Patchouli (also patchouly or pachouli) is both a plant and an essential oil (patchouli oil) obtained from the leaves of a plant of the same name. The scent of patchouli is heavy and strong. It has been used for centuries in perfumes, and is grown in the East and West Indies. The word derives from the Tamil patchai பச்சை (green), ellai இலை (leaf).
Patchouli oil and incense underwent a surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly among devotees of the free love and hippie lifestyles, since the pungent smell of patchouli is known to cover the smell of burnt cannabis and body odor. It can also be used as a hair conditioner for dreadlocks. One study suggests Patchouli oil may serve as an outdoor insect repellent.
Despite its common association with an alternative lifestyle, patchouli has found widespread use in modern industry. It is a component in about a third of modern, high-end perfumes, including more than half of perfumes for men. Patchouli is also an important ingredient in East Asian incense. It is also used as a scent in products like paper towels, laundry detergents, and air fresheners. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the dried leaves of the plant – a process which provides a relatively high yield of the oil. Two important components of the essential oil is patchoulol and norpatchoulenol.
During the 18th and 19th century silk traders from China travelling to the Middle East packed their silk cloth with dried patchouli leaves to prevent moths from laying their eggs on the cloth. Many historians speculate that this association with opulent eastern goods is why patchouli was considered by Europeans of that era to be a luxurious scent. This trend has continued to the present day in modern perfumery.
The plant and oil have a number of claimed health benefits in herbal folk-lore, and its scent is used with the aim of inducing relaxation.
The patchouli plant is a bushy herb reaching two or three feet in height. The plant grows well in southern climates. It enjoys hot weather but not direct sunlight. If the plant withers due to lack of watering it will recover well and quickly once it has been watered. The seed-bearing flowers are very fragrant and bloom in late fall. The tiny seeds may be harvested for planting, but they are very delicate and easily crushed. Cuttings from the mother plant can also be rooted in water to produce further plants.
Patchouli is a tropical member of the mint family, grown in the East and West Indies. Leaves are harvested several times a year, dried, and exported for distillation of the oil, although the highest quality oil is usually produced from fresh leaves, distilled close to the plantation.
- What is the fragrance patchouli?, from ask.Yahoo.com
- Natural Insect Repellents Natural Insect Repellents
- Phytotherapy Research 2005, vol 19, pp 303–9.
- Grieve, Maude(1995) A Modern Herbal . 2007.