The sweet smell of freshly cut grass is summer. That particular smell – over and above the intoxicating scents of blooming crabapple and lilacs—brings on an immediate sense of peace and well-being.
I generally believed this effect was because the smell conjured up childhood memories of playing outside. Most of us can recall the universal parental rule to “play outside until the street lights come on”. There were no structured activities and we were left to the standard games of “kick the can” or “ghosts in the graveyard” or some other game imagined up.
My belief is probably scientifically incorrect. Australian researchers have discovered that the chemical that is released when grass is cut makes people feel relaxed and happy. In fact, these researchers claim that this chemical can prevent the mental decline often associated with aging. The Times of India similarly reported that the chemistry in a pleasing odor, such as freshly cut grass, can alter gene expression in the brain and reduce aggression, calm the nerves and sharpen the mind.
On all fronts, imagined and scientific, the smell of freshly cut grass is good for you. Unfortunately, this is not so true for the grass. The same odor that calms our nerves and relaxes us is actually a distress call from the grass itself. The calming odor we enjoy so much is actually a chemical defense called green leaf volatiles [GLVs] that the grass emits in an attempt to save itself from the injury you have just inflicted upon it.
As the French writer, Alexandre Dumas stated, “there is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state to another, nothing more.” So the next time you inhale a deep breathe of freshly cut grass and enjoy the flashback to childhood memories and the rush of well-being that floods you, give silent thanks to the grass.