Patchouliís History and Uses
Ah, Patchouli oil - people seem to love it or hate it. This well know essential oil has a somewhat deserved reputation as scent of Hippy generation (according to one source, itís use began as a mask for odor of a particularly cherished herb), though itís traditional use dates back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Today, Patchouli oil has a well-deserved reputation in aromatherapy, with itís deep, musky, and sweet odor, and Earth and Fire balancing energy. It is an exotic aroma that can forever leave an imprint on 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 Ė though itís cultivation is more pervasive in lower tropical jungles. This bushy plant grows to height of 3 feet, having a strong stem and soft, hairy leaves. For essential oil production, plant is cut two or three times per year, with best quality oil derived from leaves harvested in wet season. The leaves are hand picked, bundled or baled, and allowed to partially dry in shade and ferment for a few days before oil is extracted via steam distillation (Patchouli oil is now becoming available as a CO2 extract in limited quantities). The fermentation process softens plantís cell walls, easing extraction of oil.
The relative ease of itís cultivation, and itís high oil yield keeps price of true Patchouli essential oils relatively low. It is important to note however, Patchouli is one of few essential oils that improve with age (others being Frankincense, Cedarwood, Sandalwood and Vetiver), and that a properly aged Patchouli oil is much more desirable than a fresh one. Over time, oil looses a harshness that many find distasteful, and adds a sweet top note. As it ages, oil turns from light yellow to a deep amber, with aroma becoming smoother and more rich. Principal constituents of oil include: Patchoulol (25-35%), Alpha-Bulnesene (12-20%), Alpha-Guaiene + Seychellene (15-25%), and Alpha-Patchoulene (5-9%).
Perhaps first due to itís power as a moth repellent, aroma of Patchouli was pervasive in cloth and clothing exported from India in 19th century. The scent became an indicator of true ĎOrientalí fabric, so much so that English and French garment makers were obliged to scent their imitation products with Patchouli to ensure their acceptance in domestic marketplace. Beyond its use for preventing holes from being eaten in oneís cloting, Patchouli oil has been used for centuries in traditional medicine in Malaysia, China and Japan. Primarily indicated for skin conditions, Patchouli may be of benefit 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 in healing wounds and reducing 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 spread of fevers and to strengthen immune system.