Patchouli is a plant species from the Lamianceae family, which also includes lavender, oregano, and mint. Although its scientific name is Pogostemon cablin, this perennial herb is more commonly known as stink weed, pucha pot, or putcha-pat. With so many names comes many uses, and patchouli’s potent aroma is what makes it a hot commodity among herb lovers today. It’s used for everything from aromatherapy to perfume and repellent.
Characteristics of Patchouli
Patchouli is native to Southeast Asia but is now cultivated throughout China, India, and parts of western Africa. It’s one of the bushier herbs and typically features a firm stem and small pale pink flowers. The plant averages two to three feet in length.
As a tropical species, patchouli flourishes in hot environments; however, it generally prefers to be away from direct sunlight. While it requires plenty of water, it’s fairly resilient and will spring back to life relatively quickly following a period of drought and withering.
A strong, fragrant aroma is the specie’s signature trait. Its flowers usually blossom at the end of autumn and produce small, delicate seeds that can be planted after careful harvesting. Likewise, cuttings can also be used to grow multiple plants.
A Brief History of Patchouli
Both the leaves and the oil of patchouli have a variety of purposes throughout history. In its native Malaysia, it was once used as a medicinal treatment. Moreover, Chinese silk traders used its dried leaves during the 18th century to repel moths away from their treasured cloths. In fact, patchouli has been known to prevent female moths from mating with their male counterparts.
Europeans soon began associating the strong aroma with the lavish goods that were pouring in from the exotic East. It became a symbol of luxury and the chosen scent in linen boxes used by Queen Victoria.
The strong, musty aroma is easy to identify. It’s pungent, inescapable, and is believed to attract the opposite sex. Not only is it valued in Asian incense, but it also became highly popular during the hippie movement of 1960s and 1970s. Patchouli was the favorite fragrance of flower children all across Europe and North America.
Using Patchouli Today
Patchouli is distinct enough to be recognized, yet it still retains a sense of mystery that keeps it unique. In addition to being an effective aromatic houseplant, there are many ways to take advantage of the herb’s signature scent. Today, it’s used in a variety of products for many different purposes:
- Perfume: A pervasive aroma makes patchouli extract great for perfumes, soaps, lotions, shampoos, and more. The oil also serves as a great conditioner for hair and skin.
- Industrial products: As in perfume, the aroma of the east is commonly used in modern air fresheners, laundry detergents, paper towels, and household cleaners. In 1985, toy manufacturer Mattel even used the plant’s oils to make the plastic used in a popular action figure.
- Insect repellent: The ancient silk traders knew what they were doing. Today, patchouli continues to be used as a natural way to ward off pests. It’s a great substitute for poisonous mothballs in closets and dressers, but its real power is unleashed outside in the garden. The plant boasts powerful anti-fungal properties that help prevent bugs from attacking your flowers and vegetables.
- Aromatherapy with essential oil: This is the most common way to enjoy the fragrant benefits of this woody perennial. The oil is extracted by steam-distilling the leaves through scalding, drying, or mild fermentation. Some distillation experts believe that the highest quality oil is sourced from fresh plants that are distilled close to where they originally grew. This oil also mixes well with ergamot, geranium, clary sage, myrrh, and lavender.
Possible Health Benefits of Patchouli Oil
Not only does patchouli provide a soothing aromatic treatment, but its essential oil offers an array of health benefits. Here are the basic components:
- Alpha patchoulene
- Beta patchoulene
- Alpha guaiene
- Alpha Bulnesene
- Patchouli Alcohol
While early Malaysians may have not known about these individual components, they did know about the medicinal properties that make patchouli oil an effective natural remedy:
- Antiseptic: This is one of patchouli’s most powerful properties. When applied to wounds, the oil helps prevent infection.
- Antidepressant: In a world of modern medicine, many people forget about the natural treatments. Patchouli is actually a great treatment for people who suffer from depression, as its calming effects help ease the feelings of loss, loneliness, anxiety, anger, disappointment, stress, and sadness. This is main reason the oil is so commonly used in aromatherapy. When inhaled, the aroma has the power to relax tension and stimulate the pleasure hormones dopamine and serotonin.
- Diuretic: The oil also stimulates urination, which removes excess water, uric acid, and salt from your body. As a result, you reduce the risk of developing gall and kidney stones.
- Antiphlogistic: Putcha-pat can also be used to reduce inflammation and soothe the side of effects of fevering. This includes both external and internal conditions.
- Astringent: This versatile oil also stimulates muscle, nerve, and skin constrictions and may help minimize the signs of aging. It strengthens gums and sagging skin, and its even believed to help reduce hair loss.
- Aphrodisiac: This has long been one of patchouli’s most popular characteristics and a possible reason why the scent became so popular during the 60s and 70s. Many believe that the oil is an effective treatment for sexual problems, such as impotence, erectile dysfunctions, anxiety, and loss of libido. It’s used by both men and women to stimulate estrogen and testosterone and increase the sex drive.
- Cicatrisant: Many users believe that patchouli essential oil also boosts the healing of cuts and wounds by promoting the production of scar tissue. It has been used on acne, chicken pox, measles, and boils.
- Deodorant: The strong musky fragrance is great for masking body odor. However, remember to always dilute the oil, for a pure form is much too strong.
- Fungicide: Just as it’s used in the garden, patchouli essential oil can also be used to treat common fungal growths like athletes food.
- Sedative: Like many oils, this one soothes hypersensitivity symptoms that potentially lead to convulsion and coughing. In this way, it can also be used to calm allergic reactions and breakouts by sedating the body’s response to certain elements. It relaxes both the body and mind, which is why many people use this oil to treat insomnia and sleep more soundly.
- Tonic: Patchouli is also a natural tonic. Therefore, it invigorates both mind and body, optimizes metabolic cycles, and helps promote normal organ function.
As with any essential oil, always remember to dilute your solution. Patchouli is incredibly potent and can cause serious irritation if applied in a concentrated form.
How to Make Your Own Patchouli Oil
While many essential oils undergo professional distillation, it’s still possible to extract patchouli oil from your own fresh herb plants.
- First, only use mature, healthy leaves. After a thorough wash and dry, place the leaves in a glass jar, but don’t fill it up all the way. Leave about one inch of space. You will then need a carrier oil like almond of jojoba. Fill the entire jar with your selection and then shake it until the leaves and oil are thoroughly mixed.
- Next, heat some water in a saucepan and remove it from the stove once it begins to boil. Place your jar in the water, making sure there is enough to submerge the entire glass surface. Keep it in the water until it cools, and then give it one more shake.
- Now it’s ready to be stored. You will need to keep the jar in a cool, dry place for at least 30 days, but it will need to be shaken once every day.
- At the end of the month, open up your jar and filter out the oil using cheesecloth.
- Seal it up, and you’re all set.
How to Grow a Patchouli Plant
Whether you’re a full-time herb grower or looking to start, patchouli require some care. As a tropical plant, it only thrives in warm climates. For growers in the United States, you may be luck if you live Florida or southern Texas. For those who live further north, patchouli must be grown indoors or very carefully outdoors as an annual or perennial. Keep in mind that this plant is extremely sensitive to frost, so be sure to use caution during late fall and early spring.
Patchouli is a perfect indoor plant, so it’s really a good fall plant for anyone, regardless of where you live. Simply treat as a tropical houseplant indoors.
This herb grows best when partially shaded. You can keep it on a windowsill or even off to the side of a direct fluorescent bulb. Use an average-quality soil with a PH of around 7, but make sure to maintain sufficient drainage. The soil should be kept moist, but never overwatered. If left to dry out, patchouli will bounce back fairly quickly. It’s also quick to grow, so always have a bigger pot on hand. To promote new branch sprouts, simply pinch the tips.
You can cultivate patchouli by using partially-wooded cuttings in late fall or winter, using seeds from indoor growths in winter or early spring, or by simply purchasing a pre-rooted plant.
Use Patchouli With Care
Simply put, you either love patchouli or you don’t. For those who do value this unique plant, the signature scent offers a tantalizing twist on herb growing, aromatherapy, outdoor gardening, and personal hygiene. As with any herb, make sure you create a suitable environment. Likewise, when using patchouli essential oil, be sure to dilute your liquid and always test your skin before jumping into a full application.
Most importantly, do plenty of research and seek advice from your local nursery or medical professional.