AskDefine | Define patchouli

Dictionary Definition



1 small East Indian shrubby mint; fragrant oil from its leaves is used in perfumes [syn: patchouly, pachouli, Pogostemon cablin]
2 a heavy perfume made from the patchouli plant [syn: patchouly, pachouli]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Madras region of India




patchouli (or patchouly)
  1. any of several East Indian menthaceous plants which yield a highly fragrant oil
  2. the oil or perfume made from these plants

Extensive Definition

Patchouli (also patchouly or pachouli) is 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 Caribbean countries, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines, West Africa and Vietnam.
The scent of patchouli is heavy and strong. It has been used for centuries in perfumes and continues to be so today. The word derives from the Tamil patchai பச்சை (green), ellai இலை (leaf).
Pogostemon cablin, P. commosum, P. hortensis, P. heyneasus and P. plectranthoides are all cultivated for their oils and all are known as 'patchouli' oil, but P. cablin is considered superior.

Extraction of the essential oil

Extraction of the essential oil is by steam distillation, requiring the cell walls of the leaves to be first ruptured. This can be achieved by steam scalding, light fermentation, or by drying.
Leaves are harvested several times a year, and where dried may be exported for distillation of the oil. Sources disagree over how to obtain the best quality oil. Some claim the highest quality oil is usually produced from fresh leaves, distilled close to the plantation, while others claim baling the dried leaves and allowing them to ferment a little is best.


In Europe and the US, patchouli oil and incense underwent a surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly among devotees of the free love and hippie lifestyles, since the pungent smell of patchouli is alleged to cover the smell of burnt cannabis and body odor. It has also been used as a hair conditioner for dreadlocks. One study suggests Patchouli oil may serve as an outdoor insect repellent. In several Asian countries, such as Japan and Malaysia, Patchouli is also used as an antidote for poisonous snakebites.
The plant and oil have a number of claimed health benefits in herbal folk-lore, and its scent is used with the aim of inducing relaxation. Chinese medicine uses the herb to treat headaches, colds, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Patchouli is in widespread use in modern industry, despite its recent association with an alternative lifestyle. It is a popular component in perfumes, including more than half of perfumes for men. Patchouli is also an important ingredient in East Asian incense. It is also used as a scent in products like paper towels, laundry detergents, and air fresheners. Two important components of the essential oil is patchoulol and norpatchoulenol.
During the 18th and 19th century silk traders from China travelling to the Middle East packed their silk cloth with dried patchouli leaves to prevent moths from laying their eggs on the cloth. Many historians speculate that this association with opulent eastern goods is why patchouli was considered by Europeans of that era to be a luxurious scent. This trend has continued to the present day in modern perfumery and hippiedom.


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 watering it will recover well and quickly once it has been watered. The seed-bearing 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 further plants.

External links


patchouli in German: Indisches Patschuli
patchouli in Spanish: Pogostemon cablin
patchouli in French: Patchouli
patchouli in Indonesian: Nilam
patchouli in Hungarian: Pacsuli
patchouli in Dutch: Patchouli
patchouli in Japanese: パチョリ
patchouli in Norwegian: Patchouli
patchouli in Portuguese: Patchouli
patchouli in Russian: Погостемон
patchouli in Swedish: Patchouli
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