The Nose Knows

Who’s heard of patchouli? If you lived through the 60’s and 70’s, you probably recognize the smell of patchouli, even if you aren’t sure what it’s called. That’s because many Hippies were very liberal in the use of patchouli oil. Some people say that the Hippies liked it because patchouli covered the scent of body odor. Others said it was so popular because it covered the scent of weed. Either way, they used lots of it.And its use seems to be making a resurgence, not just with Hippies, but with people from a large cross-section of society.

By now, if you’ve never smelled it, you are probably wondering just what patchouli smells like.  To me, it has a very noticeable, pungent, loamy smell. But, that may not be how it smell to you. I say this, because in selling our body products over the last several years, we have noticed that some people really like the smell of patchouli. Others absolutely despise it. And believe it or not, there is even a small percentage of people who say they really can’t smell it at all.


How can that be? Why do some people like some smells, while others don’t? Turns out there are some really good, scientific reasons.

The first reason has to do with genetics. There are about 400 genes for olfactory receptors in the human nose. The genes vary from person to person. With 400 genes, there are about 900,000 different combinations of genes a person can have for their scent receptors. different combination of genes ‘smells’ a scent differently. That means that there are many different smells for each and every scent. The smell you experience when you smell a rose is different then the smell the next person experiences when sniffing the exact same rose. Some people have a pleasant experience when they sniff the rose, but some find the scent offensive.

The second reason has to do with our brains and how they are wired to receive sensory information. Smell information is the only sensory information transmitted to the hippocampus and amygdala, in the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is associated with emotions and memory, which in turn, influences how we react to the scent. The first time you smell a particular smell, the memory of the scent gets intertwined with emotions and memories of behavior and feelings of nostalgia. Because these neural connections are formed at the same time, they are intertwined.This makes scent the most powerful sense for triggering emotions and memories, and evoking feelings of nostalgia, or even deja vu.


I know about that first hand. I can remember being a kid in Billings, Montana. The neighbor down the street had a lilac bush that was as big as the side of their house. During the summer, whenever it was breezy, you could smell that lilac bush for blocks.


Now, 40 years later, whenever I smell lilacs, I get a contented, carefree feeling, just like I did when I was a kid, playing with my friends.

What about you? Do you smell things differently than your friends and family? Why not give it a try and see if you have any unique little quirks to your smell registry? Then; if you learned something cool, share it with us either here on the website, on facebook, or even instagram with #MoreBees. We would love to hear about it either way you all want to share it.

The Nose Knows
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