Smelling Salts

As connoisseurs of history, we sometimes find styles, habits and turns of phrase from the past that we wouldn’t mind bringing back to the present, Doc Brown-style. This time around, we’re dusting off smelling salts.

Quacks have gotten a bad rap.

Sure, we wouldn’t go to them with anything serious—the flu shot, the broken leg—but if your problem is more along the lines of a mild headache and a general malaise, the snake oil salesmen may be able to help you a whole lot more than a GP.

So naturally, there are a few folk remedies we’d like to dust off…starting with smelling salts.

Yes, we’re talking about that blast of ammonified air that revived so many fainted gentlewomen in Victorian days. It’s a quick shot of aromatic ammonia, jolting you into the here and now…just what you were hoping your coffee would do.

Like all good things, it’s a little dangerous—if you held it under your nose for too long, you might cause problems—but if you stick to a quick whiff, you’ll be fine. This tobacco-scented bottle comes from Portland General Store, proud home of whiskey cologne and general nostalgia. There’s also a Eucalyptus version, if you prefer your aromatic therapies to be nicotine free.

But really, the appeal is as much ritual as chemistry. It’s a hard thing to focus on the present moment, and if a quick break and a distinctive smell can take you closer, it’s worth the eccentricity. (Although we’ve always thought eccentricity was its own reward.) And if, when date night rolls around, your companion catches the vapors before the food can arrive…you’ll be well prepared.

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom