’s picked. However, the rose color is most indicative of pungency. The classic rose fragrance that we have come to know and love typically comes from dark-petalled rose flowers.
The Jasmine flower has a long history of use as a perfume and incense. Its beautiful, pearl white flowers clustered around delicate petals are woven into the tapestry of Middle Eastern art and culture where they have been celebrated for thousands of years.
To sum up the importance of the flower to these cultures, it’s said that Jasmine has created “an almost shared olfactory landscape resulting in subconscious and shared experiences” in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The flower has a multitude of uses that predominantly revolve around the flower’s fragrance or scent such as perfumes, scented sprays, bath and body products, and beauty products.
Like many of the aromatic plants on our list, the Lilac flower has a long association with love and romance. This is due to its intoxicatingly sweet scent, which has been compared to a combination of lavender and wild berries. With a blooming season in early spring, the aroma can be particularly apparent on warm days and is a definitive sign that spring has officially sprung. Of the 800 varieties of Lilacs, only five species are known for their scent.
Lilac’s fragrance is a popular choice for perfumers and scent specialists due to its pungent aroma and readily accessible oils. The Lilac flower has a long list of uses including laundry products, beauty and hygiene products, candles, and even cleaning supplies.
Without its scent, it would take the trained eye of a botanist to tell the difference between Lemongrass and most other wild grasses. Lemongrass, as the name states, has a citrusy scent and flavor akin to lemon or other common citrus fruits.
The grass’ unique flavor and scent profiles have made it immensely valuable on a commercial scale. Its scent, in particular, can best be described as intense and lemony with a tinge of fresh ginger, making it an ideal culinary candidate for teas, marinades, and Asian cuisines. The aroma is also used on a large scale in various hand and lip balms, essential oils, hygiene products, and spa commodities.
Mint may be the most recognizable scent on our list, and this is partly because our olfactory senses are tuned to recognize it on a structural level similar to how our taste buds recognize sweet and sour. Mint can hardly be described as anything other than what it is: minty. However, there is a variety of different mint plants that produce different flavors such as spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint, pennyroyal, and the list goes on.
These different varieties of mint create a whole line of different products that we are all too familiar with such as gum, toothpaste, teas, cocktails, and candies. There is also a whole line of non-edible items like fragrances, hygiene products, culinary products, oils, balms, bath and body items, medicinal products, candles, etc.
Cedar Tree (aka Cedarwood):
Not all woods are created equal. Some woods are better for building homes and cabinetry while some are great for kitchenware and cooking. Cedarwood is a step above the rest, however, because it’s good at all of the above and more. For instance, the wood is naturally durable and has a reputation for holding up even in the most humid, dry, cold, or heat-stricken environments. But what we’re most interested in is the deep, rich, and woody fragrance that the oil produces.
This cedar oil is the secret to the wood’s natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that prevent the wood from rotting. This oil is also what provides the fragrance for the Cedar Tree oil’s many commercial uses. Cedarwood scent is found in a host of beauty and fragrance products such as body wash, deodorants, shaving cream, candles, essential oils, and more.
- Knight, C. P. and Van Osselaer, V (2011) pers com