By Gofire Staff

To the extent that plants communicate, they do so with fragrance.

(Hey, it’s better than a greeting card, right?)

Their aromatic messages run the gamut from “Watch out, I’m poisonous” and “My fruit is ripe—care for a bite?” to “Hey, Mr. Honeybee, care to visit this blossom and carry away some pollen with my nectar to fertilize other plants?” The language they speak is terpenes, a diverse (and often pleasing) category of volatile organic compounds. In this case, “volatile” means they broadcast molecules far and wide, airmailing their presence to every animal within sniffing distance.

Makers of perfume may have been among the first to profit monetarily from terpenes, as they isolated sweet, musky, citrusy and woodsy scents to add an alluring air to passing females and, perhaps, to mask the overstrong funk of manly men.

But terpenes are good for more than just olfactory overhaul. Increasingly, scientists are homing in on various health benefits that are carried along with their fragrances.

The science publication Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation may not sound like a fun read, but among its recent articles is A Database of Essential Oils Reflecting Terpene Composition and Variability in the Plant Kingdom, which speaks volumes about the important messages that plants are sending. Terpenes, the authors write, allow one plant to inform another that an attacker is present. As a result, the plants can ramp up their defenses. Terpenes also summon the predators of insects that are attacking a plant; for instance, terpenes lure bug-eating birds to a plant being savaged by grasshoppers.

Even if you don’t plan to dine on aphids, plant fragrances can be useful. Botanical medicine owes its existence to the fact that ancient healers associated certain scents with the beneficial effects of the plants that emitted them.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s health encyclopedia, garlic is a terpene titan, pumping out an unmistakable fragrance associated with lower blood pressure and antimicrobial effects. Ginger—mmm-mm!—works to soothe stomachs and alleviate motion sickness. Also, turmeric—the fragrant and colorful Indian-food staple—and its main component, curcumin, have been linked to everything from improved brain function to lowered heart-attack risk.

When talk turns to terpenes, a few superstars are often mentioned. Among them, along with conditions they’re known to help provide relief:

Pinene (piney scent): pain, asthma, ulcers and anxiety.

Myrcene (earthy, musky, as with cardamom and cloves): insomnia and inflammation.

Limonene (lemony): anxiety and depression.

Caryophyllene (peppery): Analgesic pain and ulcers.

Linalool (floral): many of the above, as well as nerve damage.

How can terpenes possibly help with all of that? We don’t yet have conclusive scientific proof that they can. But if the anecdotal evidence doesn’t convince you, how about this: It has been demonstrated that fragrances impact the body’s limbic system, which plays a role in long-term memory formation (the reason why smells trigger memories) and emotion, along with breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. And terpenes fight inflammation, the bodily process behind pain, heart disease and many other maladies.

So, while the science isn’t yet settled, there is still plenty of reason to experiment with terpenes as part of your arsenal of natural remedies, whether you spread them on as a topical or breathe them in with something such as the Gofire inhaler, a device designed for plant medicine.  

Turns out that the path to feeling better is pretty easy: Just follow your nose.