Patchouli was so popular in the hippy counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s that it was dubbed the Peace Oil. Its rich, earthy fragrance is said to instill feelings of peace and calm. OK, so maybe you’re not into transcendental meditation but there are many other reasons to consider Patchouli. Let’s take another look at this classic essential oil.

Its origins

Patchouli essential oil is extracted from the broad leaves of the Patchouli plant (Pogostemon cablin), a bushy herb belonging to the mint family. It is native to the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia but is now widely cultivated in India, China, West Africa and the West Indies. This hardy plant grows to about three feet in height and it is radically pruned three to four times over the year to harvest its leaves for the production of essential oil.

When harvested, the leaves are spread out in thin layers in shade and turned daily while they dry over a period of several days. Usually some natural fermentation of the leaves occurs during this process. Proper drying improves the yield and quality of the essential oil which is eventually extracted by steam distillation. The dried leaves may be processed immediately or they may be baled and stored or even exported for processing elsewhere.

Its classic fragrance

Many consider the fragrance of Patchouli to be a perfume all on its own. It is a base note fragrance and is usually described with words like heavy, earthy, woody, rich, musty, musky, and pungent. Its scent is strong and long lasting. It has been used for centuries as a fixative in perfumes and still is today.

The fragrance of Patchouli is not for everyone. Some do not like it, but no one can deny that it is unique and unforgettable. Fortunately, Patchouli blends well with many other essential oils such as Lavender, Rose, Geranium, Ylang Ylang, Clary Sage, Frankincense, and the list goes on. With a little experimentation, an attractive Patchouli blend can be enjoyed by anyone. My favorite is Patchouli sweetened with hints of rose and bitter orange flower.

A word on quality

Patchouli is one of a few essential oils that improve with age because its fragrance is developed with oxidation. The thin consistency of the freshly distilled oil gradually becomes more syrupy and as it changes, it takes on a smoother, richer fragrance.

The color of Patchouli can be either a pale yellow (light Patchouli) if it is distilled in a stainless steel vessel or reddish brown (dark Patchouli) if it is distilled in an iron vessel. Harmless trace quantities of iron oxide contribute to the shade of the dark Patchouli, which is traditional and often preferred. But color is not an indication of quality.

Patchouli oil is harvested from more than one variety of the Patchouli plant but the oil from Pogostemon cablin is considered to be superior.

Make sure that you buy pure Pogostemon cablin from a supplier that you trust and then buy enough so you can hoard it for a long, long time.

Its use in Aromatherapy

Patchouli is very versatile and a valuable addition to your home aromatherapy kit. It has been a staple in eastern folk medicine, where it has been used to treat a number of disorders.

It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antifungal properties and helps the regeneration of skin cells. It provides good first aid for the treatment of a variety of skin injuries and ailments such as athlete’s foot, acne, dermatitis, scrapes, cuts and abrasions, and insect bites. Patchouli can be diluted with carrier oil, added to a cotton ball and dabbed directly on the injury.

Why not try a natural soap with Patchouli added as a daily facial cleanser for the treatment of mild acne? Patchouli can also be added to unscented shampoo or conditioner as a treatment for dandruff.

Patchouli is an astringent. It can be added to carrier oil or unscented lotion and used with gentle massage to reduce the appearance of cellulite and wrinkles by toning and tightening the skin.

The Patchouli fragrance can have wonderful psychological effects. It reduces stress, anxiety and depression and is used for relaxation and to enhance meditation. Many consider it to be an aphrodisiac because its rich, earthy tones have a sensuous, erotic appeal. Patchouli can be enjoyed by scenting your environment with a diffuser or even better, you can wear a small amount of Patchouli perfume and take its fragrance with you.

Patchouli can diminish appetite and many dieters wear Patchouli for this purpose.

Patchouli is a natural repellent for flying insects and it has been used for hundreds of years in India to protect fabric. Wear Patchouli outdoors and avoid the use of DEET-based insect repellants. Put away the moth balls and hang a terra cotta diffuser with Patchouli in your linen closet instead.

You may or may not love the fragrance of Patchouli but either way you simply won’t forget this classic and versatile essential oil.

Author's Bio: 

Marilyn Flook manages the Forever Fragrant website which promotes aromatherapy and natural products.