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Olfactory Perception

Olfactory Perception

Dear Friends,

The past 2 weeks has been an immensely busy time with many orders to pack before our short trip to India. It is Sunday afternoon and we have just completed the last order that we can pack before leaving on Tuesday evening as we have a bit of packing and taking care of other matters to do.
In reality it is a short trip of just over one week so it will not be long till we return home to pack those orders which came in towards the end.

Working on the newsletters is both relaxing and educational for me and I hope for you. I learn as much from the questions all of you ask as I do from any other type of research because a lot of them have to do with very practical issues. As often mentioned my main knowledge and expertise lies in the in production side of things because in a very direct way I have both worked as a horticulturist all of my adult life(including farming in India from 1971-1976) as well as seen many of the processes of distillation and extraction taking place before my eyes. The lives of the farmers in India, the environments they work in and the plants they grow are also quie familiar to me. That has helped me immeaurably to understand how CO2 extracts, absolutes, essential oils, attars, incense, etc are created. I hope that each of you may one day have the opportunity to experience some of these things because it is a real eye opener. Of equal importance is to come in contact with the farmers, plants and environments in which they grow. Once this happens ones appreciation and gratitude go on increasing day to day. These types of feelings can never decrease but grow as ones ability to digest them increases.

And no matter what work we may be called to do with regards to aromatic plants, I think that if one allows humility gratitude and appreciation to permeate ones understanding at every step then it will always lead to some very good results both from a personable standpoint and from the standpoint of those interacting with us. This type of profound knowledge totally transcends the efforts of any individual. If by good fortune we are permitted to work with the plants and we do so with a very simple heart then we enter into a world of timeless knowledge which has been with humankind since the beginning. I think it is one of the highest honors that comes in the human life because that wisdom and knowledge totally transcends all external differences. We can call a plant by any name we like but the reality of the plant and all that it holds within itself defies any type of categorization. They are beautiful embodiements of energy that have the capability of lifting up our hearts in multitudinous ways be it physical, mental of emotional. This holds true in the past, is true now, and will hold true in the future. We need not pride ourselves on being receptive to their benevolent message. Rather it is a gift and blessing in which we are kindly allowed to participate. At least this is the feeling in my heart.

Olfactory Perception

In the realm of aromatic plants and their essences there is a never ending learning curve. In a normal weekend, I am pouring from 200-400 bottles of oil of great variety. In this experience I have become practically aware that my perception of any particular oil changes throughout the day. I may for instance be smelling rose geranium oil South Africa organic in the early morning, the afternoon and early evening as our pouring and packing day progresses. During the day my perception of that oil often alters considerably in terms of the components that manifest themselves to me. There are times in the day when the beauty of the oil penetrates much more deeply into my being than at others.
The factors that influence our perception of oils are many and since we as humans are changing from moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day it is natural that our sense of smell should also change. Our thoughts, our environments, our body chemisty, and many other things can influence our sense of smell. It is a very incredible thing to become aware of.
Along with this we may wish to remember that the oils themselves while containing within themselves very specific configurations of energy in the form their aromatic molecules also have a special life that requires some amount of patience to investigate. In our speeded up culture we may tend to only explore the oils in a very shallow way. Smelling an oil for only a few seconds can hardly help us understand the many unique dimensions of the personalities. In terms of their aromatic life they are also constantly undergoing changes from the moment you place a drop on the skin or perfumers blotter till the final evaporation takes place. Some oils have a very brief aromatic life which may be completed within 30 minutes and others have a very long life that goes on revealing its depths for days. Learning to follow this progression is one of the most challanging and rewarding parts of listening to the ancient story of each specific oil. It also helps us enter into a more calm level of our own relationship with them instead of just the experiences of the moment.
There can be no doubt that even with a brief few moments in the company of any essence a sparkling interchange may take place but one can definitely cultivate their relationship with the oils in a much more profound way by spending time with each one according to their intrinsic nature. With a little concentration and attention the doors of creativity can be opened onto new vistas of cultures times and places that are part of the lives of the plants and the environments in which they grow. It is a relationship worth cultivating.
Not only does our appreciation or understanding of an oil change during the course of the day but also during the course of our lives. As our olfactory sense becomes more trained in either formal or informal ways we may begin to discover the oils that we once liked we like more and the ones we did not like become more likeable and even loved. It has a lot to do with our total awareness about the plants, the secrets concealed within their aromatic profile, the way they can be combined with other essences etc. There are many dimensions to this experience which can provide us with endless avenues of happy discoveries. I think the main thing to grasp is that an oil is much much more than our initital perception of it.
Even within the realm of a particular essence there is vast variation. For instance in the world of Frankincense many factors determine the quality of the starting material. The place where it is harvested, the grade of the material used, how long it is stored, and many such things come into play. Then if one takes the same starting material and extracts it with solvents to prepare the absolute, with CO2 to make the CO2 extract, distills it using steam or using water, etc all these things effect the final product. Each method is going to capture some spectrum of the natural aromatic molecules present in the plant. One can be judicious combination of the different extracts and distillates of the same raw material create an entirely new oil because the extracts and distillates contain within themselves both aromatic molecules present in the raw material as well as creating new ones due to special chemical interactions present in the distillation process.
Olfactory Contemplation
Now the most interesting and incredible thing about this world of exploring single note absolutes is that it is immediately accessible to anyone
with an interest in the subject. Blending of different oils can come at a more advanced stage, but the exploration of a single note absolute in proper
dilution is a course of study that anyone can take up. It can become a life study in itself. So when we go to study an oil, what do we need to do. First
of all one needs to have something like a non-scented perfumers blotter paper or clean cotton swab to dip into the aromatic solution. Only the
very tip should be brought in contact with the oil. Then one should commence their study. It is ideal to start this work early in the day before there
are any distractions that will interrupt ones concentration. It is a good way to mark the swap or blotting paper so that one knows which oil they are
studying. During the first hour one should endeavor to study the oil at 15 minute intervals. It is during this phase that one will come to know
more about what is called the top notes(usually of short duration) and heart or body notes. After one the solution enters its dryout phase and one
will be very surprised to learn that this their will be a perceptible odor(often very pleasant) on the swab for a number of days. Sometimes those
who are really keen to study the difference between the top notes and the heart notes will dip the first swap, and then after 15-30 minutes dip a
second swab and study the two side by side.

That is one can study the freshly dipped swab with the one that has entered its heartnote phase. Along with this one may wish to keep an index
card where they make specific notations about the changes one notices. This can be frustrating because the language of olfaction is not very
developed but there are a number of models which one can study to see which one suits ones needs. The main thing is that one needs to begin to
fix in their mind the various characteristics of the oil so that they begin to understand its unique personality. This becomes the key to effective
blending later on.

This is just a brief outline of a vast and deep subject which others have explained much better than me.

Friendly regards-
Christopher and Suzanne