Smelly business young noses set table for memory

November 25, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

One day I get a, "Mmmm, that smells good," from my 3-year-old.

The next day it's, "What's that smell?"

Quite often what's evident to her as I'm cooking floats by my nose unnoticed.

I'm constantly reminding myself that where children are concerned, a little scent goes a long way.

My olfactory sense is muted; hers is pronounced.

Researchers estimate that we lose about 1 percent of the olfactory - smell - receptors every year.

"Adults get desensitized over time," says Kerry Ott, president of Eleuria Inc., a producer of custom perfumery.

Sometimes smell can be the most vivid part of a memory. Close your eyes for a minute and think of Thanksgiving.


Can you almost sense the aroma of turkey and pumpkin pie? Perhaps your memory is from many years ago.

It's important to create an atmosphere for children, particularly at holidays. Their sense of smell probably never will be more acute than it is now.

The smell of dill makes Ott think of harvest time when her grandmother put up many, many jars of dill pickles.

"The whole feeling of that time is so clear to me," Ott says.

Holiday aromas provide an opportunity to build connections between family members and to provide comfort - there's security in knowing that things are a certain way each year.

"The Christmas tree pine, cinnamon and baking is less connected to aromatherapy than the cultural views of Christmas," Ott says.

Cinnamon can be an invigorating smell. Some children may become overly excited by a strong cinnamon scent, Ott says.

Peppers tend to be stimulating, as well.

"Mostly, children don't need that around the holidays," Ott says. "They're stimulated enough."

Smell is one of the least understood senses because it bypasses the cerebral cortex and goes right to the lymphatic system, Ott says.

"That's why when you smell something, it can bring back memories so vividly," Ott says.

Aromas also can have an effect on mood. Some scents work for one child but irritate another.

"A lot of aromatherapy is knowing your child," Ott says.

It's also important to know what products are available.

A fragrant oil is a mix of chemicals designed to smell similar to a flower or root. An essential oil is one that is distilled from a flower or root. Even though fragrant oils are the less expensive of the two, essential oils are a better buy because they are purer and are used in a diluted form, Ott says.

Essential oils should not be placed directly on a child's skin. The oils can be added to bath water or used in a diffuser.

Don't wait for the holidays to fill your child's world with beautiful smells. Here are some suggestions from Ott:

  • Certain scents can boost your child's confidence. Citrus is particularly good for this purpose. If orange, grapefruit or lemon seem too overbearing, Ott suggests petitgrain or bergamot, which is the flavoring in Earl Grey Tea. For sensitive skin, opt for a bergaptene-free citrus.

  • As a sleep aid, mix a touch of lavender, marjoram and chamomile in a warm bath.

  • For a calming effect, try some rosewood in a diffuser. Boys in particular may like this scent.

  • Teens may want to try diluted tea tree oil to treat acne. It also can be used for athlete's foot.

  • To combat the post-holiday blues, try a mixture of geranium, lavender and bergamot.

"The matter of personal taste shouldn't be ignored," Ott says. "You should trust your nose. If you don't like it, it's not going to help you."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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