Wake Up and Smell the Roses

by Shamhain Scannell.

When you think about your five core senses, you probably think of them in equal measure, each of them being just as important as each other. Well, I used to disagree. I have had anosmia (loss or the changing of your sense of smell) since I can remember, on account of my nose collapsing in on itself as a baby, and it doesn’t appear to have affected me too negatively. Of course there are scenarios where it would have been helpful, for example the other day at work, my manager jumped out of her chair and suddenly exclaimed “something’s burning”, before swiftly walking towards an area of the store where she was certain the odour had originated. Then sure enough, two other colleagues started to smell it too. And before long, if you happen to have peered into our store, you would have seen three people being led on a mission by their noses, and one person stood sheepishly in the middle of the store, trying to remember the fire drill procedure. In the end, the smell sort of faded away and the search was put to a stop…but that didn’t make the threat any less worrying. There still could have been a fire…and I wouldn’t have known. It turns out that smell is important. 

Smell is also pretty useful in terms of tasting; smell makes up about 80% of taste. I’ve actually got a pretty good range in terms of taste. I only really notice that I can’t taste something when it comes to more subtle flavours like floral or herbal ones (flavoured sweeties are lost on me). Again, that was something that didn’t use to bother me, but I currently work in a luxury food shop. It’s a bit embarrassing to tell customers that all of our flavoured teas (of which there are a lot) taste akin to a glass of water with a drop of orange cordial in it.

The sense of smell wasn’t so important when I was young and I was only responsible for me, myself, and I. But now I’m in my mid twenties.. and it would be nice to tell for myself whether my shirt smells of B.O., or whether it can withstand another wear before chucking it in the wash. And given that I’ve just had nine surgeries to open up my nose to allow me to breathe through it, now seems like a good point to start trying to smell through it too. 

Now how would a person go about learning to smell, you may be wondering. Well to start off with, it’s like learning anything; it takes time and practice. So to ‘practise’ we need a controlled environment that can stay consistent through the learning process. This is where we bring in the smelling kit. Smelling kits can be bought online, or made at home using these items:

4 amber glass jars 

4 cotton pads

4 essential oils (the recommended ones are rose, lemon, clove, and eucalyptus). 

In each jar goes one cotton pad, and a small amount of an essential oil. Each jar is then meant to be smelt for at least 30 seconds every morning and every night, for at least 4 months. 

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(c) Shamhain Scannell

Smell training like this is meant to help those who have had a change in their ability to smell, whether it’s just weaker than before, or the sense of smell is gone completely. In the month before I started doing the smell training officially, I had hints of ‘smell’. For example, walking into a coffee shop was like walking through a curtain of coffee smelling smoke, but then as soon as I came out the other side, it was gone. It would last all of 5 to 10 seconds, and it was very very faint…but it was there. Then I would get it again when my Grandad was making burgers, or when I was cooking porridge … all very quick and faint … but something was definitely happening. I started the smell training with high hopes, as the essential oils are all meant to be fairly fragrant ones. 

Rose = 0/5 

Lemon = 3/5

Clove = 2/5

Eucalyptus = 4/5

So ‘rose’ did nothing for me. Not even a hint. ‘Lemon’ was one of those ones that I had smelt previously for those few precious seconds when I first started grating it to make cookies; I would sometimes be able to smell it in the jar, and sometimes not. ‘Clove’ and ‘eucalyptus’ are very similar in that you don’t only smell them with your nose…you feel them in your mouth and your chest. Clove gave me that a little bit, and eucalyptus gave me that so much that I would have to close my eyes to try and smell it. Overall I quite enjoyed having my training jars next to my bed and incorporating them into my morning and nighttime routines  (I’m using past tense here, because I haven’t been doing the smell training since my recent surgery on my nose, just over a month ago, but I will get back at it!). Smell training is not a quick fix though. I had been doing it for about 3 months when I had the surgery, and the change has not been very noticeable (let’s bear in mind that I’m trying to go from nothing to something, so it’ll be harder and take longer).

I remain hopeful. I would like to be able to smell … to unlock memories, places, and people with a whiff. I want to be able to recognise food with my nose, before my eyes. I want to be able to feel safe in a building on my own, and not have to rely on an electronic box in the ceiling to tell me if there’s smoke nearby. And I just want to join in … to know what ‘smell’ really is. Because I’ve heard it’s pretty great.


Shamhain is an aspiring author, currently writing a book about her medical condition, and the treatment she received for it.

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