Patchouly is one of those fragrance ingredients that almost everyone has encountered at some point, although most people would probably find it difficult to describe exactly what it smells like.
Before we look at the uses of Patchouly, there is the question of the name – is it Patchouly or Patchouli? – and actually either spelling is acceptable, along with other variations.
You will sometimes see it spelled Pachouli (without the ‘t’), in Portuguese as Patchuli, in German as Patschuli and in Hungarian as Pacsuli.
Just to complicate things further, the word has its origins in the Tamil ‘Pacculi’, from the words Patchai, meaning green, and Ellai, meaning leaf.
Payan Bertrand Patchouly supplied by Zanos is available as an essential oil, and also as an Absolute and a molecular distillation, with Indonesia as its country of origin.
It derives from the Patchouli species Pogostemon cablin, named by the English botanist George Bentham in 1848, although other species like P. commosum, P. heyneasus, P. hortensis and P. plectranthoides are sometimes also used in the fragrance ingredients industry as a source of ‘Patchouli oil’.
Patchouli oil has an unusually colourful history, and in Chinese medicine it has been used for everything from digestive problems to dermatitis, and from colds and headaches to loss of appetite.
Its use as an insect repellent dates back many, many years in India, and remains a perceived benefit when Patchouli oil is used as a fragrance ingredient in some modern-day recipes too.
Some more unusual uses for Patchouli oil are found in magic, where some people believe that anointing the soil of a house plant with the essential oil and then inserting a coin halfway into the earth brings prosperity.
And more recently in 1985, Mattel included Patchouli oil in the plastic used to make the Masters of the Universe action figure Stinkor, giving the toy its own scent – a technique used only three times by Mattel, along with Moss Man and the She-Ra character Perfuma.
In modern usage, Patchouly is a popular way to add depth to blends of other natural aromas, and is often paired with vanilla and similar fragrance ingredients.
Most often described as earthy, musky, but also sweet, it has been compared with the smell of wet soil and rainy forests, and is a hallmark of many incense recipes.
Patchouly can be used in scented household products like air fresheners and laundry detergents, as well as being linked with insect repellent properties – in some cultures the leaves are also steeped to make tea.