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Scented News, Reviews & More
  • Petrichor: the smell of the rain
  • The Library of Fragrance
  • Wonderful World of Scent
Petrichor: the smell of the rain

If you live in the United Kingdom, the chances are that you've experienced rain. And if you've experienced rain, you're probably also familiar with knowing that it's on its way. But did you know, that this 'sixth sense' that we appear to have, is actually to do with how the air smells before the heavens open, and that it has a name? 

'Petrichor' was first described by scientists, Isabel Joy and Richard Thomas. For years Joy and Thomas had been trying to identify this phenomena, which many people (particularly in very dry, arid regions) experienced and which had also been muted to be the explanation behind how cattle also appear to sense the onset of precipitation. In the first research paper on the subject, Joy and Thomas wrote, "That many natural dry clays and soils evolve a peculiar and characteristic odour when breathed on, or moistened with water, is recognised by all the earlier text books of mineralogy..."

This odour had actually already been described and recreated by a small perfumery company in India, which had captured and absorbed the scent in Sandalwood oil. It was named, in this format, as 'matti ka attar' or 'earth perfume', but the source of the odour was still completely unknown to science. Working out of the Division of Mineral Chemistry, in Melbourne, Joy and Richard began distilling rocks that had been exposed to warm, dry conditions in the open and discovered a yellow-coloured oil that was trapped in rocks and soil but released by moisture and humidity (which occurs just before the rain, particularly in the summer or in warm climates). 

The varied nature of the host materials led Richard to name the scent 'petrichor', because this unique odour was regarded as an 'ichor' or 'tenuous essence' derived from rock or stone. Derived from the Greek “petra” (stone) and “ichor” which, in Greek mythology, is the ethereal blood of the gods, the translation of 'petrichor' means 'the blood of the stone'. 

If it's a scent that you love, you can find petrichor in our 'Thunderstorm' Cologne, which captures this complex, sensory smell perfectly – with a hint of electricity in the air, just as the rain drops start to fall from the sky, hitting the concrete and churning the earth.

 

  • Author avatar
    Clare Rees
  • Wonderful World of Scent

Comments on this post ( 1 )

  • Apr 12, 2015

    Thank you for explaining this feeling I get when reminiscing about Summers spent in playgrounds in the 70s. Got to get me some “Thunderstorm”!

    — heather playdon

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