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Monday, July 28, 2014

"Listening to Scent" (Jennifer Peace Rhind)

TITLE: Listening to Scent: An Olfactory Journey With Aromatic Plants and Their Extracts
AUTHOR: Jennifer Peace Rhind
PUBLISHER: Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014, (164 pages).

Of all the five human senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, touch, and smelling, the least developed is arguably the last one. I remember having a conversation among friends about how technology had been able to replicate human sensory patterns upon computers. Visually we use high resolution images. Audibly, we can produce high fidelity sound devices, headsets, and great sound effects. Touch-wise, we have the mouse, the keyboard, and of course the modern touch screens available with tablets and modern computers. The senses of taste and smell are the least developed. This book is about cultivating a sense of smell through listening, learning, and cultivating our olfactory faculties. According to the author, a biologist with a PhD in mycotoxicology, there are other benefits such as improved cognitive abilities, general well-being, even healthy aging! Written in three parts, the book covers smell and scent matters through educating, profiling, and experiencing.

Part One lists some vocabulary, odour description, and how the scent can be associated with the other five senses. We learn about how our brains and olfactory systems function, the cognitive, the interpretive, and the emotional. First steps in cultivating this scent ability include keeping a reference of our own scents, preferably in a quiet and peaceful environment. Called "perfumery education," readers are encouraged to label what they smell, experience first hand about essential oils, and how it changes over time. Other smells include the balsamic, the woody, the medicated, the green, the floral, the fruity, and many more. After learning how to identify and distinguish the different scents, one can build upon that with creative blending. At the end of it all, one realizes that the journey itself is more interesting than the destination of learning.

Part Two describes to olfactory profiles which link each family of scents to unique qualities. Eleven families are listed: balsamic, woody, spicy, coniferous, herbaceous, medicated, green, agrestic, floral, fruity, and citrus. Like a mini encyclopedia of herbs and natural oils, readers will marvel not just at the precise descriptions of each, but also the hunger to want to smell the oils for ourselves. It is that seductive.

Part Three points readers toward some practical exercises that they can do in the natural world. Whether it is walking in the forest, by the beach, strolling through a garden or when in the kitchen, there are many ways to stimulate our olfactory senses as well as to enhance our culinary prowess. There is even an appendix on the chemistry of it all.

So What?

This is a very unique book, which not only describes the various smells out there in nature, it makes us want to smell these aroma and fragrance. Using very colourful language and precise terminology, the author has empowered our noses to smell in ways never known before. Readers' vocabulary would be enriched. Their cognitive abilities will be stimulated. Their sensory perceptions will be taken to new heights. Their emotions will enter a deeper level of experience. There are three groups of people who can benefit from the reading of this book. The first group is of course the technologists, in particular computer enthusiasts. In our Internet-connected world of social media and e-connections, we tend to overuse our hands (touch), our eyes (sight), and our ears (hearing). God had created us with more than these senses. The sense of smell is one of them, but sadly underutilized. This book brings back a good sense of appreciating what smell can do to our overall health.

The second group is the nature lovers wanting to grow in understanding and appreciating the natural world. Gardeners, farmers, or simply anyone interested in gardening will find this book helpful in expanding as well as being able to identify each smell for what it is. Sometimes, our lack of precise vocabulary can hinder learning. Everyone knows what it means to be "pungent." Yet, what are the levels of describing aromatic smells?  This book equips one to grow in this precision and descriptive ability.

The third group is the spiritual person who wants to make associations between nature and the supernatural. In the realm of spirituality, chapter 12 of the book makes reference to the "spirit of koh-do," which is the Japanese way of incense that connects listening to smell. It reminds me of the way the Eastern and Western churches use incense in worship rituals to bless, to venerate, and to sanctify the place. The Bible has made references to many aromatic herbs such as myrrh, aloes, cassia, nard, and praises to God be as incense like in Psalm 141:2
" May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice."

Wonderful and "scent"-sational book.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Jessica Kingsley Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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