New fragrance garden will provide Tucsonans the smell of desert rain year-round

Desert rain impacting your health
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 7:41 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - During monsoon, many Arizonans look forward to the “smell” of rain before or after a storm, but did you know that smell can be good for your health?

Researchers at the University of Arizona say not only is the rain good for our drought in the desert, but the chemicals released by the wet plants are also good for our minds and bodies too.

A fragrance garden is being built at the base of Tumamoc Hill, so people who come to exercise can get those health benefits year-round. Because the hill is close to St. Mary’s hospital, the hope is that folks who are sick can come and reap the benefits from the smell of rain.

“The wonderful thing is that most everyone in Tucson feels this elation and pleasure when the rains come because we spend most of the year dry,” said Gary Nabhan, senior research scientist at the Desert Laboratory University of Arizona. “Most of us know the feeling of taking in this incredible pungency that comes with the rains and it’s taken scientists more than 70 years to come up with what the cause of that is.”

Nabhan said the rain, humidity and winds all have something to do with it. He said there are 115 oils that are released from desert plants and when it rains, those oils are released into the air. It only takes two minutes for people to inhale those fragrances and see the impact.

Not only do the smells affect people, but Nabhan said it has a huge impact on wildlife and plants. He said plants release the oils to protect themselves from the sun, store water and keep pests away.

“We’re the inadvertent beneficiaries of the stress-reducing chemicals in the plants and some of the same volatile oil chemicals and those same chemicals help us reduce stress and live more comfortably and pleasurably.”

The smell lowers our cortisol hormones, which reduces stress and makes us feel relaxed. Researchers say it can reduce blood pressure and heart rate. The smell after storms may even help you sleep better.

“To an outsider that might sound like a paradox, how can a place defined by water scarcity smell like rain, but it’s the most potent time of the year and it’s the iconic smell of the desert that makes it so unique,” Nabhan said.

Another fragrance garden is in the works in front of Campus Health on the University of Arizona campus.

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