Winter is an excellent season to explore the curious science of scent molecules. This season's aromas are refreshing yet familiar, and many are simultaneously warming and cooling. Winter smells include crisp air and snow-covered evergreens mingled with warm nostalgic cinnamon, gingerbread delights, and a cozy cup of peppermint tea.
The smells of winter are tied to our personal histories. Scent and memory are deeply intertwined, and winter's smells highlight this relationship more than any other season. These aromas reflect our past and bring back feelings from our childhoods. Let's explore the science of smell through the most popular aromatics people associate with winter and learn about the natural connection between scent and memory.
The Smell of Snow
Step outside into a fresh snowfall and experience the deep cold air moving into your nose and lungs. Snow is a strange olfactory experience because scent molecules are affected by the weather. The cold temperatures slow the air's molecular activities. The effects of cold on smell are so fascinating that the book: Revelations in Air by Jude Stewart has an entire chapter dedicated to snow. "When it's cold outside, volatile molecules stay put and refuse to become airborne as scents... Your nose is registering blankness, an unusually complete absence of smells." Our familiar world, filled with the aromas of living things, has frozen in place.
The smell of snow is the experience of a fresh, clean scent because it is a blank slate. The aromatic hibernation caused by the cold temperatures amplifies the terpenes of the few thriving plants in winter: the evergreen family.
Evergreens keep their foliage throughout the winter producing bright and refreshing pine aromas. Most evergreens produce natural plant terpenes from the pinene family, which becomes very popular this time of year. From holiday trees to wreaths and garlands, evergreens are a staple of winter holiday decorations.
The Pinene Family
Fir Balsams and Blue Spruce are many people's favourite holiday trees. They are pungent and piney with sweet, warming notes. They make excellent room sprays as hydrosols, delivering the fresh aroma of the woods without having a real tree. Try adding a few drops of pinene terpenes into your room spray or oil diffuser to enjoy these uplifting aromas indoors.
Juniper is a sweet and woody evergreen shrub used in wreath-making. Cedarwood and Wintergreen are popular winter candle aromas. Their scents are perfect for those chilly nights when you want to curl up with a good book or warm yourself by the fire. If you don't have a fireplace, add a few drops of Texas or Chinese Cedarwood essential oils to a diffuser to give your space a sweet, smoky aroma. We recommend infusing 1-2 drops of CannTerp's food grade pinene terpenes into your hot cup of tea for added scent, flavour and effects.
What would the winter be without the smell of peppermint? From candy canes to a hot cup of peppermint tea, it's a staple of the winter season. Peppermint embodies the energy of winter in its warming and cooling properties. During the dark days of winter, it invigorates and strengthens.
The two most popular types of peppermint are: True Peppermint Mentha piperita and Cornmint Mentha arvensis. True peppermint is a very spicy, penetrating scent due to its high menthol content. Cornmint is equally spicy but provides a more rounded and sweeter aroma, like a candy cane. The peppermint family is often used to calm mental fatigue and provide a relaxing effect in the nervous system. Brew a big cup of tea and inhale the cooling peppermint steam. Try infusing 1-2 drops of CannTerp’s custom Immerse terpene blend in your cup of tea, for a fresh and cooling scent, taste, and effect.
Frankincense or Olibanum is a small tree that produces fragrant resins called Oleoresin. The resin turns from liquid to solid and is used worldwide in spiritual and religious practices. Its aroma is rich and camphoraceous yet slightly citrusy. It is often used in aromatherapy for relaxing contemplation, as it can calm and center the mind. To burn resins, you need a small heatproof dish and a charcoal disk. Light the charcoal and place a few drops of the resin on top. Be cautious; it can get smoky!
Cozy Cabin Vibes
In stark contrast to the silencing of smells from the cold, are the warming scents of winter found inside. This frosty snow and ice season is the perfect time of year to enjoy cozy and spicy aromatics. The highlights of indoor winter smells are baking smells from delicious goodies made with cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger. Spicy Chai tea is also especially popular this time of year for its therapeutic warming properties. You can infuse your home with cozy cabin vibes by adding some sweet, spicy and earthy terpenes to your diffuser, candle or room spray with CannTerp’s Girl Scout Cookies blend.
Fruits and Florals
Speaking of cozy cabin vibes, winter is a great time to embrace the smells of fruits and flowers! Magnolia, bergamot, and other floral fragrances may smell like spring but feel like winter.
Tangerine and other limonene-rich fruits will cast away the gloom of long nights and add zest to your home. Many enjoy boiling a pot of water with a couple of cinnamon sticks and some orange slices over their stove to infuse the air with a delicious cider essence. Try adding a few drops of limonene terpenes to the water for an added citrus boost and to provide an uplifting, energizing effect. Winter is about embracing our favourite smells and pausing to enjoy the parts of our past they remind us of.
The Science of Smells
The sensory system our bodies use for smell is called the Olfactory System. There is a direct connection between our olfactory bulb and the parts of the brain related to emotions and memories, called the Amygdala (emotions) and Hippocampus (memories). Alternatively, when we use our other senses to see, hear, taste, and touch, it connects to the cognitive part of the brain, known as the Thalamus. We process that information through entirely different pathways. With smell, the connection goes past the thalamus straight to the emotional part of the brain.
Scent and Memory
When we smell something, it is processed through the region of our brain tied to specific events, emotions, and memories. These episodic memories include moments in our life and personal biography. Scents and aromas are linked to these emotions and memories, which is why certain scents will reconnect us with our past - not just as memories but also as feelings. When a smell reminds us of something and we try to recall it, emotions and feelings are closely intertwined. It becomes a story in our memories.
Enjoy the Smells of Winter
Winter is a profoundly aromatic season. Partially because the absence of smells outside in the cold causes an explosion of scent memories to exist indoors. Winter isn't just about celebrating holidays - it's a time to embrace the long nights and the scents we love. What does winter smell like to you?
Winter Aromatherapy Blend
Do you want to try blending your own winter terpene blend? To recreate the nostalgia of winter with an uplifting and relaxing effect, try adding the following terpenes to your diffuser:
- 1 drop Eucalyptol
- 1 drop Beta-Caryophyllene
- 2 drops Limonene
- 2 drops Pinene
CannTerp manufactures unique terpene products and is your top Canadian supplier for high-quality, steam distilled terpenes. We offer a wide variety of terpene products including terpene isolates, terpene boosters, strain profiles, and terpene infusion, perfect for those looking to enjoy the benefits of terpenes. Check out CannTerp’s website for more information on terpenes and how they can help you! CannTerp products are made in Canada.
Amanda Breeze is an enthusiastic educator on all things terpenes and aroma. She hosts The Smoking Spot podcast, featuring stories and sensory evaluations of our favourite plant. Follow her on Instagram: @emerald.temple.living or check out her website www.emeraldtempleliving.com