My relationship with lavender is three decades old. In fact, someone cruelly informed me that I am now “middle-aged.” This story is cassette tape and beta max vintage!
This week I have been exploring lavender from many angles. I have a story to share. It’s about scent “flashbacks” and how lavender became such an import treasured plant ally for me. If you’d like to follow this exploration you can also read The Healing Garden: Growing Lavender (Lavendula Officinalis)and For the love of lavender: History, Aromatic & Medicinal Benefits (Lavendula Officinalis).
Barely a teenager, I stood in a store called Langlois in my Yellowknife, my childhood stomping grounds.
Langlois was the kind of store where everything smelled of patchouli and frankincense. The shelves lined with teak wood trinkets, tie-dyed dresses, and funky necklaces beckoned to us. My friend Kora and I were drawn to this store like magnets every Saturday.
One day they brought in a rack of essential oils Imported from France. As I stood there cautiously sniffing the samples, I opened the bottle of lavender. Slowly I inhaled the scent. Then I breathed it in again, suddenly awash with memories.
Love filled memories washed over me. Soaps wrapped in beautiful paper & floral scented talcum powder. The giggle-worthy woosh of a green toilet with a pull cord in the ceiling. A great aunt watching snooker on the television carefully recording the scores in her notebook. The clink of a teaspoon on chipped Royal Doulton china. The warmth of an uncle opening the door saying to me “come on in petal, can I get you some tea.” I’d uncorked love, captured inside a little bottle of lavender.
Perfume is the key to our memories. ~ The Perfume Garden
In 1989 at the very moment that I opened that bottle of lavender oil, I was flooded with welcomed memories.
Moments before opening that bottle, I had been miserable, isolated and displaced. A misfit yearning to be back with my relatives in England. I yearned for roots and a sense of belonging.
My first distinct memory connection with scent was terrific & perplexing. Of course, I scraped together all of my money and bought that little bottle of lavender. There was a lot I didn’t understand, but I knew I wanted more of it.
“Every breath is a giveaway dance between you and the plants.” ~ Susun Weed
Scent Memories or Fragrance Flash Backs are emotional memories triggered by familiar scents.
Fragrance is powerful! It evokes emotions and helps us remember the past. It can trigger both good and bad emotional responses. Scent can also take our breath away if we aren’t careful.
According to the Association for Psychological Science, memory and smell are deeply intertwined. Various studies have shown that odor triggered memories are more emotional than those memories triggered by visual or verbal cues. (2) Our peak time for developing scent induced memories is in early childhood.
According to this article, Our emotional response to scent happens because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system. This area of the brain is closely associated with memory. Often referred to as the “emotional brain.” Scent can invoke memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
I tend to romanticize these things, but there is a lot of science to back up “fragrance flashbacks”. This response is likely part of our survival tool kit, but I find it quite romantic. Whichever way we look at it, our memory response to scent is fascinating. If you are curious to dig deeper into the science of it all, some articles can explain this far better than I could ever hope to Memory and Plasticity in the Olfactory System: From Infancy to Adulthood, The Science Of Scent & Why It Brings Back Memories and https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/fragrant-flashbacks are three such articles.
Lavender, sweet lavender; come and buy my lavender, hide it in your trousseau, lady fair.
Let its lovely fragrance flow,
Over you from head to toe, lightening on your eyes, your cheek, your hair.
~ Cumberland Clark Flower Song Book 1929
I would love to know; have you ever had fragrance flashbacks? What scents trigger memories for you?