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My hip’s been hurting for months, so I made myself a comfort spray to use at bedtime. The problem with hip pain (at least mine) is that there’s no comfortable sleep position. I was dreading going to bed at night. So I mixed up a spray bottle with lavender, frankincense, oud, lots of vanilla and vodka for a carrier. It’s not magic – I never expected it would be. It doesn’t put me to sleep or keep me asleep. But it is an interesting smell experience at bedtime, when I spray some on my pillow and some more on my left forearm, where it will cross my face as I lie on my left side. Doing the same thing every night has been educational. I’ve discovered that some nights I experience the lavender-frankincense-oud top note as a new note with its own character. Some nights I experience it as an astringent lavender. And some nights I just smell vanilla. When the top note is gone the vanilla lasts and lasts. When I change positions I catch a whiff of it. Some nights I detect a little lingering lavender but mostly I can’t tell that the vanilla is doing anything to make the top notes last longer. There’s pleasure in all this, and at least a small distraction.

I should back up and say that my five months of hip pain hasn’t been caused by any deficiencies in my doctors. As far as I can tell, the 3 physician’s assistants, 5 orthopedists, 2 radiologists and 2 chiropractors I’ve seen are all intelligent, well-trained and conscientious. But medical science isn’t as advanced as we all wish. X-rays show moderate arthritis in both my right hip and lower back. Some people with moderate arthritis have pain and some people have no pain. If we knew the science of why, maybe I wouldn’t be scheduled for hip replacement. But we don’t know how to turn off the pain. The four non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that I’ve taken have not kept the pain from getting slowly worse. Unfortunately, the only way to tell whether the pain I feel in my hip comes from the hip joint or from a pinched nerve in my back is to assume it’s one place, try to treat that place, then go on to the next most likely place if the treatment doesn’t work. Naturally I put off full hip replacement until last.

As I said, I don’t want to bash my doctors. But I’ve learned that diagnosis isn’t much like House, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, Doctor Kildare or Ben Casey. I haven’t concluded that American doctors are worse than those in other countries. I think they all share the same knowledge base. But I don’t think they’re better either. We just think they are because we have such great TV doctors.

Now back to my comfort spray. I wasn’t trying to make a real perfume or cologne. There are really no heart notes. I didn’t even want to stay standing long enough to experiment much with ingredients or proportions. I picked what I picked because I was comfortable with all the ingredients. But I was also not making anything close to something I love. I’m aware that people often wind up associating a scent with a bad experience and never being able to enjoy it again. See Hebe’s Corrupted memories. But the lavender, frankincense and oud combination made a top note that’s really not like anything else I know. And it’s really short-lived. Mostly I smell vanilla. And I figure I have been smelling vanilla long enough, in enough contexts, it’s probably safe.

A couple of months ago a friend at work said he found a web site saying vanilla is the most universally popular smell in the world. I couldn’t find the site at the time and I couldn’t find it when I tried again this morning.

The Social Sciences Research Center’s web site has a section called The Smell Report. The only section devoted to a single smell is Vanilla. It leads with the curious statement, “In the early 1990s, perfume makers began to introduce vanilla as a significant note in their fragrances.” Guerlain was already using the synthetic version of vanilla in Jicky, launched in 1889. I decided these social scientists were talking about gourmands and not about vanilla base notes. I kept reading and found that:
“In experiments where an odour universally regarded as ‘pleasant’ is required, vanillin has been a standard choice for decades…
“Cancer patients undergoing Magnetic Resonance Imaging – a diagnostic procedure known to be stressful – reported a massive 63% less anxiety when heliotropin (a vanilla fragrance) was administered during the procedure…
“…vanilla fragrance reduced the startle-reflex in both humans and animals. The animal results indicate that the calming effects of vanilla may be due to some more essential property of the fragrance than the ‘positive childhood associations’ usually invoked to explain its universal popularity with humans.”

One aromatherapy site includes among vanilla essential oil’s properties, “ a known sensual aphrodisiac… very comforting and relaxing. It can be used to fend off a multitude of maladies from an anxiety attack to a headache.” Aura Cacia lists vanilla’s aromatherapy benefits as, “calming, comforting, balancing.” Eden Botanicals says vanilla bourbon is, “Soothing to the emotions.” I’m not exactly a believer in aromatherapy, but as far as I can tell, smelling something I know and like could provide all these benefits.

I’m also very used to vanilla as the last lingering pleasure at the end of the dry down of most tobacco fragrances, many Orientals, and even some florals. Sometimes vanilla is interesting by its absence. For example, Ineke’s latest eau de Parfum, Field Notes from Paris, is described as a “woody oriental.” The notes list includes tobacco flower and leaf, coriander seed, patchouli, and tonka bean. Vanilla is also listed but I don’t smell it, so it’s an unusual oriental. It’s also a distinctly different tobacco. It’s not at all like the burnt tobacco of an ash tray. But without the sweetness of vanilla, it doesn’t remind me of pipe tobacco. Rather, I smell the tobacco and coriander as kind of a new note that’s still somehow like tobacco. It’s an interesting effect. And the duration on me seems better than any of Ineke’s first five fragrances. I’ll probably wear it. But not until I have my new hip. For now I’ll stay with the comfort of vanilla, mixed with just the few other things I added for interest.

Disclosure: I just received a sample of Field Notes from Paris. I’m not sure it’s a freebie, since I previously bought the sample set of the first 5 fragrances. Months ago I received free samples from Czech & Speake and didn’t write any reviews of them. Call me slow, but I thought the idea was that I might like some of them enough to buy full bottles. But now that the FTC has begun to codify the obligations of bloggers, I realize that I have been shirking mine. I promise to do better in the future. Especially if any of you have rental property in Hawaii. By March I’ll be through rehabilitation and good to go.


  1. Redneck Perfumisto's Avatar
    I'm very sorry to hear about your hip troubles, Ed. I hope you have a very successful surgery and are back on your feet, pain-free.

    I got my sample of Field Notes From Paris, too, and I have to say that I do like it. It really is an interesting take on a tobacco fragrance. Like you say, the vanilla is hard to spot. I thought I detected something like a chocolate note in the drydown. Oops - I'd better be quiet, or I'll have to disclose that I got a free sample. Which I guess I've done now. OK. Anyway, I was lingering on getting Derring-Do, which is - er - was - my favorite from that line, and now I think I like this one better. I'm worried that it's just timing - it's a nice fall scent, and with it being fall and all.

    I love what you had to say about the coriander and tobacco - I experienced that, too.

    Interesting thoughts and facts on vanilla. Perhaps this is one note for which it is simply hard to make bad associations.

    Anyway, wishing you comfort, soothing and rest.
  2. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks, Red. Hip replacement is pretty routine these days. Every one I tell knows someone who's had it. And in fact a friend of ours had it a couple of years ago and has been just fine ever since.

    p.s., I also get a little bit of a powder note about 45 minutes after applying Field Notes from Paris. There was a thread a while back about the origin of "powdery." Lots of things were mentioned. But I'm thinking more & more that it's tonka bean that I usually perceive as powdery.
  3. Sunnyfunny's Avatar
    Wel, E, I hope your medical team can figure out the problem and that it does not require major surgery. You have a good attitude about the possibility, though, and a good 'tude towards your docs, as well. That's why it's called practice, right? They are only human, and bodies are complex.

    I've heard that about vanilla, that it is the most universally popular scent. I can't place where I heard it, though. That bit about it fending off headaches and anxiety attacks is interesting and worth exploring. What form of vanilla should I sniff, I wonder? If I carry around a vanilla scented sachet, will that cut back on how much Aleve I take?

    Thanks for another good read!
  4. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks, SF.

    Hip replacement is fairly major. I'm not squeemish about it. I considered including the description of what's involved. But maybe someone reads it who is. For now let me just say, I hope my surgeon was A#1 in his middle school shop class.

    And my attitude has varied. At one point I refused to believe that there wasn't a single definitive measurement that would show exactly where my pain originated.

    I think vanilla is good stuff, but not magic. The vanilla I used was Light Vanilla from The Perfumer's Apprentice. A sachet - that gives me an idea. Let me get back to you on that one.
  5. JaimeB's Avatar
    So sorry to hear about your hip trouble. My sincerest best wishes for effective treatment and better days ahead. It's just a pity you must go through such stress and pain to get to the other side. But I think Basenotes will be pulling for you; I know I will!
  6. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks, all, for the good wishes. The operation isn't scheduled for allmost 2 months. At the moment, I'm fairly comfortable but I suspect I'm going to wish it were sooner. (was? were? JamieB? (just to show I still have a sense of humor))
  7. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Monday morning I heard cookbook author Nigela Lawson interviewed on National Public Radio. She was discussing self indulgence and vanilla figured strongly in her indulgent desserts. She said something like, "I've heard that breast milk smells like vanilla. I don't know if it's true. But it might explain why everyone loves vanilla"

    Since I have no children, I went looking for confirmation. A couple of web sites included statements like, "Mother's milk contains vanilla," or "Mother's milk smells like vanilla." But these were parts of other discussions. I didn't find anything like a scientific analysis. And I didn't often see this kind of statement in discussions of mother's milk or breast feeding.

    I looked at the three vanilla entries in the Notepad Discussion. No one mentioned smelling a resemblance to any kind of milk.

    So I'm wondering if any new mothers or fathers have noticed this? If not, maybe it's yet another smelly myth.
  8. Bartlebooth's Avatar
    Another beautifully written blog. You need to be careful, you will end up with a reputation . Your writing style lends itself to this longer format, and I am always pleased to see your name come up on the list of latest blogs. Do keep them coming, they are an excellent read.

    I wish you well for your operation, and hope you find some relief in the meantime.
  9. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks, Inselaffe,

    Of course there are different kinds of reputation I'm happy If I can keep track of my own ideas and give a little pleasure too. And I enjoy being part of the conversations that blogs sometimes generate.

    Welcome to blogging. I look forward to seeing many more from you.
    Updated 11th November 2009 at 11:23 PM by ECaruthers
  10. Aiona's Avatar
    LOL! I dunno if breastmilk smells like vanilla, as I was a formula-baby myself. But perhaps I'll be able to tell ya in a few weeks. I have heard numerous women tell me that their breastmilk is sweet. But no one has mentioned vanilla.
  11. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Thanks, Aiona. The statement certainly seems plausible but I believe in verification. And I can't personally verify at this time
  12. Aiona's Avatar
    Here's my update! My own breastmilk does not smell like vanilla to me. But you know how sometimes people can't smell themselves? Perhaps that's what it was, because to me, my breastmilk had no odor at all. I can confirm, however, that breastmilk is sweet, and if I were given a choice between formula versus breastmilk, breastmilk wins hands down! My baby, on the otherhand, seemed to not care which one he got as long as he got fed ASAP!


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