Patchouli is one of those essential oils that, in my experience, people seem to have strong opinions about. Many people have olfactory memories, good or bad, associated with the earthy scent.
The scent is often described as overpowering, too heavy, too earthy – the scent of hippies. I think that it may be one of the most misunderstood essential oils.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) is an aromatic, perennial shrub, with large green leaves and purple flowers. It’s a member of the mint family. The patchouli plants of Southeast Asia are renowned for their aromatic oils (Purchon & Cantele, 2014). The leaves contain the essential oil which is steam distilled from the fresh or dried leaves.
Patchouli has been valued since ancient times. There is archaeological evidence that people used patchouli, in its whole leave form, for incense and medicine in ancient Egypt, India, China, and Greece. In China, patchouli was even used to make a perfumed ink for writing on scrolls (Peace Rhind, 2015).
Patchouli was first introduced to the western world though trade in the 18th and 19th century.
It was common place for silk traders from India to pack the valuable silk that they were trading with dried patchouli leaves. Known as a powerful moth repellent, the tenacious aroma of patchouli was pervasive in the silks.
This practice, which had started as a means of protection for the silk, ended with patchouli being considered an affluent scent associated with opulent Eastern goods.
Even Queen Victoria’s linen chests were lined with patchouli leaves.
Patchouli in perfumery
Did you know that patchouli is widely used in perfumery?
Patchouli has been used for its scent for thousands of years, and it still forms one of the basic building blocks of many of today’s perfumes.
Unlike many essential oils, a good patchouli improves with age – like a fine wine.
Patchouli is a popular fixative in natural perfumery and helps to slow down the rate of evaporation of more volatile essential oils. It exhibits outstanding richness and tenacity; the odor can remain perceptible for weeks or even months!
Patchouli essential oil is valuable for skin care products and treating skin problems. The essential oil:
- reduces inflammation,
- kills bacteria, and prevents fungal infections,
- and is a cell regenerator (Purchon & Cantele, 2014).
Patchouli is the perfect essential oil to use to help bring calm to an overly active mind. Its grounding scent helps reduce tension and anxiety. It is a great essential oil to use in a nightly bath as it is relaxing and can be helpful in treating insomnia.
Bath Salt Recipe
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and then add to the bath once filled.
- 1 – 2 cups Epsom salts
- 1 – 2 tsp. any carrier oil (e.g. apricot kernel oil or jojoba oil)
- 3 drops lavender (lavendula angustifolia)
- 2 drops sweet orange (Citrus sinensis)
- 2 drops patchouli (Pogostemom cablin)
Peace Rhind, J. (2016). Aromatherapeutic Blending: Essential Oils in Synergy. London: Singing Dragon.
Purchon, N. & Cantele, L. (2014). The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness. Toronto: Robert Rose.