Are Wild Scents Common Sense?

Why Wild Scents are Sensible.

Aromatherapy and Plant Folklore for Muskoka, Haliburton, and Central Ontario.


HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU REMEMBER being lost within an enchanting scent in nature?  Perhaps you happened upon a cool, lowland pocket of air, enveloped by Jewelweed.  Perhaps you had just trimmed some grass beside a moist, naturalized area.  Perhaps it was simply melting snow.  I’ve come across many inexplicable aromas, in what would seem to be the middle of nowhere, but memories of a similar perfume brought me back to a familiar place.

Some people may be content to take a deep breath, acknowledge the beauty of this planet, and store the moment to memory for another day.  I’m not one of those people.  One would find me on my hands and knees scavenging for a leaf or root, bruising a variety of cambium and detritus between my fingers only to stick them both, my fingers and the cambium, up to my nose.  “What is that smell?”  This curiosity, along with hastily discovering those scents not-so-pleasant, have taught me quite a bit about the wonderful aromatic oils that can be found and utilized with our local plant species here, in Muskoka, Haliburton and Parry Sound.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

The power of the essential oil that occurs in the Balsam Fir becomes evident when a branch is thrown on a campfire and erupts like fireworks, filling the air with its sweet scent.  When a Balsam Fir is cut down and left to dry slowly, the pile creates a heavenly aroma similar to a quart of fresh strawberries. The Cree First Nation used crushed plant matter in a chest plaster to ease breathing.  One would know the medicine had worked once they could feel the aroma of the needles in their mouth.  Fir was also widely used for bedding as it repelled pests.

r-k-lob-creek-glade-backlit-2016-024Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

This fragrant tree fringes the majority of shorelines along our watersheds and is used in many ways by Canada’s First Nations.  Cedar twigs are placed on hot stones in sweat lodges for purification. Cedar, representing the Southern quadrant of the Medicine Wheel, is one of the four sacred herbs used in purification smudges for ceremony and ritual along with Silver Sagebrush (West), Sweetgrass (North) and Tobacco (East) {Lavender may substitute}. In Europe, twigs were burned on open fires to banish nightmares and nervous conditions.

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

This native shrub of bedrock and shoreline is one of the earliest aromatics known to man.  Evidence of juniper boughs has been catalogued in prehistoric dwellings. Smouldering juniper branches were once carried around farmland to bring protection to crops and livestock.  The branches are potent, but it was the dried berries that were burned in Egyptian, Tibetan and First Nation’s ritual incense. Also said to ward-off negativity, juniper can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Juniper berries can be crushed between two stones while visualizing the self eating well, exercising and thinking positively.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Yet another invigorating conifer, the snappy scent of pine is said to speed healing. Canada’s mother of botany Catharine Parr Traill once wrote: “If I were a doctor, I would send my patients to live in a shanty under the pines.”  Pine has historically been placed in sick rooms and inhaled often during recovery from illness.  The scent of sun-baked pine needles is indeed sweet and uplifting. With this in mind, pine is said to protect, banishing negative energies back to their origin.  Pine is also associated with wealth and may assist meditation on the subject.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale)

The resinous yellow nutlets found on the Sweet gale shrub may remind one of some staple Middle Eastern herbs. When crushed, they will stain the skin yellow like turmeric, and they are highly fragrant and resinous sticking to the fingers like frankincense. The scent is rich and woody like the aforementioned and also brings about grounding energies for meditation and deep thought.  The leaves of the Sweet gale will too give off a lovely, spicy scent when crushed and will not leave any sticky resin behind. Look for Sweet gale along shorelines.

Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata)

This grass of moist places was dried and braided by Canada’s First Nations.  This practice is being widely rediscovered among those who meditate.  The end of the braid is ignited then calmed to a smoulder.  The resulting smoke is used to purify the person and area in which the meditation is taking place.  Sweetgrass is added to mixtures smoked during First Nations’ pipe ceremonies to summon good energy.

White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

One of the first flowering plants to evolve, a paleoherb, the White Water-lily is found in shallow bays where motor-craft cannot disturb the habitat. The succulent flower takes skill to reach.  Although light in tone, the aroma holds a deep wisdom from the past.  If one should find oneself gazing at their reflection in the smooth water amongst a colony of White Water-lily, one may wish to ask a question that requires a sage answer. Drink in the ancient, time-tested scent and acknowledge how fleeting the chance is to enjoy it, as this plant should not be picked and the aroma cannot be harnessed in a bottle.  Each day for 4-5 days, the flowers open early in the morning and close by early afternoon.  Once pollinated, the stem coils like a spring and pulls the developing fruit under the water.


The scent of White water-lily holds the key to great wisdom.

Wild Rose (Rosa blanda),(R. acicularis),(R. paulstris)

Modern aromatherapy research supports the rose’s timeless link with love.  The aroma is very efficient at turning our thoughts towards romance.  Inhale the spicy, sweet scent and visualize the cosmos leading you into a mutually satisfying relationship.  To spread loving energy throughout your home, place fresh roses in every room.  The scent calms domestic tension and ensures a warm, happy time for all who visit.  The oils of rose are also aphrodisiac, directly influencing the brain and passionate centres of the body. Mirror visualization with a rose can improve one’s opinion of their true beauty.

R.K. Swamp Rose.jpg

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen leaves and berries smell and taste exactly as named.  Quite rightly used historically for a wild tea.  One palm-full of leaves per one cup of water made a delicate and fragrant brew. A leaf snapped between your fingers will release a clean aroma that brings thoughts of cool days and crisp water. A few wintergreen leaves on a person may bring protection, particularly when travelling, and will bring positive energy to a space.  The oils in this plant contain ASA, or acetylsalicylic acid, the same compound found in Aspirin, so the tea can be used as a pain-killer, however it is equally dangerous to children under 12 years of age, and adults if over-consumed.


May the forest be with you. R.K.

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