Patchouli is a member of the mint family. It has a hairy and sturdy stem, with large and furry leaves that are about five inches in width and four inches long. The flowers are whitish in color tinged with purple. The distinctive fragrance, has made it is very popular for its rich, musky and earthy aroma. Patchouli has a long history and a wide variety of uses that makes it a very desirable plant to cultivate. Patchouli is native to the tropical regions in Asia but it is now widely cultivated in other Asian countries such as Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and even in some parts of West Africa. It is indeed now one of the most commonly cultivated plants.
Patchouli has been used hundreds of years as the Asians were well aware of its medicinal and various industrial uses. In the early 1800s, it was introduced in Europe when it was used in the trade Silk industry. The traders used it as a moth repellent, packing it with silk clothes to protect these expensive garments when shipped to Europe. It was also used to protect Indian ink, with the patchouli scent becoming an indicator of genuine goods later on. Around the 1840s, the first dried patchouli leaves were shipped to London, where the local merchants and manufactures began using them to scent their products and goods.
The use of patchouli reached its peak during the late 1960s to the early 1970s which is known as the Hippie era. During this time, it was discovered that when patchouli oil extract was combined with other ingredients, it would bring out a desirable and distinctive fragrance. Since then, it was widely used in making perfumes and cosmetics and of course incense. With the increased demand for patchouli, the cultivation greatly increased in many Asian and Caribbean countries.
One of the most common uses of patchouli these days is in the making of perfumes and used as a fragrance in many commercial products. The essential oil is extracted through steam a distillation process of the dried and partially fermented leaves. As mentioned earlier, patchouli has a characteristic deep, earthy and slight fruity aroma of which the quality increases as it ages. Currently it is a widely utilized fragrance for perfumes and cosmetics and is also commonly used to scent laundry detergents, paper towels and air fresheners.
Patchouli is also well known for its medicinal uses. In some Asian countries like Malaysia and Japan it is known for the anti-toxin properties used to treat bee, hornet, wasp stings, spider, insect and snake bites. The Chinese use it as a treatment for diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, headaches and is may also be used as a topical ointment to help with problems such as chapped and cracked skin, acne, eczema and other forms of skin irritation. It also said to help in treating wounds and removing scars since it has cell rejuvenation properties. Patchouli Oil is also well known for its anti-fungal properties and is used for relief from athlete’s foot and other fungal disorders.
Patchouli is also a well-known insecticide, as evidenced by its history of use. Just as the silk traders did centuries ago, you too may prevent moths from laying their eggs on your clothes. Place the dried patchouli leaves near, especially to those garments that are made of silk. It is an all-purpose insect repellent that is said to be effective in keeping bedbugs away by placing them between the linens. Aside from using the dried patchouli leaves, it can be used in the form of sachets and potpourri.
This widely versatile herb is now known mainly for is its use as a standalone incense and a very common ingredient in hundreds of incense blends. In the temples particularly for the Asians, the patchouli incense is believed to assist the in meditation; the aroma will help in centering and grounding, helping to keep the mind and body focused. It also said to help establish a strong connection to Mother Earth, allowing you to appreciate her natural beauty.
Patchouli is indeed a wonderfully versatile herb, having so many forms of use, from keeping the insects at bay to assisting you in a healthy life style to aiding with your spirituality. And top of all that … It just smells good!
Enjoy! Roger Marlow