I will never forget the first time I experienced the aroma of Patchouli. I was in junior high school, a girl who I thought was “tres cool” walked past me and I was immediately enveloped in a cloud of aroma. I was smitten, and actually ran after her to ask what she was wearing. Luckily, for me, she was willingly to share with someone her junior. Patchouli….. ah, and a love affair begins.
Okay, so I know the bad rap Patchouli has gotten – 60’s hippie, pot smoking cover up, new agers, aging hippies, etc, but Patchouli really is a little “under/wonder dog.” Historically Patchouli was used to repel insects from destroying imported shawls from India which were all the rage in Britain and France around the 1820’s, so they were impregnated with the aroma of the dried plants placed amongst the shawls. Local weavers decided they wanted a piece of the action and copied the Indian shawl designs…….but could not replicate their wondrous aroma…..Patchouli. Eventually they imported patchouli plants and oil so they could sell their shawls as well.
Patchouli, whose Latin name is Pogostemom cablin, is a small bushy plant with mint like serrated leaves and small white flowers. Although cultivated throughout Asia, its origins were in Indonesia and the Philippine Islands. After young patchouli plants have been harvested, the leaves are partially dried, stacked and baled. Then the leaves can be fermented slightly in order to maximize the yield by weakening the cell walls that hold the essential oil, which is extracted by steam distilling the plant leaves.
To rescue it’s reputation, patchouli has a high output of essential oil, up to 3.5%, as compared to rose oil which yields less than 1%. Now one might erroneously think that a beautiful flower like the rose might produce a hefty amount of essential oil…….. but once again my dear patchouli is a shining star, even when it comes to essential oil yield. And in research it has also been found that “patchouli had similar calming effects to rose.”
In aromatherapy patchouli is considered a great balancer, relaxing yet stimulating, particularly relevant for conditions of weak immunity where overwork and anxiety have left the individual in a susceptible state. It may also relieve the strain of those with excessive mental activity who may feel “out of touch” with their body. As a leaf oil, patchouli also helps “open the breath” and is a great tool for meditation or yoga practice. Patchouli is said to bring three principal forces to work harmoniously within the body, the creative at the navel, the heart center and the transcendental at the crown. My Aum*Aroma #19 contains a beautiful vintage patchouli as part of the blend.
Patchouli’s has many therapeutic uses as well, in India it is used in medicine for its anti‐inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. One Indian study compared patchouli’s effectiveness against 22 strains of bacteria and 12 fungal strains. It was found that patchouli oil inhibited the growth of 20 of the bacterial strains and all of the fungi. In another study, patchouli was shown not only to be one of the strong antibacterials and antifungals amongst essential oils but that it was the ONLY essential oil to meet the criteria of being an effective antifungal without affecting the commensal bacteria. Patchouli is also useful for skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, eczema, dry and cracked skin, and dandruff. It has been used in the east for ages for numerous aliments including colds, headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, tumors and bad breath. In Chinese medicine, the dried leaves and stems have long been used to inspire clarity and balance the chi.
Several years ago I wrote a paper entitled “Even Patchouli Gets the Blues”, if you click this link it will take you to my articles page where you can get the link. It is a fun look at my beloved patchouli from various perspectives with some interesting historical information. I would recommend buying quality essential oils from a trustworthy supplier, and particularly Patchouli oil which is often adulterated. As some essential oils “turn” over time, patchouli just gets better with age. I own some 10 year old patchouli and it is gorgeous! The extraordinary alchemy that takes places with this wonderful, and often misunderstood essential oil, is a gift from the wisdom of the plants.
Please write and let me know if you read the paper ‘”Even Patchouli Gets the Blues” and share your thoughts!