Synopsis: A well-known essential oil with both physical and emotional properties and a fascinating history of use on many continents.
Patchouli Essential Oil and Hydrosol Profile
By Jeanne Rose ~ February 2017
Common Name/Latin Binomial: Patchouli or Patchouly is from Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth.
Other Common Name/Naming Information: The name patchouli comes from a Tamil word, paccilai, meaning “green leaf”. An alternate common name seen in some older references is pucha-pat. The name Pogostemon means Pogo or bearded and stemon or stamen of a flower and is sometimes described as meaning “bearded thread”. In Greek this refers to the hairy middles of the four stamens.
Countries of Origins: Grows in tropical areas, 80% of Patchouli oil is produced in Sumatra. Eden Botanicals sources Patchouli EO from Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It grows well in Hawaii, particularly Kauai but is more seasonal there.
Endangered or Not: Some Cautions. Patchouli is believed to be safe and not endangered. Avoid wild gathering. Please grow your own herbs in your own garden.
General description of Plant habitat and growth: The genus Pogostemon consists of some 30 or 40 species of shrubs, sub-shrubs, and herbaceous plants native to tropical Asia. Characteristics of the genus include flowers in whorls in the upper leaf axils; a tubular, five-toothed calyx; a tubular corolla with four nearly equal lobes, and one style with two stigmas. The fruits are four seed-like nutlets. It loves rain but the water has to drain away. It prefers open sunny areas and can be intermixed with corn or Palm trees to improve the thickness of the leaf and deter leginess of the stem. The leaves are known to accumulate essential oil in the glandular trichomes. It thrives in a damp, warm climate with even rainfalls. It exhausts the soil and needs new fertile ground regularly. It flourishes in low altitudes and slightly moist soil that is properly drained. Propagated by stem cuttings planted during the rainy season and protected against too much sunshine and weeds.
Patchouly plants ~ Patchouli leaves cured prior to distillation
Portion of the plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields: The leaves are picked the top leaves preferred. A stalk 10 inches long and about 1/8 in. thick with attached leaves is considered good distillation material. After cutting this is laid out to dry on a hard surface and turned frequently to promote even drying. Drying may take 3 days. Press dry leaves into bales immediately. Aging these bales may improve odor. Do let them ferment or mold. But aged leaves do slightly ferment and will yield more oil – but this is not preferred. They were originally steam-distilled in iron pots but now more often in stainless steel. When steam-distilled the essential oil is medium brown to dark brown. However, with the change to stainless steel stills, often the color of the essential oil is much more pale brown – golden.
The yield is about 3.5%.
Distillation: This is one of the few plants that is best dried before distillation. Thus you will not get a true hydrosol (with cellular water intact). Arctander states that to get a good yield of Patchouli, the cell walls need to rupture prior to the distillation. This can be done by light fermentation (not to mold), by scalding with superheated steam (like blanching a vegetable), or by stacking the dried leaves and thus ‘curing’ them. My suggestion to those who can grow Patchouly is to take a trip to a Patchouli distillery and watch and learn and then to try and do it yourself. Also, the original distillation was done in iron vessels which yielded a dark and richly scented oil. With copper or stainless steel distillation you will obtain less intense but possibly as tenacious an odor. There is more information on Distillation in Guenther’s The Essential Oil on page 563 of volume III.
In a recent FB post Ramakant Harlalka showed pictures of Patchouli distillation as said, “Patchouli distillation is art, science & technology. Here heat & mass transfer which are core area of Chemical engineering plays important role in cost & quality optimizations. There are few pictures on steam distillation where distillation vessel acts like bio reactor apart taking out oil from leaf. Pretreatments of fresh leaf and digestion of same in vessel through controlled heat makes constituents of Patchouli oil where minor components (《1%) makes unique amber odor of oil.”
Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment: Three terpenoids Germacrene, Patchoulol or patchouli alcohol, Norpatchoulenol found in patchouli oil are responsible for the typical patchouli scent. Tenacity is one of the virtues of Patchouli oil but often its intensity (strength of odor) is low. The odor in quality Patchouli is floral, fruity, green herbaceous and spicy and more fully described as “possessing an extremely rich, sweet-herbaceous, aromatic-spicy and woody-balsamic odor with a wine-like presence.” At dry-down this same oil will retain a particularly sweet woody floral odor. It will not get tar-like. I suggest that you take a class from someone who has old (20 years old) Patchouli to really get an idea of what its odor is as much of what is sold now is very unpleasant.
General Properties: The herb is anti-insecticide, herb and oil are considered anti-dandruff and leech-repellent.
Via Inhalation: Nervine, anti-depressant, calmative. aphrodisiac, tonic and skin decongesting.
Via Application: Cytophylactic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, tonic, antitoxic, and astringent.
Via Perfumery: It is of low intensity, but high tenacity and very useful as a base note and with great fixative quality.
Properties and Uses: Patchouli is said to cure apathy, ease confusion and indecision, heal dry skin, be healthful for the endocrine glands, be a nerve stimulant, can be seductive or aphrodisiac, for some it is stimulant, and historically it is rejuvenating.
EO Ingestion: Constipation, uterine tonic, and to eliminate toxins. (see warning) * It was once used as a flavoring agent in ‘Sen-Sen’ type of breath freshener with a licorice taste (these were small hard pieces of candy that was sucked to camouflage the breath-smell of alcohol or tobacco).
EO Application: In skin care products, it is used on dry, old, or wrinkled skin. It is rejuvenating, restorative, and invigorating to the skin. It is used as a fixative and has much value in perfumery. It is also useful for fungal infections, bacterial infections, dandruff, as an insect repellent, on insect bites, dermatitis, athlete’s foot, ringworm, parasites, and some use it in skin care to help eliminate skin toxins.
Energetic/Emotional Uses by Application or Inhalation: Inhaled Patchouli historically has been used to give peace of mind, relieve confusion, and be grounding. When inhaled Patchouli is used in ritual or emotionally to cure apathy, and indecision, as a seductive agent, and for grounding and in a positive ritual — to invigorate, become lucid and reasonable.
Diffuse/Diffusion: This essential oil mixes well with many oils to produce fragrant diffusions. With its sweet herbaceous and aromatically spicy odor it works with Cedarwoods, citrus oils, Clary Sage, Lavender, Rose Geranium, Sandalwood, Vetiver, and more. Think ahead of what your outcome will be and blend oils to suit the outcome.
Key Use: Oil of Warmth and Age©
Herbal Usage: Patchouli is an important herb which possesses many therapeutic properties and is also widely used in the fragrance industries. In traditional medicinal practices, the herb is used to treat colds, fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, insect and snake bites. See Jeanne Rose Herbs & Things.
Jeanne Rose’s Tomato Tales
Experience with this EO: Back in 1966, I lived in Big Sur as well as having a small apartment in Berkeley. In 1967, I lived in Big Sur but also in San Francisco while being involved in the rock ‘n roll world as a coutourière. In both Big Sur and San Francisco, Patchouli was the big ‘in’ thing as a deodorant. However, shaving under the arms was also ‘out’. So, personally, I found the odor of Patchouli to be retched and repugnant and it became personally inextricably linked in my mind to sweaty stinking hairy armpits and pushy-shove’y stoned fans. I disliked it then and disliked it for 30 years after and refused to use it in my work. But I had kept a 4-ounce bottle that I had purchased from Nature’s Herb Company and it lay unused until one-day I wanted to make a classic perfume. I pulled out the old Patchouli and smelled it and discovered its fragrant, rich, earthy odor — and found it ‘pleasant’. I still have some of that bottle for reference and realized that I hated Patchouli not for its odor but because of people smell who didn’t bathe enough and were using the odor to camouflage their own. It took me more years to really enjoy using it and now I depend on it in many a formula.
When I queried Monica Miller about Patchouli (as she had done a study of it a few years ago), she said, “I love it (Patchouli) as an ingredient in deodorant, it’s the oil that works best for me and it’s not at all about covering odor it really kills the bacteria that cause odor. But you know that. I just made an awesome massage oil with honeysuckle, patchouli, lavender, arnica. The patchouli is so sexy and musky in the blend.” I completely disagree with the information that Patchouli kills the bacteria that causes underarm odor but I am willing to defer to her assessment.
P.S. If you have never smelled Patchouli on an unwashed armpit, I strongly suggest that you avoid this as you would a plague. Use it diluted with other essential oils, use it in massage, use it in dilution, use it as you will. Also, do not equate the nasty synthetic patchouli with the real one, buy a Patchouli that you enjoy and put some of it away for the future. This oil ages well.
FORMULAS by Application, Massage and Skincare
Patchouli Green Bath (from New Age Creations, 1970)
3 oz. Patchouly, dried
3 oz. Orange leaf or Savory, dried
3 oz. Vetivert root, dried and C&S
2 oz. Linden flower/leaf, dried
2 oz. Strawberry or berry leaf, dried
2 oz. Comfrey or Parsley leaf, dried
Patchouly is commonly used for its rejuvenating effect on the senses. Orange leaf sharpens the awareness, Vetivert is a tonic stimulant, Linden in the bath cools the head and soothes restlessness, Strawberry eases aches and pains in the hips and is mildly astringent, Comfrey and Parsley are healing and rejuvenative. Mix all together. Take a large handful (1/2 oz.) and place in pot with 1 qt. of water. Bring to simmer for 10 minutes and strain the solution into the tub.
Take the moist herbs, wrap in washcloth and use to exfoliate your skin.
Soak in the herbal waters at least 20 minutes.
All in all, one of the best formulas from my early skin care company New Age Creations.
More bath formulas are in my Herbal Body Book.
Soap Used as a bug repellent:
When I queried people in the herbal/EO world about their uses for Patchouli, I got a few responses about Patchouli oil being a bug repellent and a deodorant. Jacqueline Alberti gave me this formula for making soap using a melt and pour base with 7.5 ml of dark Indonesian Patchouli per pound of the base. She said, “I find when I use the EO (Patchouli) in soap the mosquitoes don’t bother me even 8 or 10 hours after showering”.
In a Seaweed (Fucoidan) based lotion add 5-10% mixture of Patchouli, Vetiver and Calophyllum inophyllum, Tamanu, from Madagascar. — Sheila Jacaman
Blends Best with: Patchouli blends best with many other essential oils and absolutes including Basil, Bergamot, most Citrus, Geranium Rose, Juniper, Labdanum, Lavender, Myrrh, Neroli, Sandalwood, and Rose.
BLENDING with formula. In perfumery use Patchouli in thoughtful amounts as a base note. Elizabeth Lind says, “Patchouli and Oak Moss are my favorite base notes, smells like the forest floor of the Santa Cruz Mountains.”
Three Patchouli Perfumery Formulas
#1 Brown Sugar Formula can be composed of various amounts of these essential oils: Lemon, Neroli,
Patchouli, Tangerine. Of course you know that there could be thousands of variations depending of where the ingredients were grown, how grown, pressed or distilled but these main ingredients combined is the essence of brown sugar that is sweet and fortifying but also uplifting and refreshing. Use this formula as an inhalant or in blends — for aftershave, astringent tonics, face wash or a sweet massage. Start by mixing 1 drop of each ingredient, succussing, waiting and building up the formula one drop at a time.
#2 Chypre (sheep ra) The word “chypre” derives from the island of Cyprus which is located in the Mediterranean. It was for many centuries the meeting point of the East and West (Turkey and Greece) for the trade of aromatic materials. During the 1800’s it became famous for the production of perfumes that contained and combined the Mediterranean essences of citrus, floral pomades, and Labdanum with the resins and gums of Arabia, such as Styrax, Frankincense, Opopanax and Myrrh. Animal products were also traded such as civet from the civet cat of Ethiopia and musk from the musk deer from the Himalayas. These animal products were and are some of the worlds’ most valued perfume commodities.
Originally, the word chypre would have been used to describe a style of perfumery associated with the island of Cyprus. Today, however, it refers rather more specifically to a group of perfumes whose origins can be traced back to the great Chypre by Coty that was created in 1917. Truly an Art Deco scent. Today, these scents are no longer much in fashion, but we can make a Chypre scent to experience those perfumes that existed 100 years ago. [Read Natural Botanical Perfumery by Jeanne Rose for more information about Chypre and many more Chypre formulas.
Chypre is a fragrance family – a complex of moss mixed with woods, flowers or fruit odors. A Chypre fragrance contains “Oakmoss absolute”, Bergamot and often Labdanum and Patchouli. Mix the following together, succuss, let the blend sit quietly for a few weeks to integrate and become a true synergy where no one scent is dominant over another but all are mixed to make a brand-new odor.
CHYPRE #2 –Patchouli
15 Bergamot CP
18 Sandalwood Australia or Hawaii SD
6 Rosa bourbonia ABS
3 Oakmoss ABS
3 Labdanum ABS
15 Patchouli SD
#3 The Dark Green Woods
Salvia sclarea flowers 4 drops = top note
Citrus paradisi var. white peel 3 drops = heart note
Citrus x limon var. bergamot peel 2 drops = heart note
Cupressus sempervirens leaves 3 drops = bridge note
Pogostemon cablin leaves 5 drops = base note
Mix together and succuss. Let sit for a week and then add up to 45 drops of carrier or alcohol as a diluent. Succuss again. Let sit for a week. Use as a perfume. This will be 25% perfume ingredients.
All these ingredients available in small sizes from Eden Botanicals.
HYDROSOL: This is one of the few plants that is best dried before distillation. Thus you will not get a true hydrosol (with cellular water intact). Patchouli hydrosol can be used as a hair spray for a temporary solution from the static in curly hair! I’m sure any hydrosol would be nice, but there is something about patchouli —Christina Smith
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.
Patchouly Oils over 44 years time
Historical Uses: Patchouli has a lovely history. The scent was introduced into Europe from Asia via the odor of the cashmere shawls. The Patchouli plant leaves had been used to protect cashmere shawls from insect predation. From about 1775 high quality cashmere shawls had begun to find their way to France and England. They were brought by travelers, explorers and military personnel as well as members of the East India Company, who brought them back as presents. François Bernier, a friend of Moliere and Cyrano de Bergerac was the first European of the modern era to see and describe the traditional cashmere shawl. The Cashmere shawl became the rage and great sums of money were spent to obtain them. Then the hunt was on to identify the odor of the shawls and the plants that made the odor. Once this had happened perfumers sought the plant, distilled it for the scent and this scent made its way into the perfume bottles of the era and thus onto the people of that time.
Interesting Information: “Possibly originated in Malaysia although the word apparently comes from the south Indian Tamil language, patch, meaning ‘green’, and ilai meaning ‘leaf’. Patchouli means bearded stamen…375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols, p. 21. Patchouli herb is used for scenting carpets, shawls and woven materials, and for perfuming ink and sealing wax, as well as for perfume and medicine. Wrapping fabrics in Patchouli herb has been a practice for a thousand years. Patchouli oil benefits from long storage and definitely improves with age. Old Patchouli (10 years and more old) smells sweeter and better than newly distilled Patchouli.
Chemical Components: Patchouli is a very complex odor with three terpenoids making up the primary scent but also with dozens of other chemical components.
These three terpenoids Germacrene, Patchoulol or patchouli alcohol, Norpatchoulenol, found in patchouli oil are responsible for the typical patchouli scent. In one study 41 compounds were separated, 28 of which (92.9% of the total oil) were identified. There are several GC/MS on line that can be looked at.
Physiochemical Properties: There are many examples of the physical and chemical properties of Patchouly online and in Guenthers’ book, The Essential Oils. They vary by where the plant is grown and processed and distilled. Here is one from a European distillation.
Specific Gravity …………. 0.975 to 0.987
Optical Rotation ……….. —54°0’ to —65°30’
Refractive Index at 20°. 1.5099 to 1.5111
Solubility at 20° ……….. Soluble in 0.5 vol. and more of 90% alcohol
Abstract/Scientific Data: There is an extensive article about Patchouli online, called “Review — A Comprehensive Review on the Phytochemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities of Pogostemon cablin Benth.: An Aromatic Medicinal Plant of Industrial Importance by Mallappa Kumara Swamy and Uma Rani Sinniah.”
Contraindications: The Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS, for Patchouli oil indicates it is hazardous if ingested. If the oil is swallowed, contact Poison Control immediately. As with any oil-based material, do not induce vomiting as the oil could enter the victim’s lungs during vomiting. However, once was widely used as a flavorant in oriental-style flavorings.
Arctander, Steffen. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Arctander. 1960
Coombs, Allen J. Dictionary of Plant Names. Timber Press. 1995
Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Krieger Publishing. Florida. 1976
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol. IAG Botanics. 2015 (supporter of testing hydrosols)
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose. San Francisco California, 1992
Chakrapani. P, et al • Phytochemical, Pharmacological importance of Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth) an aromatic medicinal plant •Int. J. Pharm. Sci. Rev. Res., 21(2), Jul –Aug 2013; nᵒ 02, 7-15
Jessee, Jill. Perfume Album. Robert E. Krieger Publ. Co. 1951.
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Mojay, Gabriel. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1999.
Poucher, W.A. Perfumes and Cosmetics. D. Van Nostrand Company. 1923
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California.
Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. Last Gasp Press (ask them to republish it)
Patch Test: If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
Do not apply the essential oil neat, especially to the underarms or delicate parts of the body. Most oils are probably not to be used on babies, children or pregnant women. Many aromatherapist suggest that there are some oils not be used at all. However, as with many plants, essential oil chemistry is subject to change depending on species and terroir.
*Do not Ingest essential oils: Although some oils are important flavoring oils in the flavor industry and thus ingested in very small amounts in many foods, especially meats and sausages, it is not a good idea to use them yourself either in capsules or honey to take internally. Essential oils can come from many sources including areas that are heavily farmed and/or sprayed with toxic pesticides and defoliants.
Patchouli flowers, south-facing, 410 feet elevation, photo by Willie Shook, Kilauea, Hawaii, 1-12-17
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©
~ JR ~