Winter Aromatics: A Few Good Whiffs of Nature

photography of roadway in the middle of trees

Photo by Kata Pal on

Carl, at 45 years of age, now lives alone. When he needs to run to the grocery store to pick up a few items, he chooses to shop at 9:00 PM. As Carl exists the store, he always breathes in a few good whiffs of nature.

While shopping at this hour of day may seem odd to most folks – Can you guess why Carl shops at 9:00 PM?

You’re right! No kiddies in the grocery aisles – no coughing or sneezing little kiddies spreading their contagious germs all over the place.

Did you know that kids remain contagious for a longer period of time than adults? People with weak immune systems, such as with the elderly, have an extended contagious period as well.

Unfortunately, most who are contagious don’t even know that they could be contagious because, generally for a cold or flu virus, the miserable coughing, sneezing, achy, runny nose symptoms begin a day or two after being exposed to the contagion.

Which means for a day or two, people go about their lives normally – going to school, going to work, or shopping at the grocery store – unintentionally and unknowingly spreading contagious germs.

So what is a person to do to avoid becoming sick?

Like Carl, you can begin with adjusting your routine to avoid the primary contagion carriers – other humans – especially kids.

Kids are a primary contagion source due to the fact that their immune systems aren’t developed.

It is only through contracting an illness that the body then creates the antibodies to fight future exposure to that specific contagion.

That sounds so weird because we want our children to remain healthy and avoid illness, right?

Allowing kiddies to contract an illness is, oddly, a very good thing.


Obviously you cannot avoid your own kids or the many other folks you intermingle with who do have kids. In these instances there are a few things that you can do that will help.

Let’s observe what Carl practices. After all, knock-on-wood, by simply enforcing these easy adjustments to his routine, Carl has been able to avoid getting a cold or the flu for well over a decade.

The phrase “knock on wood” is an ancient belief whereby people would knock on tree trunks to either arouse protective spirits living in the tree or give thanks to the spirits for providing good fortune.

During the cold and flu season, Carl enforces these three simple rules when he ventures out in public:

No. 1 – When he hears someone cough or sneeze in an aisle, he avoids going down that aisle for 15 minutes or avoids the aisle completely – deciding to return to the grocery for that item at another time.

No. 2 – If someone coughs or sneezes while in the same aisle that Carl is in, Carl holds his breath while immediately leaving that aisle. Holding one’s breath may sound a bit crazy, but it has worked for Carl, keeping him healthy for well over a decade.

No. 3 – Last, but not least and perhaps the most important part of his routine … once Carl leaves the grocery, and is out in the fresh air, Carl takes multiple (like 5-6) deep breaths of fresh air.

You may ask, does Carl use the sanitary wipes provided by the grocery on the shopping cart handle? The answer is no, he does not use them.

Carl has a skin reaction to the ingredients used in the wipes. His hands get a prickly and itchy sensation that then develops into a monstrous rash.

You might be wondering why we should follow Carl’s practices.

More than a decade ago, Carl was diagnosed with cancer. The medical treatment protocol called for chemotherapy and that treatment severely compromised Carl’s immune system. The cancer and subsequent treatment chapters of “Carl’s book of life,” led Carl to pay more attention to his routines and how they influence his health.

Remember, Carl has been able to avoid getting a cold or the flu for well over a decade.

Even today, Carl continues to develop his keen sense of observation.  Carl is observing that the world around us provides what we need and when we need it.

We simply need to pay attention.

Remember Carl’s rule No. 3?

Once Carl leaves the grocery, and is out in the fresh air, Carl takes multiple (like 5-6) deep breaths of fresh air.

Why is taking a few good whiffs of nature important?

close up of an acorn

Photo by Pixabay on

Mother Nature provides us with therapeutic aromatics throughout the year.

In the winter months, conifers (evergreen, cone bearing trees or shrubs often with needle-like or scale-like leaves) and evergreen plants (trees or shrubs having green foliage throughout the year) produce aromatics continually.

If you live in North America, conifers and evergreen shrubs provide wonderful aromas – especially if you are able to walk through a grove of them – even if you walk by them at the local nursery or home improvement garden center.

fragrant tea olive

If you live somewhere in the south-east (United States), a wonderful evergreen that often baffles folks is the Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Most Fragrant Tea Olive varieties will bloom in the early fall (September/October) – an unexpected time of the year to experience a sweet citrus/floral aroma. Its tiny fragrant blossoms are hard to see, but their sweet citrus/floral aroma is unmistakably mesmerizing.

If you happen to enjoy hiking or kayaking, take a trip through a north Georgia forest or down a mountain stream – you will surely run across the sweet aroma of the Fragrant Tea Olive.

Inhaling Mother Nature’s aromatic plants have purpose – no matter what time of the year. Plants themselves create their own aromas as part of their biological evolution aimed towards their own survival.

The function of the aromas may be to attract helpful insects to aid in pollination or the plant’s aroma may function to protect the plant by repelling harmful pests. Many organic farmers and gardeners know of the amazing natural aromatic feature of plants as they inter-plant special plant combinations, called companion planting – plants to attract pollinators and plants to repel harmful pests.

If the plant’s aroma is found in the flower or the fruit, the aroma’s function is to attract assistance for pollination.

When the plant’s aroma is found in the root, bark, or leaves, the aroma functions to defend the plant.

To identify those plants that benefit humans by boosting the immune system, we turn to the plants that provide aromas found in the root, bark, and leaves of those plants.

The aromas that function to defend the plant can also help defend human health.

Plant aromas can boost the immune system to help ward off contagions. Plants can also be used to assist the immune system during the recovery process, say from a cold or from the flu.

So back to Carl’s Rule No. 3 – Once Carl leaves the grocery, and is out in the fresh air, Carl takes multiple (like 5-6) deep breaths of fresh air.

How is this important for keeping you healthy during the cold and flu season?

In botanical medicine, both aromatherapy (using essential oils derived from plants) and herbal medicine (using bio-compatible plant material), the conifers and the evergreens are the most beneficial in preventing and treating respiratory conditions.

We will discuss a few specifics regarding the use of aromatherapy and herbal medicine for the immune system in the next post.

For now, let’s address what can be utilized right now – outside your front door (or back door):

woman wearing black parka jacket walking on black concrete road surrounded by trees

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

Basic Aromatherapy 101: Breathing Aromatics from Outdoor Plants

When we inhale the aromas of conifers and evergreens, we are immediately benefiting from the chemical constituents of their aroma.

Through our olfactory system (our sense of smell), the aromatics travel to receptors in the brain. We cannot see them, but we can often identify their aroma.

Nerve receptors in the brain are triggered by the chemicals constituents of the conifer and/or evergreen plant’s aroma – triggered to communicate and interface with a part of our nervous system that functions to prepare the body for rest and restoration. It’s called the parasympathetic nervous system.

Parasympathetic nerves calm cardiac and respiratory activity, and then stimulate digestion.

Parasympathetic nerves function to conserve energy by slowing the heart rate and regulating breathing. At the same time, it increases intestinal and glandular activity, while relaxing muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.

So why are slowing the heart rate, increasing the intestinal and glandular activity, and relaxing gastrointestinal tract muscles so important?

It’s because when these organs function properly, we benefit by having an optimally operating immune system. We don’t get sick or at least when we do get sick, the degree of suffering from the side effects (coughing, sneezing, achy, runny nose) is minimized and the duration is considerably shortened.

When the parasympathetic nerve system slows the heart rate, it triggers a favorable chain reaction in the body. It begins with increasing intestinal and glandular activity within the digestive tract. As the flow of digestive fluids improves, the foods we eat are more properly processed.

Another response to slowing the heart rate is the relaxing of the gastrointestinal muscles. The benefit is improved absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat.

More absorbed nutrients equates to improved function of other internal organs and that leads to feeling better and most importantly, improving the function of the immune system.

The aromas inhaled assist the body to protect and defend itself.

Just as with plants that use their biologically evolved aromas aimed towards assisting their survival, humans benefit from these aromas as well.


Boosting the immune system is directly dependent upon an optimally functioning parasympathetic nervous system which can be favorably influenced by taking a few deep breath of fresh air – preferably inhaling aromatics from conifers and evergreen plants.

If you are an urban dweller, you may think you’re handy-capped by the urban canyons (concrete and glass).

Do not panic!

Many cities across our great nation have developed parks and/or green spaces.

Now that you are aware of the benefit of breathing the aromatics of conifers and evergreens, be encouraged to meander through your local-park or green space routinely during the winter months. Take those deep breaths of fresh air as you walk.

It is recommended that you walk versus run … slow down your pace so that you can release stress and tension as you walk … while taking deep breaths of nature’s beneficial aromatics.

In a study published by the American Chemistry Society: Environmental Science and Technology 2012, Thomas A. M. Pugh with his colleagues concluded that judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration, at street level, of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) by as much as 40 percent and microscopic particulate matter (PM) by 60 percent, much more than previously believed. Both NO2 and PM are considered harmful to human health and exceed safe levels on the streets of many cities.

Know that the next time you take a few deep breaths of outdoor fresh air (preferably near a conifer or evergreen plant), you are receiving benefits from nature.

You will benefit from the chemical constituents of the aromas as they travel to receptors in the brain that communicate with the parasympathetic nervous system –

  • Which in turn functions to conserve energy by slowing the heart rate and regulates respiratory activity –
  • Which in turn increases intestinal and glandular activity and relaxes gastrointestinal muscles –
  • Which improves the absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat –
  • Which improves the function of other internal organs –
  • Which leads to improved function of the immune system


Please visit this blog again soon. The next featured blog will have a beneficial essential oil blend for winter whiffs and will provide a simple aromatic recipe that can easily be incorporated into your winter routine.

Remember, you can always make a trip to the local nursery or home improvement garden center for a few good whiffs of nature.

evergreen nursery

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Janet Kempe is not a licensed medical practitioner and does not diagnose, prescribe medications, or claim to cure any health condition.