An Ode to Autumn

Autumn is the season when the world mellows out and takes stock on what has already been achieved. Change occurs, but at a reassuringly slow drift rather than a hurried panic. Planet Earth takes on a warm glow as the sun shrinks back into the soil. Golden moments with friends, family and self shape the months leading up to the festive season. The nights stretch out once more, lit by bonfires and fireworks, log fires and sparklers. There are rustling leaves and crunchy pathways, hot cider and warm donuts, spicy lattes and candy corn, hay stacks and football. Keats famously described autumn as the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and our routines reflect Mother Nature’s chilled-out, contented vibe too.

Ode to Autumn

Autumn is owed great respect for being awesomely good for us in a number of ways. Here are seven reasons to make the most of this season:        

  1. When the clocks go back and mornings become darker and cooler, we’re naturally more likely to get some extra shut-eye. Autumn offers the perfect antidote to the restlessness of summer sleep, as the lack of light and a drop in temperature makes it better quality (research says the ideal temp for sleeping is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit). No sweaty tangling in the bed sheets or annoying whirr of the air-conditioning unit. And good sleep makes everyone feel invincible.
  2. Seasonal superfoods are abundant, nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare: stews, soups and casseroles warm and satisfy every day, filled to brimming with reasonably priced squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and all manner of seasonal root vegetables. Beta-carotene, the fab food compound found with no effort in autumn, helps to prevent certain cancers, heart disease and high blood pressure. An 8-ounce portion of pumpkin offers a crazy amount of vitamin A — 200 percent of your daily recommendation — and a hearty wallop of vitamin E, which provides crucial goodness for healthy skin, teeth and vision. Also, roast up some parsnips for a feast of immune-boosting vitamin C.
  3. You can celebrate those back-to-school vibes and get down with some books and learning. Geek has never felt so chic. The autumn is the perfect time to start a new hobby or habit, such as joining a book club, starting to learn a new language or taking an evening class in local history. And this is the perfect season to take these habits outside, without the fear of being bitten or burnt.
  4. Brisk autumn weather doesn’t just feel good on your skin and in your lungs, a study shows that cold and crisp weather benefits your mind too. Researchers split a group into two and gave them both a memorization test, half on a sunny, warm day typical of summer, the other on a cooler, cloudy day typical of autumn — and the cooler group had much better luck at remembering things.
  5. This is the perfect season to set new outdoor goals that you can keep, or to revisit old ones that have been lost over the previous few months. The decadence of summer and its overindulgences — late nights, sleeping in and travel, not to mention eating and drinking too much — are over, and a new air of restoration and good sense abounds. Take another look at your goals from spring, check in on them and your mental and physical well-being, and get back into a rhythm. Commit to the weekly forest walk, nurturing your windowsill herb garden or morning meditations.
  6. You’ll start wanting hot drinks again after a summer off. Green and black teas are steeped in antioxidants that help to keep flu at bay during the cooler months, so sip away.
  7. The mane event will be your crowning glory. The humidity of summer has subsided and the too-dry indoor temperatures of winter are in the future, so your hair is looking and feeling good when you’re out and about.

Turn over a new leaf

The ethereal blanketing of the earth with leaves every autumn is nothing short of soul lifting. The amber richness of the shed leaves softens the world and slows our pace. Experiencing such beauty doesn’t just feel lovely, it’s lovely for our brain, too. Walking among the plum tones and orange shades, and engaging with the season’s changing prettiness, activates the brain’s medial orbitofrontal cortex, which helps with sharp thinking and deep relaxation. The colors red and yellow are recognized as stimulating shades, giving your eyes — and then your whole being — a boost, so expect even a quick lunchtime dash through the park to pick up your mood.

The contrast that occurs in early autumn — green against red, yellow versus brown — grabs our attention and excites our brain, making a bright, engaging change from the solid greens of a spring and summer forest. It gives us a unique visual stimulus. We forget our daily worries and fears, overwhelmed by the beauty of nature — even if just for the duration of a walk or a relaxation session outside. The trees and their daily change also give us a good chance to practice mindfulness. How many leaves have dropped since I was last here? What color strikes me the most? When we encounter the largess of life like this, we are humbled into forgetting our self-centered worriers and look outward to appreciate the world.

Fall Scents to Warm the Home and Heart

Warming botanicals are high in both phenylpropane and terpenoid compounds, among the strongest antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic agents known in the botanical world, says Marcel Lavabre, author of Aromatherapy Workbook. By carefully using spicy and earthy scents we may not only help prevent harmful viruses from entering our homes, but also help fight the bacteria that tend to accumulate in spaces closed up tight against the elements. In addition to cleansing the home, these warm and inviting scents can stimulate the nervous system and may even sharpen the mind, as new research on rosemary indicates.

Anise: The slightly sweet and aromatic scent of anise has spicy undertones. It is commonly described as licorice-like. In addition to being a powerful antiseptic, anise also has antifungal properties, as detailed in a 2005 study in the journal Acta Pharmaceutica. The essential oil makes a potent ingredient in any disinfectant cleanser. Historically renowned all over the world for its medicinal properties, the oil can also be used in a diffuser to promote relaxation and a healthy respiratory system.

Cinnamon: One of the oldest spices used by humans, cinnamon has a characteristic spicy fragrance. Various studies have reported the strong antimicrobial activity in cinnamon extract, and the essential oil has been found to be especially effective in repelling insects. Cinnamon’s stimulating volatile oils are also vasodilating, increasing circulation and warmth in the body. Use in a disinfectant spray, sachet or simmering potpourri for a delicious-smelling and healthy home.

Clove: The hot, spicy scent of clove has a sweet finish. Energizing clove oil possesses antihistamine, antiseptic, antifungal and antiparasitic properties. But its real strength lies in its antibacterial applications. In 2009, the Journal of Food Science noted the significant effects of clove oil against several bacterial strains, including Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica and Listeria monocytogenes. The oil inhibited the growth of these bacteria when used directly or in a vaporized form. Using clove oil in your diffuser or disinfectant spray could be an effective way to combat these bacteria in your home. Use low dilutions of the oil, however, as it can be an irritant, or place whole cloves in a warming potpourri.

Fir: The fragrance of the fir pine tree is one of the finest coniferous scents. Fresh, balsamic and piney in fragrance, the oil and resin of the fir were traditionally used for their antiseptic properties. Use it in your home to disinfect especially noxious areas by adding it to an all-purpose cleanser. The volatile oils are energizing and can help protect against respiratory diseases. Place fresh fir or pine boughs throughout your home for a healthier and more energized atmosphere.

Rosemary: Truly intoxicating, the scent of rosemary is fiery and spicy with a hint of pine. The volatile oils of rosemary have long-lasting antibacterial and antiseptic properties, which make it a favorite in cleansers and sprays. It is also highly effective at dissolving grease and repelling insects thanks to its high camphor content. Recently, a study from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom found that 1,8-cineole, a main chemical in rosemary oil, is linked with increased brain performance when found in the blood. Activate your mind and repel bacteria by hanging sprigs of rosemary by the entrance of your home.

Naturally Clean and Fresh

Making your own cleansers for a fresh home is easy and economical. The first step is to stock up on basic ingredients such as white vinegar, baking soda and a few spray bottles. Then, gather some old towels or T-shirts to use for rags. Finally, use the scents of warming essential oils in any one of these easy formulas for a fresh fall fragrance.

Clove Spice Air Freshener

1 cup water
10 drops cinnamon essential oil
5 drops anise essential oil
5 drops clove essential oil
1 tablespoon witch hazel

1. Combine all ingredients well.

2. Pour into a spray bottle or atomizer.

3. Spray generously throughout the home, avoiding contact with eyes.

Rosemary-Fir All-Purpose Disinfectant Cleaner

2 cups water
1 cup white vinegar
25 drops rosemary essential oil
25 drops fir essential oil

1. Combine all ingredients well.

2. Pour into a large spray bottle.

3. Use to cleanse and disinfect kitchens, bathrooms and countertops.

Cinnamon-Anise Carpet Freshener

5 cups baking soda
50 drops cinnamon essential oil
20 drops anise essential oil

1. Blend ingredients together thoroughly.

2. Store in large Mason jar.

3. Drill or hammer holes in lid of Mason jar for a sprinkle top.

4. Sprinkle generously over carpets. Leave overnight or for several hours before vacuuming well.

Homemade Potpourri

Potpourris and sachets are great ways to introduce warm scents into the home. Simply gather up a mix of the whole dried plants below and place them in a large jar, vase or bowl. If you wish, add scent by sprinkling a few drops of essential oil over the mixture and stir well. Place throughout the home or tie up sachets of the mixture to place in drawers. To infuse even more scent and moisture into your home, simmer a few cups of potpourri with 2 to 4 cups water on the back of the stove.