Question: If one has mint leaves in front of him and one is unsure whether or not they still emanate a pleasant smell, how should one act with regards to the blessing of “Boreh Minei Besamim”?
Answer: In the previous Halacha, we have discussed the basis of this topic that one must recite the appropriate blessing before smelling any fragrant object. Some objects require the “Boreh Minei Besamim” blessing, while others require either a “Boreh Atzeh Besamim,” “Boreh Isbeh Besamim,” or “Ha’Noten Re’ah Tov Ba’Perot” blessing. (We shall discuss the details of these laws further.)
Reciting the Blessing Before One Smells
Clearly, just as regarding food, one recites a blessing before eating the food, similarly with regards to blessings on pleasant smells, one must recite the blessing before enjoying the smell. If one did not recite the blessing before smelling, one may not recite the blessing after having enjoyed the smell already.
Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berura (Chapter 216, Subsection 2) states that if one mistakenly smelled the fragrant object without reciting a blessing, one may, in fact, recite the blessing and then smell the object again; in this way, one will likewise exempt the previous smelling as well. (However, this is not the preferable practice and should only be done if one has already mistakenly smelled without reciting a blessing.)
Reciting the Blessing Only When One Intends to Enjoy
Regarding our question about when one has an object, such as dry mint leaves, in front of him and one is uncertain whether they still emanate a pleasant smell, clearly, we cannot say that if one wishes to smell these leaves, one should first recite the “Boreh Isbeh Besamim” blessing and only then check if they have a good smell, for if they turn out not to have a fragrant smell, the blessing will have been in vain. On the other hand, it seems that one cannot just smell the leaves without reciting a blessing, for one may not enjoy a pleasant smell without first reciting a blessing.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this dilemma (in his Chazon Ovadia-Berachot, page 308) and quotes several great Acharonim who write that one must only recite a blessing on fragrant objects when one intends to enjoy them. However, if one smells the item only to ascertain whether or not it has a pleasant smell, there is no need to recite a blessing. He quotes Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi as ruling likewise in his Ruach Chaim.
Thus, if one has an object, such as mint leaves, in front of him and one is uncertain whether or not a pleasant smell still emanates from it, one should smell it slightly in order to ascertain that it does indeed have a good smell in which case one should then recite the “Boreh Isbeh Besamim” blessing and then smell as much as one wishes.