Skip to content

Patchouli – the fragrance of the month

  • by

Fragrance of the Month – March 2021

An old-favourite fragrance that is enjoying a rebirth. Previously associated with hippies, it’s now one of our most popular fragrances, not just in incense, but in essential and fragrance oils, too. The reason for this is that there is far more to this plant than just its earthy aroma.

patchouli plant

The Patchouli Plant

The plant’s botanical name is Pogostemon Cablin. It’s a member of the Lameaceae family which most of us know better as the mint family, making it a not particularly attractive plant in my opinion. It is a shade-loving bushy perennial native to the tropical regions of Asia, with Indonesia now being the largest exporter of patchouli oil, producing over 90% of global supplies1.

According to Researchgate2, This plant “can be grown as an understory crop with commercially important trees (Teak, poplar, subabul)” which provides growers with an important supplementary income.

staya incense sticks patchouli

Known in Malaysia and India as “puchaput”, the word patchouli is derived from the Tamil “pachchai ilai” which translates to “green leaf”3.

It is a very versatile plant and once the essential oil has been extracted (using steam distillation), the leaves are then gently dried in the shade to be used for making incense and perfume sachets2.


Mostly grown for the strong aroma, this scent has been described as an intense combination of musk and earthiness yet simultaneously sweet and minty. Describing a scent is not easy, and Everfumed4 suggests “it smells a bit like wet soil or a cold, dark basement”. Perhaps more poetically, Infobloom5 describe the smell as “rich and earthy, combining a floral sweetness – even though it is made from leaves – with a musky scent reminiscent of fresh-turned soil”. Satya, the makers of our most popular incense brand, describe the imagery evoked as “a lone boat making its way home in the sea against the setting sun”6.

Patchouli fragrance oil

This scent was extremely popular in Europe and Northern America during the 1960s and 70s due to its widespread use by hippies. It was believed that the fragrance would cover the smell of body odour and burnt cannabis3,4. In fact, its association with hippies is so strong in these parts of the world that in our Hull gift shop we have been asked by customers on more than one occasion if we sell “hippie oil”.

A very popular scent in the perfume industry, I found it highly amusing to discover that the oil was also used by Mattel in 1985 in the plastic used to make the Masters of the Universe action figure Stinkor7. Although known to blend well with other fragrances, perhaps plastic isn’t one of them.

Indian Maxi Dress


Europeans began to appreciate this scent of in the 1840s due to its association with Indian fabrics. This association was no accident. As it has a reputation for repelling moths and other insects, and is particularly useful in keeping the little critters away from textiles, so was very helpful during the long journeys Indian textiles had to make to reach their overseas buyers. It’s also reputed to deter bed bugs3.

Karma scents wooden incense box

A Master of Maskers

A great fragrance to combine with other popular scents such as sandalwood, frankincense and myrrh4, It has a reputation for being the Master of Maskers. Customers have told us that they light patchouli incense after cooking fish (one that I’ve tried with great success!), to mask a wet dog whiff or the smell of cat litter (which I’ve witnessed as a success), and also to cover the smell of weed (no comment!).

Other uses

Being a herb, it is an edible plant and the leaves are used to make a herbal tea, eaten in a salad, or used as seasoning1. I have to admit to being a bit intrigued about its flavour – it’s on my list of things to try!

pure Patchouli essential oil, 10ml

Burning as an incense or warming it as an oil is reputed to help ease anxiety and depression, while a few drops of the oil in bath water has been reported to help skin complaints such as acne, ulcers, athlete’s foot3, eczema and dandruff2. Also used in bath water, it’s been claimed that the oil can help relieve fluid retention, break down cellulite and ease constipation3.

The abundance of this herb means the essential oil carries a relatively low price tag, but costs can be kept even lower for fragrance use by burning fragrance oil, or incense sticks or cones. It’s one of those fragrances that I have grown to like more the more I learn about it, and if all the claims made about this plant are true, it’s a product that should be in everyone’s medicine chest.

Last week I talked about the difference in between Fairtrade and Fair Trade. Next week will be a “close to home” topic.

Take care of yourselves and each other.

Julie xx

*The “Small” Print (it’s important so I made it bigger)

Disclaimer – Please read: The information in this post, and elsewhere on this website, is intended to provide general information only and users are advised to seek further medical/cosmetic use guidance before acting or relying on the contents. We are not medically or otherwise qualified in the use of essential oils. We disclaim all liability for loss and/or damage that may result from the use of information contained within this article. Essential oils should not be ingested or used internally. We highly recommend that users perform a patch test before using them topically for the first time, and periodically thereafter as allergies can develop from the repeated use. Pure and absolute essential oils should be diluted in a base/carrier oil before being applied to the skin.


1 Wikipedia, 2 Researchgate, 3 Ancient Wisdom, 4 Everfumed, 5 Infobloom, 6 Satya, 7

Photo credits: Patchouli plant from Wiki: No machine-readable author provided. Valérie75 assumed (based on copyright claims)., Pogostemon cablin 001CC BY-SA 3.0. Box of incense courtesy of Satya. Fragrance oil and essential oil with thanks to Ancient Wisdom. Indian dress courtesy of Siesta. Smoking incense box we managed to do ourselves.