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Arizona's monsoon smells could be good for human health, researchers claim

A study published by University of Arizona researchers suggests the smell of desert rain can help improve sleeping patterns and stabilize emotional hormones.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Right before a monsoon storm hits, Arizonans can often detect a distinct aroma in the air. 

That familiar desert scent occurs when plants release organic compounds right before the rain starts to fall.   

The Sonoran Desert's creosote bush is often credited for producing the rich smells that linger around before and after a monsoon shower. But local researchers say these native plants could produce compounds that can benefit human health.

Researchers from the University of Arizona published a study earlier this year that identified a number of desert plants capable of releasing volatile organic compounds.

"These same biogenic volatile organic compounds are amply documented in many studies to enhance human physical and psychological health in the face of stressful societal conditions," the study states.

Researchers believe the fragrant oils emitted by desert plants have helped them survive Arizona's harsh climate conditions, but now they could produce health benefits for other desert dwellers. 

"These oily compounds may have evolved to reduce transpiration and herbivory on the foliage of desert plants or to attract pollinators and other floral visitors," the study states.

Gary Nabhan, an UArizona scientist and one of the study's authors, said these compounds could potentially help improve human sleep patterns, stabilize emotional hormones, enhance digestion, heighten mental clarity and reduce depression.

Nabhan is part of an initiative to create "fragrance gardens" in southern Arizona that aims to improve the health of local residents. One was installed in Ajo earlier this year and another could be planted near Tucson's Tumamoc Hill.  

"I would like to see these fragrance gardens around every hospital, community clinic, and bed and breakfast – wherever anyone comes to heal, relax and recreate," Nabhan said in a statement.

More on Nabhan's study can be found here.

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