Kyle Alvarado, at the Onawa Yoga Studio, has captured the sweet smell of El Paso after a rainstorm in a bottle. Photo credit: Samantha Pasillas
El Pasoan Kyle Alvarado has captured the sweet smell of the Borderland after a rainstorm in a bottle.
His product has “one main purpose and that is aromatherapy“ Alvarado said while at the Onawa Studio, a holistic care and wellness center where students practice the connection of the mind, body and spirit, including aromatherapy.
Alvarado studied communication at UT El Paso and is a writer and digital content specialist who previously worked with the El Paso Times and various local media outlets. Drawn to new and creative ideas, Alvarado took a fresh approach to aromatherapy.
“Originally I wanted to make rain-scented candles,” Alvarado said. After trial and error, he came across a different way to better achieve the smell of rain by distillation. He created an aromatic liquid known as hydrosol that captures the distinct smell of the high desert.
Distillation is the process which removes the plants essential oils by placing it above hot water. The steam that’s created, which is now infused with creosote oil molecules, gets recondensed and is now an aromatic liquid.
The smell of desert rain is something only Southwest regions get to experience in the U.S.. Scientists have a name for that pleasant “earthy” scent after it rains, called petrichor. Alvarado’s aromatic liquid is derived from the leaves of the Creosote bush, otherwise known as the “Gobernadora” bush found in El Paso.
Phytotherapist Dr. Armando Gonzalez-Stuart, has devoted much of his life studying the medicinal effects of herbs, as well as aromatherapy. The creosote bush is “very versatile because it contains a compound called Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), which is one of the strongest natural antioxidants known,” Gonzalez-Stuart said.
The plant releases a signature aroma when it rains, and with Alvarado’s Chaparral Hydrosol, which can be used with a diffuser, it’s now possible to recreate the scent at home.
“Aromatherapy is an art and a science,” Gonzalez-Stuart said. It’s an art because it is up to the aromatherapist to come up with a variety of blends, and it’s a science because active ingredients in essential oils have therapeutic values, Gonzalez-Stuart said.
Owner of the Onawa Studio, Christina Munoz, practices aromatherapy at home. Munoz said she uses her diffuser to help start and end the day. If she’s ever feeling sluggish or congested, aromatherapy “helps put you in a different mood,” Munoz said.
Essential oils appeal to the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. Alvarado aimed for his hydrosol to help people make connections and be reminded of special memories related to the desert rain.
“When it rains in El Paso, the first thing you smell are the resins that emanate from the leaves of the creosote bush. It’s a pleasant smell,” Gonzalez-Stuart said.
Munoz said she was thrilled to hear Alvarado captured the smell of El Paso rain in a bottle. El Paso rain is “very specific and unique to us” Munoz said. “Anybody who can relate to what El Paso smells like, it immediately takes them to a special place”
Alvarado describes the scent as “sweet and earthy” with a “touch of sourness to it.”
Alvarado held a public sensory experiment on Sept. 1st at the Onawa Yoga Studio in Central El Paso where he recreated the illusion of rain, and gifted people with samples of his hydrosol.
“I took it home and my kids loved it. We all love the smell of rain,” Munoz said. “It captures you and takes you in that moment.”
There’s a specific color on creosote leaves that gives off a much stronger scent, “If I see that, I take a little here, I take a little there” Alvarado said. Despite the fact that the plant can be found all over the region, Alvarado says he’s mindful not to strip away any plant completely dry.
Alvarado plans on one day starting an etsy shop and selling his hydrosol little by little. “I feel almost guilty making a profit off of something we get for free” Alvarado said. He hopes to one day host other pop-up experiments but making them fundraisers and donating profits to charity. Nothing has been officially planned.
“This smell, which a lot of us in the region take for granted, is very powerful and it’s something worth exploring. It’s one of the reasons why I embarked on this” Alvarado said.