This Ain't Your College Roommate's Patchouli!
Few fragrance notes generate strong opinions quite the way that patchouli does. Many who love it wear it almost exclusively while those who don't have been known to address their dislike in rather candid terms. But what is patchouli? Why is it associated with hippies? Here's a brief guide that might provide some insight on this oft maligned scent.
Patchouli, (Pogostemon cablin), aromatic flowering plant of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves of which are a source of essential oil that is used as a fragrance in perfumes, cosmetics, and incense. Patchouli is native to tropical Asia, where it is widely cultivated and has been used for centuries for its essential oil. A shrubby perennial, Patchouli plants grow to about 3 feet in height and possess the serrated oval leaves that are the trademark of the mint family. It is very similar in appearance to lemon balm, with darker leave and small white and purple flowers.
The plant's leaves and oil are used medicinally for treating indigestion in tea form and the oils frequently used to treat skin complaints such as dandruff and exczema. The oil is widely used in the manufacture of soaps, perfumes, detergents, cosmetics, and deodorants, although patchouli is not the dominant fragrance in many of these products. Patchouli essential oil has pleasing musky notes that augment other fragrances and has strong fixative properties.
While Patchouli has a long fragrance tradition in Asia, its use is a more modern development in Western countries. Here in the US, it has become associated most closely with the Hippie movement of the 60s and the cultural trends that have followed it. That connection is most likely due to several factors – the first of being the cultural exchange between Britain and India during British rule. Along with curry and pajamas, patchouli and other scents made their way back to England along with returning sailors and East India Company workers. Indian garments and textiles that were prepared for export would be packed with patchouli leaves, infusing the cloth with a faint, but distinct odor that became popular with the Victorian fashion of wearing Indian shawls. The earliest commercial advertising for patchouli dates back to 1846, promoting Viner's patchouli essence as a means of detering moths.
The connection between the two countries persisted after Indian independence and it was a new generation of backpacking young Brits on “gap years” that would be responsible for indelibly connecting hippie culture and patchouli. These travelers would often go to India specifically to absorb the traditional culture – particularly traditional healing practices such as Ayurveda. Once made, this exchange filtered across the Atlantic along with psychedelic music and eventually Patchouli became synonymous with cannabis smoking and being a bit “unwashed”.
This association is unfortunate, as quality aged Patchouli has a lot going for it – its musky-earthy tones and grounding nature make it perfect for use as a base note with any number of fragrance styles. From straight incense to sweet and even gourmand, Patchouli can be an effective foundation for many perfume blends. Patchouli oil mixes well with many other essential oils, including vetiver, sandalwood, frankincense, bergamot, cedarwood, myrrh, jasmine, rose and citrus oils. It is also highly complementary to vanilla and other sweet scents. Thierry Mugler's Angel Perfume, for instance, combines patchouli with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate to form its much-imitated, signature scent accord.
Here at the Haus, we have a number of patchouli based blends that you can try if you are interested in giving Patchouli a try:
Patchouli & Tobacco
Sweet aged patchouli, a glug of warm vanilla, and a sticky dollop of fresh tobacco.
Rich, smooth patchouli with caramel accord.
Chocolate Orange Patchouli
Chocolate with bright orange and smooth patchouli.
Fresh strawberry, green patchouli, rose geranium and crushed violet leaf.
Vanilla soaked patchouli and gently spiced amber.
Red roses and the earthy wet scent of aged patchouli.
Juicy peach nectar, a drizzle of sweet patchouli, and nag champa incense.
A Place In Space
Silvery lavender, nag champa, dry amber incense and faded patchouli.