Updated: Sep 13, 2020
In just two weeks, the world will perfectly balance between night and day. Ancient Greeks would be celebrating the return of Persephone to the underworld. Pagans would be celebrating Mabon, a harvest festival to honor the Earth's gifts. In America today, pumpkin spice takes over the market and home decor transforms into deep earthly colors and foliage themes. Coffee shops drop their Pumpkin Spice Lattes, while candle stores stock the much-anticipated autumn leaves scent.
But why do we spend all year looking forward to these fragrances? What dictates the dark, earthy aromas as our sense's definition of Fall? We are going to dive into the history of the top 5 scents associated with autumn. Learn more about the science behind the appeal, and where they all originated.
Cinnamomum zeylanicum is the true form of cinnamon, native to Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). The commercial form of cinnamon you know today is Cassia, native to Indonesia. This coveted spice is considered the first to be traded across countries, being imported to Egypt as early as 2000 B.C. Reports of its use can be found in Greek mythology, Chinese medicine, and Arabian folklore. Arabs would travel across "cinnamon routes" to bring the spice across lands, spinning tall tales of the treacherous harvesting practices. These stories and limited supply maintained cinnamon's high value, until the 1800s when the spice became more widely available.
Cinnamon's sweet and spicy fragrance is utilized in most all fall-aroma products. From apple pie to pumpkin spice, this heady scent is an emotional stimulant proven to relax muscles, increase concentration, and reduce irritability. As the temperature cools and the leaves change, humans look for more ways to stay warm. Cinnamon provides an indulgent way to achieve just that. Additionally, cold and flu season kicks up. Adding cinnamon to your medicine cabinet helps sweat out fevers and relieve stiff muscles. This practice dates back to common Chinese medicine formulas dated to 220 A.D.
We all know the social media frenzy that occurs as soon as #PSL drops every year. The coffee-drink made popular by Starbucks in 2003 has created a new norm for the fall season. However, this spice compound was first reported in 1936. While similar spices may have been used in the 1600s, and in a 1796 cookbook called "American Cookery" by orphaned Amelia Simmons, the Washington Post's article “Spice Cake of Pumpkin Newest Dish: Delicacy Tempting to All Appetites and Easy to Prepare. Ideal Dessert for Family Dinner, Healthful for Children" was the first documented source of this spice blend by its name.
Pumpkin (Pie) Spice consists of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Although these spices can be found year-round, the combination of effects on the human body/soul makes this blend perfect for the cooler months. Altogether, experiencing this aromatic indulgence is historically proven to warm the body, improve circulation, and aid in digestion. Perfect for settling down after a fall feast!
Nutmeg emits a pungent, woody, spicy scent. It plays the biggest role in that iconic pumpkin spice blend! While it is commercially available year-round today, this spice once grew in a single location on Earth, the Banda Islands.
Pottery with remnants of this coveted spice date back to 3,500 years ago from the island of Pulau Ai. It was available through the same Arab trade routes where cinnamon was found. Nutmeg's origin was kept a secret for hundreds of years. Obtaining the spice was a privilege only granted to royals. In a show of his power, Emperor Henry VI spread nutmeg throughout the streets of Rome to saturate the air with its spicy aroma during his coronation.
For our modern readers, a pound of nutmeg in 1760 cost around 90 shillings, equivalent to $0.24. With inflation in mind, the cost of a pound of nutmeg at the same value would set you back $736.39 in 2020. Wonder why we can go to Walmart and pick up McCormick nutmeg for about $3 (or $38/lb)? You can thank the Dutch East India Company.
In 1621, they invaded the Banda Islands in the bloodiest battle over spices. 14,000 Bandanese natives were killed, while the remaining 1,000 fled or were sold as slaves. The Dutch controlled the world's nutmeg plantations until the Napoleonic wars. Thereafter, the British exported the trees and soil to establish plantations across several colonies, thus causing the decline of the spice's value as it was more widely accessible. However, of the 52 tonnes produced in 2019 around the world, 90% still originates from India and Indonesia.
October is the time to stow our summer sandals, pull out the flannel, and take a trip to the local orchard for apple picking! The sweetest apples come into season as the leaves change. Varieties include Gala, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Fuji, and many more! These varieties are perfect for baking and raw consumption, thus making fall the time we all associate with this versatile fruit. Did you know, the only apple native to North America is the crab apple? A golf-ball-sized, sour thing not usually consumable raw. So how did the 7,500 varieties of apples come to America?
It is no surprise that this American tradition was brought over by settlers in the 17th century. In 1607, Jamestown settlers brought seeds from Europe that did not fare well in the North American climate. Reverend William Blaxton was responsible for developing the first apple orchard in 1625, successfully cultivating a new variety called Yellow Sweetings.
While we know this fruit as a classic pie ingredient, apples of the 17th century were bitter, used mainly for cider production. Due to concerns with water quality, fermented cider was the go-to beverage at family dinner tables. To get to our current-day sweet produce selection, centuries of human's desire for new fruit is to thank! Remember peeling Fuji apples for your Thanksgiving pie? Thomas Jefferson, not only an American founding father, is the founding father of that sweet crop. He donated apple cuttings given to him from the French Minister in 1790 to a Virginia nursery that cultivated "Ralls Genet" apples. Fast forward to 1939 when Japanese breeders crossed this variety with Red Delicious apples, creating the ever-popular Fuji!
The autumn season is a time for transition. The earth balances on a precipice before tipping into bitter cold months. Greenery falls away, hearths burn brighter, and the harvest is stored. Sandalwood is a woody, warm scent that hides away in many fall-themed products. In a time people are looking for warmth and comfort, Sandalwood is commonly used in Chinese and Ayurvedic practices to improve mental and physical health. This sacred scent has been used for over 4,000 years in religious practices for its calming effects. So where does this fragrance come from?
Sandalwood comes from the sandal tree, Santalum album. Originating in India, Sri Lanka, and Australia, this tree is the opposite of apples' susceptibility to human manipulation. The essential oils age for at least 15 years before they can be harvested, only accessible from the center heartwood of the tree. Sandal trees are so valuable, up until 2002 the Indian government banned the export of its timber, and individuals were not allowed to grow it. The maturation process, vulnerable status by the IUCN, and harvesting process attribute to this essential oil's high value. Sandalwood is the second most expensive in the world, with oil valued at $492/lb. (That would be about 65 shillings in 1760)!
Autumn in the United States is a time for change as flora sheds the sun-catching leaves and fauna stores the harvest for winter. Chilly temperatures have us reaching for warming comforts, driving the shift in fragrances we desire. In this transitional time, it is good to take a deep breath and remember the roots of our world.
Fox Lens Studios is honored to feature the above fragrances in our fall line of candles and melts. Knowing the history and benefits of the aromas we use heightens the awareness of each note. We hope you find comfort as you enjoy the season's essence.