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What is Patchouli?

I get that question a lot from various customers at shows.  Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) is actually classified as a perennial, bushy herb that is from the mint family.  It has erect stems, grows approximately 2 – 3 feet high and produces small pale white-pink flowers.

Patchouli is native to the tropical regions of Asia, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines.  It is now extensively cultivated in those areas as well as the Caribbean, India, China and Malaysia.  During the 18th and 19th century silk from China and shawls from India were packed with dried patchouli leaves to keep the moths and insects out.   In fact, for a time that was how many Europeans judged the authenticity of Indian shawls was by the scent of patchouli.  Historians have thought that these associations with exotic eastern goods is why patchouli was considered by Europeans of that era to be a luxurious scent. It is said that the linen chests of Queen Victoria contained dried patchouli to protect them from infestations.

Patchouli is cultivated for its oils which are produced by steam distillation from either the fresh or dried leaves.  There is actually a difference of opinion whether fresh or dried leaves produces the better oil.

Patchouli oil is heavy and strong, qualities that make it wonderful for perfumes as well as for soap.  Patchouli is essential component in any perfumer’s array of scents. It provides an excellent grounding note in many blends as well as acting as a fixative of the scent.

The word  patchouli derives from the Tamil patchai (Tamil: பச்சை) (green), ellai (Tamil: இலை) (leaf). In Assamese it is known as xukloti.

Patchouli has a deep, earthy fragrance that became extremely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the “hippie generation”.   Perhaps part of it’s popularity during this time was due to it’s reputed ability to combat frigidity.  Today I consider it one of those “love it or hate it” scents as people usually have a strong reaction to it one way or the other.

Regardless of how you feel about the scent of Patchouli it is considered to be useful in many respects.

  • Useful as an insect repellent
  • May be used as a conditioner for dreadlocks
  • In Japan and Malaysia it is used as an antidote for venomous snakebites
  • It is an important ingredient in incense and along with that is considered to beneficial for nervous exhaustion and stress related complaints

Robert Tisserand listed patchouli as one his 6 skin soothing oils n his presentation at the HSMG Soap Conference in Denver last month.   As such it is considered beneficial for eczema, dermatitis, wrinkles and cracked and dry skin.

Patchouli is one of my personal favorites of the essential oils I work with for several reasons: it is soothing to the skin and to the emotions, it blends well with a wide number of other essential oils and I personally love the way it smells.  This week our Patchouli Soap is on sale at just $4.00/bar making it a great bargain.  I hope I have answered the question of “What is Patchouli?”  As a quick recap it is a herb that is cultivated for its wonderful oil which is valued in perfumery and aromatherapy.  That is Patchouli and if you haven’t tried it I urge you to take a closer sniff.



The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless

0 thoughts on “What is Patchouli?

  1. Hello Susan, thank you for this article. I have ever loved patchouli smell and now I have some other reasons to keep loving this herb. Can you extract its essential oil by yourself?

  2. Great clarifying article. I didn’t know it could be used both to repell insects and for treating snake bites. And it is excellent in soap. Talk about versatility!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the article. I consider Patchouli indispensable, but of course not everybody likes it as much as I do.

  3. Thanks for the tip about patchouli and moths! Now I’m wondering if I should get some dried patchouli leaves to protect my wool yarn stash. 🙂

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