The Scents of Spring

The Scents of Spring

The Scents of Spring

Spring has officially sprung—or today is the Vernal Equinox if you want to be technical about it. The past month has contained some of the coldest and hottest days on record—uh…cheers climate change!—but any confused flowers are finally poking their heads out and tarting themselves up for the plant and insect carnal free-for-all that is pollination. Bad news for the allergic among us, good news for the bees.  

What does Spring Smell like to you?  

Roses? Fresh grass? Hot crossed buns? Does the sweet scent of spring conjure up any memories? Our memories are encoded through a diverse set of sensations. Whether it’s touch, scent, an image, a sound, or a broader context, sensation stimulates specific sets of neural pathways that over time strengthen synaptic connections. This laying down of data creates a kind of map of memory, making our memories more vivid and easier to recall.  

A Proustian Bee  

The memory of scent was made famous in In Marcel Proust's literary masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time”, where a simple act of tasting a madeleine dipped in tea invokes an involuntary journey down memory lane, where vivid recollections of the past flood the narrator's mind, such are the profound impacts sensory experiences can have on our memories. But, it’s not just us. Take the humble honeybee. Bees need to know where the best nectar is hiding, and plants need to dust as many bees with pollen as possible. A recent study has shed some light on how evolution may have solved this collective problem—and it’s all about scent and memory.  

Getting there with GABA 

Scientists have discovered that honeybees demonstrate a heightened ability to learn and retain the olfactory signatures of flora that secrete nectar imbued with GABA, which is not just our favourite neurotransmitter, but also a signalling molecule found throughout life on earth. The GABAergic nectar of some plants appears to provide cognitive enhancement for bees. When honeybees encounter nectar containing GABA within a flower, it triggers a sensory-driven memory enhancement, not unlike the nostalgic recollection spurred by Proust's madeleine. This olfactory cue significantly bolsters the bees' ability to recall the specific floral scent, guiding them back to the flower with remarkable precision. Funnily enough when GABA first hits a bees brain it gives them such a buzz that for a moment they find it hard to concentrate—think of the caffeinated whack from a double espresso early in the morning—but after the buzz dissipates the embedding of memory is consolidated. This enhanced memory recall, rooted in a sensory experience, plays a pivotal role in the bees' foraging behaviour, ensuring a symbiotic relationship between pollinator and flora that is essential for the reproductive success of plants and the ecological balance of their environments. 

Listen to your nose!

If you’ve popped the lid off a bottle of Sentia you’re aware of our olfactory orchestra. But our complex bouquet is only half the story—any quality cocktail is tickling your olfactory nerves as it does your taste buds—just ask anyone who’s had their sense of smell stolen by COVID. Next time you’re shaking up one of our cocktails or trying something new take a moment to listen to your nose, and if a memory comes flooding back, we’d love to hear about it on our socials.