“The sense of smell can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back pictures as sharp as photographs of scenes that had left the conscious mind.” – Thalassa Cruso
Our guide stops the vehicle and points at a plant. It is wild aniseed. He proceeds to crush the leaves and presents this to me. I breathe in the smell of crushed leaves and while I am still physically present on the vehicle, I am no longer there in my mind.
Instead I am 14 years old. I walk along the dusty roads of the farm where I live – the same paths that first instilled my appreciation and love for the bush. I have walked these roads on foot but also on horseback. The squeaking sound of the saddle wakes me up and there’s the smell of sweat from my Thoroughbred gelding mixed with the polished smell of the bridle and saddle. I have grown to love this smell – it is both familiar and comforting.
Then there’s the smell of wild aniseed. It is my favourite scent – when I find the plant – I can’t help but pull and crush the flowers and leaves in my hands. I have being doing this ever since I can remember. Even on horseback, I take to stopping and pulling the seeds through my hands, bringing it to my face to breathe the smell of the bush.
I have no specific memories but rather many childhood memories that flash through my mind. I am now 28 years old and I am amazed at the power of scent.
I find I have to pull myself back into the present moment and to the conversation that we are having…
The next plant that we are presented with is wild basil. Again, the scent is incredible. I am not as familiar with wild basil but I know I have smelt it many times before. Our next stop is to pick the leaves of the fever tea plant. The leaves not only smell good but also make a delicious tea. We have come prepared with hot water for this purpose and stop in a riverbed to enjoy the brew. The aromatic leaves of the fever tea bush protect the plant from being eaten by animals.
Apart from a delicious tea, African tribes use the plant to treat medical illness. Xhosa people often drink the leaves as a tea for the treatment of coughs and colds. The plant is said to be effective against fevers and even skin disorders such as heat rashes, stings and scratches. In Kenya, the Masai use the plant to make a red ointment to decorate their bodies. And, because of its beautiful smell, the leaves can be used as a room or closet freshener.
That night we head back to our camp to the smell of rain in the air. The smell of rain on a dry earth is incomparable to any other scent – if this smell could be bottled, it would be a best seller! Like the smell of aniseed, this smell triggers many memories.
I go back to the farm once again to the old farmhouse doors near our kitchen. I stand in the doorway with my parents; their arms embrace me as we look into the night sky. I listen to the loud claps of thunder and watch the distant lightning illuminating the land. The rains pelt down on the ground and the smell is there – the satisfaction of a dry earth quenching its thirst.
From the farm I find myself in the open spaces of the bushveld, I am now in my mid-twenties. I am outside and a soft rain has begun to fall. A big smile stretches across my face. I remember this moment vividly. I hold out my arms and let the rain soak into my skin. The smell returns to me. A show of lightning dazzles the sky and sheets of rain sweep across the trees, grasses and mountains. A bush storm is always consistent in its beautiful scents.
I realise that in a single moment I have reeled back more than 15 years. From a simple smell I have been taken back through the years. I savour these sensory memories.
The bush like the scent of a perfume factory holds many different smells. While you are in the wilderness try figure out what each smell triggers in you – is it a memory, a person, something you’ve chosen to forget? Take time in your day to appreciate the small things, the smell of a plant, the feel of the bark of a tree, the feelings you get when you spend time in nature.
Our senses are powerful – breathe in deeply!
Written by: Kate Collins
* Please note that any plants mentioned in the article should be used at your own risk. Neither the author nor Londolozi can accept responsibility for any damages or injury which may arise there from.