Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth; also patchouly or pachouli) is a species from the genus Pogostemon and a bushy herb of the mint family, with erect stems, reaching two or three feet (about 0.75 metre) in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers. The plant is native to tropical regions of Asia, and is now extensively cultivated in China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand,
Vietnam, as well as West Africa.
The heavy and strong scent of patchouli has been used for centuries in perfumes, and more recently in incense, insect repellents, and alternative medicines.
Patchouli grows well in warm to tropical climates. It thrives in hot weather, but not direct sunlight. If the plant withers due to lack of water, it will recover well and quickly after rain, or watering. The seed-producing 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 additional
Extraction of essential oil
Extraction of patchouli's essential oil is by steam distillation, requiring rupture of its cell walls by steam scalding, light fermentation, or drying.
Leaves may be harvested several times a year, and when dried may be exported for distillation. Some sources claim a highest quality oil is usually produced from fresh leaves distilled close to where they are harvested; others that baling the dried leaves and fermenting them for a period of time is best.
Patchouli is used widely in modern perfumery and modern scented industrial products such as paper towels, laundry detergents, and air fresheners. Two important components of its essential oil are patchoulol and norpatchoulenol.
One study suggests patchouli oil may serve as an all-purpose insect repellent. More specifically, the patchouli plant is claimed to be a potent repellent against the Formosan subterranean termite.
During the 18th and 19th century, silk traders from China traveling to the Middle East packed their silk cloth with dried patchouli leaves to prevent moths from laying their eggs on the cloth. It has also been proven to effectively prevent female moths from adhering to males, and vice versa. Many historians speculate that this association with opulent Eastern goods is why patchouli was considered by Europeans
era to be a luxurious scent. It is said that patchouli was used in the linen chests of Queen Victoria in this way.
Patchouli is an important ingredient in East Asian incense. Both patchouli oil and incense underwent a surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in the US and Europe, mainly due to the hippie movement of those decades.