Stop and Smell the Roses

We often hear the phrase, Stop and Smell the Roses, and whilst I am sure there are several takes on this, to me it means; to pause, reflect and look at the brighter side of life. English Rose Gardens remind me of visiting my grandparents’ house when I was a child, I am instantly transported to happy times. Nostalgic yet uplifting too.

Roses are one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, literally the queen of flowers. We all love and appreciate their beauty and they have a myriad of uses in bath and body products, fragrance, room aromas, love potions, teas and cooking ingredients. The benefits to the mind and body have been recognized for thousands of years. The Incas used Rose Otto essential oil as a cure-all.  Rose oils were linked to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite and the Roman goddess of love, Venus. Even Cleopatra, regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women used roses in her facial and bathing rituals.

Seen as a universal symbol of love, roses are widely used by people to express their feelings to their loved ones. In perfumery its currently used in 75% of modern feminine fragrances and 10% of men’s fragrances. (In Muslin countries this was originally a man’s scent)

We sometimes regard perfumes with notes of rose as been a little old-fashioned, however, there’s a new crop of perfumes without a trace of Eau de Grandmère. Rose scents are constantly re-invented, in fact it’s a note never too far from a perfumer’s vision, a bit like the Little Black Dress of the fragrance world.  There is a real resurgence right now in rose perfumes. Some say it’s down to political uncertainty and consumers feel the need to surround themselves with something familiar and comforting. I think this is true in part, but also there is something dreamy glorious about receiving a large bouquet of flowers. The scent of rose can have so many different elements, sweet- smelling, fresh, zesty, heady, sumptuous, romantic even aromatic. The Chelsea Flower Show in a bottle!

Rose is said to soothe the heart, heal past griefs, reduce nervous energy and depression, encourage self-love and help to move forward positivity in difficult times. It has spiritual qualities and can aid healing during times of bereavement. It would be beneficial at this difficult time, to drink rose tea as it soothes the mind, heart and throat.

Ayvurvedic healers have used the rose plant in herbal remedies, tinctures, oils, teas, and skincare for many years. Rose balances the Sadhaka Pitta, which governs emotions and how it impacts the heart. Rose- water showers are used traditionally at Indian weddings. The wedding bed is covered in Red rose petals for several reasons: the scent is calming to the nerves and act as a sedative, (It lowers the cortisol stress hormones) roses are an aphrodisiac and the colour Red relates to romance and passion. So, this sets up a favourable mood for the newly-weds special evening.

In beauty products for the face and body, rose has many valuable properties, its complex array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can be very enriching for dry skin, as it soothes irritations, reduces redness and stimulates collagen. All of which help to counteract premature aging. It’s an emollient, which locks moisture into your skin, which then helps to keep your skin feeling hydrated for longer while also improving its texture, giving a soft, healthy glow.

On a final note, I can say that Roses possess a heavenly scent, are wonderful in perfumes, bath and body products, room aromas or simply as flowers in a vase. They can represent spiritually, purity, passion, friendship and love and are present in our thoughts and hearts like no other flower.

The world is a rose, smell it, and pass it to your friends.”

– Persian Proverb

Can Fragrances Have Medicinal and Healing Qualities?

Perfume and scent are seen as a luxury item and part of the beauty world rather than as something which can affect your health. However, many of us are very sensitive to the smells around us and our mood can be affected by the fragrance we use on our bodies and in our homes. Fragrance can be a powerful tool to re-balance the mind and body.

Avincenna, a 10th century physician, writer and philosopher, was the first person to divide the internal senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.

The interest in using excellent odours is that it fortifies the senses. When the senses are strong, the thoughts are strong. If the senses become weak, the senses are imbalanced and confused” -Avincenna

 I have talked about perfumes making you happy and setting a mood, so can scent also have positive qualities on our health? Certain aromas and scents have been used for centuries in an attempt to calm us down. So, if you’re looking for a way to help you to sooth your worries away and stop feeling overwhelmed, some scents are known to have sedative qualities: Sandalwood, which is sweet and woody and can be worn by men or women, has been used for almost 4,000 years in the ancient civilizations of India, Egypt, Greece and Rome. The Hindus, were the first culture to recognize the properties of sandalwood and used it in incense and scent. Buddhists also burnt sandalwood incense to transform desires and promote human mindfulness. Its aroma is said to calm the mind and alleviate worry by relaxing the central nervous system. Using sandalwood in a fragrance offers the wearer a magical olfactory carpet ride into a far- away, exotic land.

You often feel the most relaxed on holiday, so many of the smells you experienced whilst away if replicated at home can help to trigger a similar sense of calm and a truly relaxing escape.

Other harmonising aromas include ylang-ylang and bergamot, both of which are found to decrease blood pressure, as well as oud, jasmine and rose, which can lower depressive moods. I always find the aroma of rose gives me an instant feeling of well-being and jasmine a sense of confidence. Oud has been used for centuries in spiritual and religious practices to remove negative energy and create harmony.

Sometimes you need to invigorated, Citrus elements like oranges, bergamot, neroli and grapefruit all give an energy boost (an effervescent Vitamin C fix) and also make you smile, in my case they remind me of warm, summer days. The smell of freshly cut grass can have a positive impact on your mental state and give a boost when needed as can green tea, I bring this perfume back from France as I always feel uplifted by the smell. Green, herby scents like basil can give a boast and blend really well with citrus notes. Peppermint can increase alertness at work and a touch of Cedar can revive tiredness.

Plague doctors carried vials with rosemary and lavender to protect them, whilst pomanders, perfumed balls, were carried by woman to ward off the plague and hide the awful stench around them. Smell has always been a component in treating infections as medics often rely on their olfactory abilities to detect ailments as well as cure. In 1869, Joseph Burnett’s Language of Flower handbooks, linked the qualities of flowers to certain health conditions, using this symbolism to sell cologne waters and beauty products.

Your night-time routine can also be enhanced by specific smells. Soft, powdery and musky perfumes soothe and aid sleep. Lavender, chamomile, vanilla, jasmine and patchouli are the most popular scents that are suggested to help you sleep. While some of these are more pungent than others, you can often combine them with other notes that offset the strong scent. Lavender can sometimes invigorate if too much is used rather than relax you. Spraying your pillows, using a body product or a room diffuser are some of the ways to use fragrance in the bedroom. Usually the scents you enjoy most will help encourage peachful memories. Going to your “happy place” is a great stress reducer, which allows you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

So, can perfume have medicinal properties?  Well for centuries, in many countries it has been thought that it does, even Hippocrates in the 5th century, believed in a clinical connection between mind, body and spirit and smell and treated his patients with aromatics like myrrh and cinnamon. What I would say is that scent has the power to relax and uplift, remind you of happy memories and places and transport to a different imaginary world.

So yes, I do think that would aid healing!


Woman Writing a Life of Crime

The genre of crime fiction and suspense was started by men, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle lead the way, but female writers took the genre and shaped and expanded it throughout the 20th century. Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap play ran on the London’s West-end stage from 1952 to 2020 and she remains to this day one of the best- selling authors. Although there are still popular male crime writers; lee Child and Ian Rankin to name a couple, it does appear to be a women’s game.

Male crime fiction was very much about guns, knives and violence with a male Hero, like a maverick private eye. Women were often written into the plot as secretaries, wife’s or victims, only ever in a supporting never a starring role. On the other hand, women play the leading roles in fiction written by women like Kathy Reich’s, Patricia Cornwall and Alex Cava, the female characters are strong, independent and often in charge! Some popular male detectives like Inspector Wexford by Ruth Rendall and Adam Dalglish by PD James are written by woman but are more well-rounded characters because of it. A women writer, the brilliant Phoebe-Walker-Bridge, the screen writer of Killing Eve, is currently working on the James Bond films. Hopefully her female parts will echo Villanelle rather than the out-dated roles played by Bond Girls.

Rather than been about cops and robbers, the good guys taking on the bad guys, the plots are more physiologically acute in women’s books, often about emotional violence. It can seem lighter in depth but in fact, a nastier and more prolonged death is usually penned by a female writer. Ian Rankin criticised Val McDermid for the graphic depictions of violence in her stories, however her books and the TV show Wire in the Blood based on her work continues to be popular. Some men probably feel that women should not like crime fiction, but 80% of the sales in this market are from women rather than men..

In the last 15 years many of the best selling crime writers are woman, Patricia Cornwall has sold 100 million copes of her books, Minette Edwards has had many of her books used as screenplays for TV series, Kathy Reich’s, has assisted with Bones, the forscenic science drama, based on her books, Paula Hawkins book Girl on the Train, was a big hit on screen and in print. So much so, that some male crime writers have written books with female pseudonyms to break into this popular genre.

Why do women write successful crime? Do women have a better grasp of human complexities, so they can create in-depth characters that are authentic? Do women understand living in fear, do they control more rage, angry and aggression inside, which comes out in their work. It has been said that the writing styles of woman are Killing from the Outside. I guess there is more build-up of plot and suspense. I always love a crime book that gives me a few surprizes, even an odd red herring or two and that I can’t stop reading until the story reaches its conclusion.

There is something thought- provoking about Crime and Suspense fiction, you need to use some powers of deduction yourself, like all the best fictional detectives, male or female. I thought this continues to be the case for a long time yet!

The Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

In my last blog, I talked about how adopting the Mediterranean diet can help to prevent degenerative brain problems like Alzheimer’s, however there are many more health benefits to following this diet. By Mediterranean, this can be Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The one thing that all these countries favour is the use of fresh, seasonal and local foods. The health benefits include; a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular and heart problems, obesity, diabetes and longevity. It fact its less of an actual diet than a lifestyle, but the basics are: a high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables with nuts, legumes, cereals, olive oil, fish and poultry, A low intake of dairy, mainly yoghurt and a low intake of red meat, processed meats and sugar, Red wine is consumed in a low quality and often mixed or drunk with water.(Flavonoids and antioxidants in red wine can reduce heart disease )

Although fast foods have spread worldwide, McDonalds has a lot to answer for, in the main many aspects of the traditional diet are followed. Sardina, in Italy, has the oldest European population. Many vegetables like Tomatoes and Red Peppers sum up this diet to us, these also have beta-carotene, antioxidants that convert to Vitamin A, which helps to fight against free radicals, which benefits skin, eye health and general wellness. Combining these foods with olive oil, nuts and seeds can help the absorption. Oily fish, sardines and shellfish can help you to keep sprightly.

You only need to shop on market day to see the wonderful variety of fruit and vegetables sold; Tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplants, leafy greens, carrots, courgettes, melons, apples, peaches, cherries, oranges, lemons and apricots alongside spice stalls and an array of olives, to understand the love of food and cooking is very much from the heart. (In my travel blog, I have given local recipes which I have very much enjoyed eating)

A diet low in saturated fats and high in mono-unsaturated fats helps to avoid high cholesterol and heart problems. Unsaturated fats are olive oil, avocados, almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds. Saturated fats are in most junk foods and processed meals. Avoiding or reducing the use of butter, fatty meats, cream, biscuits, cakes, ice-cream and chocolate helps lower the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

Scientists feel that the most damaging aspect of the western diet is too much Omega 6 is consumed and too little Omega 3. So, having a healthier balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids is linked to preventing degenerative brain problems and heart disease. Omega 3 is in salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, eggs and flaxseeds, whilst Omega 6 is in soy beans, corn, meat, poultry, fish and processed cooking oils. Once again highlighting the improved diet of Mediterranean countries. Eating seafood once or twice a week would help to give a better balance, as well as replacing meat a couple of times a week.

Legumes like beans, chickpeas and lentils are key ingredient in many stews and this are been used more now in the UK often to replace a meat-based meal.

Cakes, biscuits and sugary desserts feature much less in a Mediterranean diet with natural sugar from fruit and honey used more than adding sugar. Its much more of an occasional treat rather than an everyday food.

I thank that food is seen as much more, living to eat rather than eating to live.

Striving to live with nature and the land and sharing this with loved ones, eating together as a family is a strong part of a culture which has been the same for many years and I do hope continues to be for many more years.

tomates vine

meals 1





10 Tips for a Younger Brain

I have always said that I wanted to look 10 years younger, which sounds a little vain, but in truth, I want to be able to live an active, healthy life in my later years. As the years are advancing quicker than ever this seems even more true. The one thing I have noticed about those who appear to have been blessed with eternal youth, is their active minds, many interests and the fact that they are very much still engaged with the world around them. Continuing to travel, exercise, write, dance and create well into their 70’s, 80’s even 90’s. So rather than wanting to just look 10 years younger I need my brain and body to remain younger too.

From 30 years of age our brains start shrinking and from the age of 40 continues to lose a further 5% every decade. Terrible news indeed, however, there is some good news. Advances in scientific research has shown that there are steps that can be taken to slow down the aging process and even grow new brain cells. This is called Neurogenesis. To learn more about this read 100 Days to a New Brain by Dr Sabina Brennan. Now I am going to definitely buy a copy of this book but there are also 10 tips to help keep your intellect sharp as the years move on.

  1. Follow the Mediterranean diet
  2. Daydream
  3. Keep brain hydrated
  4. Socialise
  5. Reduce risk factors for high blood pressure
  6. Prioritise sleep
  7. Challenge yourself
  8. Manage stress
  9. Say yes to life-long learning
  10. Stand more

I don’t think there were two many surprises in this list: drinking plenty of water is still the biggest health tip, delivering key nutrients to the brain and removing toxins. Having spent time living in Spain, I am already a fan of the Mediterranean diet and seeing how healthy people are there in later life in contrast to the UK, a major factor been their diet this is even more motivating. I have been successfully daydreaming since childhood, so its great to see that there are some advantages to one of my key skills, your brain is more activate whilst daydreaming that when focused on a task. (Now they don’t tell you that in school) Been social can be through family, friends or even volunteering. I would add to this not spending too much time alone in later years is important. The research shows that social support has a positive impact on our cognitive function. Mixing with children and a younger generation is vital to keep your brain and body on its toes still! Once again In Mediterranean family’s grandparents and older relations do play a large role in their families. Your heart works like a pump, using pressure to push blood through the arteries around the body and brain. So, it is vital to keep your blood pressure in the range of 90/60mmHg to 120/80mmhg. A diet too high in salt, smoking, drinking and an inactive lifestyle will often raise blood pressure. Poor sleep can harm the brain. When your brain is deprived of sleep, the active process of your brains waste clearance system may not have sufficient time to give your brain a deep clean. A build up of waste products from cells has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Having a good night’s sleep is also stress relieving and having high levels of stress inhibits learning and impairs memory.  Staying challenged and continuing to learn are very important. I am a great believer in Life-long learning, word quizzes, learning a new language or even taking a night class (helping to stay social) or an online course will all help bring about improvements in your brain health. There are lots of free online course and often reductions for older citizens on night classes.  And finally, stand more, I found this one surprising but our brains perform better when standing so trying to not sit down for long periods of time and stand when possible.

So overall, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, drinking water, daydreaming, staying social, sleeping well, manging stress, standing more, continuing to learn and challenge myself will help me keep my brain active for many years to come. All this is quite easy to follow and I know anything I do now will make a difference to my life quality in 20 years’ time.

My parents still do a daily crossword, which if done regularly can slow down the decline in mermory and decrease the risk of dementia.

My lively 94 year old neighbour plays bridge in a club, so is out most nights and this has I think helped her to stay alert and youthful. During the lockdown my family do a weekly quiz on Zoom and this has been a great way to keep using the grey matter. I now have a good excuse to play solitaire on my computer when I should be working but that’s a different blog post!

brain collage