by Agnes Van den Berg
Nature for People
Abstract The earth, when it gets dried out and longing for the caress of rain, emits a unique and enchanting scent known as petrichor. This distinct fragrance, evaporated by the soil after a refreshing downpour, has captivated human senses for centuries. In this blog, I will discuss the scientific, historical, and psychological aspects of petrichor, revealing why this earthly aroma is so beloved by people worldwide.
Smelling the earth: Petrichor and the human fascination with this smell.
The earth, when it gets dried out and longing for the caress of rain, emits a unique and enchanting scent known as petrichor. This distinct fragrance, evaporated by the soil after a refreshing downpour, has captivated human senses for centuries. In this blog, I will discuss the scientific, historical, and psychological aspects of petrichor, revealing why this earthly aroma is so beloved by people worldwide.
The science of petrichor
The term ‘petrichor’was first coined in 1964 by two Australian researchers, Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas, in their study published in the journal Nature. They discovered that after a long period of dry weather this unique and special scent arises from the release of various volatile compounds by plants and microbes. These compounds then mix with geosmin, a substance produced by bacteria and fungi in the soil. When raindrops hit the ground, they release aerosols carrying this concoction into the air, creating the beloved aroma of petrichor.
The word petrichor has ancient origins. It’s derived from the Greek “petra” (stone) and “ichor” which refers to the ethereal blood of the gods. In Greek mythology, the earth’s scent was believed to be the perfume of the gods. In India petrichor is associated with purity and is said to cleanse the atmosphere. These historical associations have given petrichor a timeless and enchanting aura.
The Psychological Impact of Petrichor
Why do people adore the smell of petrichor so much? This love can be attributed to several factors:
- Nostalgia: For many, the smell of petrichor evokes memories of rainy days, childhood, and simpler times. It can transport individuals back to cherished moments spent in nature.
- Biological connection: Some research suggest that humans may have an innate connection to petrichor due to its biological significance. The smell may be linked to the primal urge for survival, as it signals the availability of water, a vital resource.
- Relaxation and mood enhancement: Studies have shown that the scent of petrichor can have a calming and mood-lifting effect on individuals. This may be due to the psychological association between rain and relief from heat and drought.
Smelling petrichor gives you an instant ‘magical moment’ during which you feel deeply connected with nature. Which you can bring about yourself! You only need to water your plants and garden after a long period of dryness or lack of rain. When you take up the hose, or any other device to water your garden, the smell will come to you instantly. Petrichor is truly a gift from nature, that brings back memories and soothes our souls during stressful times. The next time you catch a whiff of this alluring aroma, take a moment to appreciate the wonders of the natural world and the deep connection it shares with your senses and emotions.