Counterculture Aromatherapy – Patchouli Essential Oil
Patchouli’s History and Uses
Ah, Patchouli oil – people seem to love it or hate it. This well knows essential oil has a somewhat deserved reputation as the scent of the Hippy generation (according to one source, its use began as a mask for the odor of a particularly cherished herb). However, its traditional use dates back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Today, Patchouli oil has a well-deserved reputation in aromatherapy, with its deep, musky, and sweet odor and Earth and Fire balancing energy. It is an exotic aroma that can forever leave an imprint on the olfactory memory.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) is a perennial herb native to Southeast Asia, growing wild in Sumatra and Java at elevations between 3,000 and 6,000 feet – though its cultivation is more pervasive in lower tropical jungles. This bushy plant grows to 3 feet, having a strong stem and soft, hairy leaves. The plant is cut two or three times per year for essential oil production, with the best quality oil derived from leaves harvested in the wet season. The leaves are hand-picked, bundled, or baled and allowed to partially dry in the shade and ferment for a few days before the oil is extracted via steam distillation (Patchouli oil is now becoming available as a CO2 extract in limited quantities). The fermentation process softens the plant’s cell walls, easing the oil extraction.
The relative ease of its cultivation and high oil yield keep the price of authentic Patchouli essential oils relatively low. It is important to note. However, Patchouli is one of the few essential oils that improve with age (others being Frankincense, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, and Vetiver), and an adequately aged Patchouli oil is much more desirable than a fresh one. Over time, the oil loses a harshness that many find distasteful and adds a sweet top note. As it ages, the oil turns from light yellow to deep amber, and the aroma becomes smoother and more prosperous. Principal constituents of the oil include: Patchoulol (25-35%), Alpha-Bulnesene (12-20%), Alpha-Guaiene + Seychellene (15-25%), and Alpha-Patchoulene (5-9%).
Perhaps first due to its power as a moth repellent, the aroma of Patchouli was pervasive in cloth and clothing exported from India in the 19th century. The scent became an indicator of actual ‘Oriental’ fabric, so much so that English and French garment makers were obliged to scent their imitation products with Patchouli to ensure their acceptance in the domestic marketplace. Beyond its use for preventing holes from being eaten in one’s clothing, Patchouli oil has been used for centuries in traditional medicine in Malaysia, China, and Japan. Primarily indicated for skin conditions, Patchouli may be beneficial in cases of dermatitis, eczema, acne, dry, chapped skin, and other irritating conditions, along with dandruff and oily scalp conditions. As a cell rejuvenator, it may help heal wounds and reduce the appearance of scars. It is considered an excellent remedy for insect and snake bites and has been used as a fumigant and rubbing oil to prevent the spread of fevers and to strengthen the immune system.
Aromatherapy and Perfumery Uses of Patchouli Oil
Patchouli oil is an excellent base note and fixative in perfumery, a component in many famous perfumes. As a fixative, it slows the evaporation of other, more volatile oils so that their aroma may be released over a more extended period. A little patchouli can be used in natural perfume blends, adding that unique deep and earthy aroma. It mixes well with many essential oils, with almost all common oils being mentioned across various sources – these include Vetiver, Rosemary, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Myrrh, Jasmine, Rose, Citrus oils, Clary Sage, Lemongrass, Geranium, and Ginger.
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 is said to bring the three principal forces at work within the body – the Creative at the navel, the Heart center, and transcendental wisdom a the crown – into harmony.
Patchouli oil may also relieve the strain of those with excessive mental activity who may feel ‘out of touch with their body and sensuality. It has been considered a relaxing aphrodisiac and can be helpful for those with impotence, frigidity, and sexual anxiety that are products of mental anguish. Patchouli combines this aphrodisiac effect with an antidepressant one, uplifting the mind with its sweet, warm, spicy scent.
As if this were not enough, Patchouli is thought to be a bringer of prosperity and abundance. Perhaps by allowing one to open to these possibilities energetically, the oil is used in ceremonies and prayers by those in need of financial or another type of infusion in their lives. One may close their eyes, imagine the abundance they need, and inhale the oil’s aroma for a few seconds.
For a few simple blends, try:
Three parts Patchouli and 1 part Rosemary Cineol. This wonderfully uplifting blend combines Patchouli’s deep earthiness with Rosemary’s refreshing aroma. This can certainly be worn as a perfume or used in a diffuser.
When the going gets tedious, try brightening with three parts Coriander, two parts Patchouli and 1 part Bergamot. This may uplift the spirits and remind one of the joys in life.
For the sensually insecure, try 1 part Geranium, 1 part Patchouli, and 1 part Bergamot—a beautiful yet straightforward blend for getting comfortable in one’s skin.
It may take a little education, but many who claim to dislike Patchouli may genuinely enjoy it when finally getting to sample an appropriately aged or beautifully blended oil.