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Scent Memories

Two visitors smelling plant materials in mortars
Scent Memories
Plant scents can evoke powerful memories.

Gently crush different plant materials and discover what scents and memories they release.

About the Plant Scents

Citrus Leaves
Citrus leaves smell like citrus fruit, mixed with grass. The same oils that give fruit like oranges, lemons, and limes their bright scent are also found in the leaves.
Rose Petals
Rose petals have a sweet, heavy smell. Many cultures make tea from rose hips or use the petals for perfume. In Ohlone stories, the rose plant is a beloved character, who heals the sick.
Beet Greens and Potato Skins
Beet greens and potato skins contain a chemical called geosmin, which smells like soil after a rain.
Fatwood, called “ocote” in Mexico, is wood from the heart of an old pine tree. The wood is rich in sap and resin, which makes it a good for starting fires and gives it a distinctive smell.
Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are a key ingredient in gin. You might recognize their piney scent from a fancy cocktail.
Mint is popular in many cuisines, and there are hundreds of varieties. In the Bay Area, you can find a wild mint called yerba buena growing in forested areas.
bay laurel
Bay Laurel, or sokóote
“sokóote is an important plant for Ohlone people. We gather all parts of this respected plant: its leaves are used for ceremonial, culinary, and medicinal purposes; its fruit and nuts are eaten as a fine delicacy; its wood is made into beautiful cultural objects such as stick dice, a traditional Ohlone game; sokóote boughs are wrapped into wreaths worn around the head, interspersed with springtime flowers. Its smell is beloved by Ohlone people as sokóote is intensely aromatic—both sweet and peppery at the same time.” —Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, East Bay Ohlone and Rumsen cultural leaders