What does a forest smell like? How do nature smells impact our wellbeing?

What does a forest smell like? How do nature smells impact our wellbeing?

Despite its importance in vital functions such as warning and protection from environmental hazards, eating behavior and nutrition, and social communication, the human sense of smell remains under appreciated.
Compared to other senses as sight and hearing, the sense of smell is one of the human senses that has been studied the least, and many of its functions are still not clear. For many, smell is a natural but not very useful way for humans to get information.
The parts of the brain that deal with smells, memories, and emotions are all closely connected. This is why smells can bring back such strong emotional memories.
Our memories of smells are often raw, emotional and unorganized. Some smells bring back old memories, while others make new ones.
Being in the forest, for example, is a rich sensory experience, and we need breathe deeply to be able to fully appreciate it. 
Here, with the help of trained olfactory experts, we've gathered a wide range of forest scents to improve our well-being and happiness through enhanced sensory capabilities.  

Smells in the forest

Let us take you through an olfactory tour through the smells found in a typical temperate forest environment. 

Pine and Pine Resins

The pungent aroma of the woods is carried by the prickly needles of a tall conifer tree and the small odorous cones that are clinging on for dear life. Both of these elements are made of pine. The air is filled with a smell that is undeniably evocative of previous winter holidays: it is crisp, it is sharp, and it is spicy. Sap, on the other hand, has a richer and darker aroma than pine needles, and the stickiness of its grasp carries with it the nuances of the magnificent wood from which it originates. 

It's difficult to adequately describe the aroma of a pine tree other than to simply say that it is "piney." similar to the smell of freshly cut wood, but with a hint of metal and lime.


The characteristics of the earth change depending on whether it is warm and dry or wet and cool. While you are out walking in the rain, the ground may appear to be at the same level as your nose. When hiking on a hot, dry day in the sun, the ground tends to smell more like clay and dust. There is an occasional whiff of a downed and rotting tree trunk that can be found in the mixture.

Under a rock

The musty, earthy aroma of worms that were startled by the thump of your feet and the knowledge that the rocks shields them from the light floats up to your nose, causing it to wrinkle. These are not overpowering odors, and they will fade away faster than you can detect them.


Every once in a while, you'll smell the faint aroma of wild jasmine. As you round the corner, the scent of honeysuckle, which has been steadily building up, is wafted into your head by the gentle air. The untamed nature of the mushrooms combined with the refreshing droplets of rain makes your stomach growl with hunger and thirst. Soon after, eucalyptus and copious amounts of moss will also arrive.

We can name some specific plants like:

  • The Sweet-After-Death plant, also known as Achlys triphylla, has a scent similar to that of vanilla. When it is dried, the odor is much more pronounced than when it is fresh (this is where the name comes from - the smell is even nicer after the leaves are dried and dead). People used to pick it and then dry it in order to use it as a deodorizer in their homes. Sweet-after-Death is a plant that thrives in cool, wet, gloomy environments, such as near streams in dense, dark forests.
  • Wild ginger: As you might have guessed from its name, the plant known as Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has a scent reminiscent of ginger. It is more difficult to detect than Sweet-After-Death; typically, you will need to break a leaf or stem in order to do so. The underground portions of the stems are where you'll find the most potent odor. It does not smell exactly the same as ginger; rather, it smells like a combination of ginger and citrus fruits like lemon or grapefruit. Even though you may have a desire to consume it, you shouldn't because it contains a chemical that has been linked to a higher risk of cancer.
  • Candy cap: Also known as Lactarius rubidus, is a species of mushroom that emits an odor similar to a combination of fake maple syrup and pipe tobacco. Even though it makes no sense, the aroma is quite pleasant.

Nature smells and wellbeing

child smelling flowers

Smells have a big impact, but we still have a long way to learn about how nature, smell, and well-being are connected.  

There is a clear link between nature and people's health and happiness. Few studies, though, look at more than just the visual and auditory aspects of this relationship, even though being in nature is an experience that involves all of the senses. 

Some studies have looked at how the smells of woods affect our health and happiness in all four seasons. These show that smells are linked to different aspects of well-being - relaxation, comfort and rejuvenation, both in positive and negative ways. They are connected to memories and specific ecological traits and processes that happen over space and time. By making the link between how biodiversity changes over time and how people are doing, we find a new way to look into it.

Link of nature scents and memory

Nature's scents improve our wellbeing and mental health by making us feel more relaxed, joyful, and healthy. Smells in nature, such as smelling rain or damp grass on a rainy day, or smelling smoke from a campfire, can improve our mental health. This is because these smells are frequently associated with an individual's personal memories as well as specific environment moments (e.g. fallen leaves rotting in the winter). For example, if a person smells damp, rotting leaves in the winter, they may feel happier or more relaxed because they associate this smell with happy, relaxed memories.

Importance of nature smells for wellbeing

Nature is a multisensory experience and the potential significance of smell is essential for wellbeing.

Small interventions could have a big impact on public health. Overall, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and planners who want to improve well-being through nature should think about the multisensory experience.

Smell is an important sense for achieving and maintaining well-being because it plays an important role in basic human functions such as memory, social relationships, nutrition, and much more. It has an impact that we're just beginning to understand.

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