Patchouli, once synonymous with the counterculture movements of the 1960s, has experienced a remarkable resurgence in the world of perfumery, notably transcending its hippie roots as a fragrant powerhouse. While its aromatic beauty is warm, exotic, and lingering, master perfumers often caution to blend it sparingly, as its earthy notes can easily dominate a fragrance. In the following, our teams explore its rich history, its increasingly prevalent use it as a base note and how to properly incorporate it into fragrance compositions.
Well, aye, that is the sort of rub, as the saying goes, because patchouli is many things to many people.
It is often considered polarizing in nature. In fact, most perfumers will acknowledge that most people either love the fragrance or hate it with few falling in between.
With roots in India, Malaysia and Indonesia, its name derives from two ancient Tamil words; namely, patchia, meaning green and ellai, meaning leaf.
This indigenous population is believed to have been the first to both use and develop patchouli for medicinal purposes and they added it to their herbal teas.
Historians believe that patchouli made its fragrant way to the Middle East via the ancient Silk Road, where it was bartered for silk goods and spices for more than 1,500 years.
This trade route linked linked China with the West and transported goods between Rome and China from 130 BCE to 1453 CE when the Ottoman Empire cut off all trade with the West.
Early European merchants often exchanged one pound of patchouli for a pound of gold.
Patchouli As A Coveted Essential Oil
Patchouli essential oil is derived from a green bush (hence, its name) that is a member of the mint family.
Its leaves are known to reach up to three feet in height and the bush is adorned with fragile pink flowers that bloom from seeds during the autumn months of the year.
It strong, slightly sugary and intoxicating scent is achieved via steam distillation of the leaves via scalding, drying or mild fermentation.
Some experts believe that the highest quality essential oil is found in fresh plants that are distilled in close proximity to where they are regionally sourced.
To extract the essential oil, the leaves are are picked by hand when they reach maturity.
Once harvested, they are immediately dried, process which usually takes several days because there must be enough time for the leaves to become crisp and breakable at which point they are ready for extraction.
The final yield is dependent on both the quality of the leaves and the distillation process.
The ratio is usually about 100 kilograms (roughly 200 pounds) of fresh leaves to produce one kilogram of essential oil.
How Is It Different Than Other Essential Oils?
Perfumers both respect and nurture the far reaching effects and one-of-a-kind nature of patchouli essential oil. It is a favorite ingredient in both classic and modern perfumes.
Its fascination lies in its captivating blend of woody, earthy and musky facets, which create an aroma that is warm, deep and profoundly exotic.
Its complex chemical structure contains the unique compounds of patchoulol and norpatchoulenol, which seamlessly add a mystical aspect to its distinct odor profile.
It is often linked to erotic love and romance because for those who inhale its splendid power, it is known to activate the pituitary gland, which causes the release of the love hormone, (endorphin) into the bloodstream.
What Are The Benefits of Patchouli Essential Oil
Patchouli essential oil is beneficial to both dry and oily skin.
According to medical research, it promotes a smooth, glowing complexion, reduces signs of aging and the appearance of wrinkles, scars, and stretch marks.
Its use in aromatherapy is tied to the fact that patchouli affects the scent receptors in the brain, causing them to process the new smell as a presence that is emotionally balanced.
All over the world, this essential oil is considered an effective remedy for dandruff, dry, peeling skin and dermatitis.
A Few More Historical Facts
Patchouli Was Part Of The Hippie Culture
As stated earlier, this culture, which flourished in the 1960s and 70’s, was all about free love, carefree lifestyles, long hair and flower children.
Similar to Santal (sandalwood), its followers utilized the strong smell of patchouli to mask the odors of both marijuana and alcohol.
Patchouli Was A Favored Ancient Royal Fragrance
Egyptian scholars state that King Tutkanhamen was buried in his golden royal tomb accompanied by among other fragrances, 10 gallons of patchouli.
Patchouli Was At One Time Used A Funerary Scent
The aroma of patchouli was so intense that from the 17th to the 19th centuries it was commonly used during funeral ceremonies to mask the smell of human decomposition.
Napoleon Bonaparte Introduced Patchouli to Europe
He transported patchouli leaves from his Egyptian campaign and used them as moth repellents lovingly placed within the folds of treasured cashmere and silken goods.
It was also effective (and is to this day) against flies and other bugs. It was some 30 years later that patchouli arose to become a well known facet in perfume.
The Evolving Nature Of Patchouli
Patchouli’s popularity can be traced back to the counterculture revolution of the 1960s, primarily associated with the hippie movement.
During this era, patchouli oil became a symbol of rebellion, freedom, and self-expression, as it was used to mask the earthy odors associated with communal living and the naturalistic lifestyle of the time.
Its rich, earthy, and exotic aroma was embraced by a generation seeking connection to nature and spirituality. However, over the years, patchouli has undergone a remarkable evolution.
What was once a niche fragrance note has transformed into a versatile and coveted element in modern perfumery.
Perfumers have harnessed its unique character to create a broad spectrum of scents, ranging from heady and oriental (amber) to fresh and contemporary.
Today, patchouli is no longer confined to its counterculture origins; it has become a vital component in high-end perfumery, loved for its depth, complexity, and enduring appeal, a testament to its journey from a symbol of the past to an icon of modern fragrance.
Why Is Patchouli Used So Frequently In Modern Fragrance?
In today’s world of perfume creation, patchouli stands out as both a foundational ingredient and a superior fixative.
It wears many hats in a fragrance formulation, so to speak. It is usually part of a dry down and is intensely sensual, woody, and intoxicating.
Patchouli’s scent is simultaneously grounding, comforting and deeply rooted in the aromatic essences of the ancient world, with it often being paired with florals such as rich, sweet Ylang Ylang, dreamy, musky rose or resins like musty, spicy frankincense and warm, woody myrrh.
Considerations When Incorporating Into Fragrances
When incorporating patchouli into fragrance formulations, it’s crucial to exercise caution to achieve a balanced and harmonious scent.
Patchouli’s robust, earthy notes can easily overwhelm if used excessively.
Perfumers often start by selecting complementary ingredients such as citrus, florals, or woods to create depth and complexity.
They begin with a small quantity of patchouli oil and gradually add more to achieve the desired intensity, always keeping in mind that a little goes a long way.
They advise to remember to blend and allow the fragrance to mature over time, as patchouli tends to mellow and enhance the scent profile after a few days.
Careful experimentation and precise measuring are key to achieving a beautifully balanced fragrance with it as a valuable component.
Our Most Recently-Composed Patchouli Fragrances
Our perfumers often rely upon patchouli as an important ingredient in both the fine perfumes and scents we design for use in the many skin and personal care lotions, diffuser oils, candles, soaps and an array of other products and product lines.
The following represent a few of our team’s most recent favorites, each of which contain varying degrees of patchouli.
Tonka Oud Patchouli
This compelling scent flows with opening citrusy and fruity accents of succulent blood orange and sweet, floral and heady wild berries.
A floral heart bouquet soon takes hold featuring facets of rich, intense jasmine, exotic and bright lily, light, herbaceous neroli and passionate red rose.
A glorious dry down of smoky, leathery oud, earthy, potent and slightly sweet patchouli, honeyed, warm amber, creamy, coconut-like tonka bean, spicy cinnamon, bittersweet and intimate saffron and fiery clove finishes this intriguing scent.
Applewood Oak Moss
Conjuring the deep, dark wetness of far away, forested realms, the head notes of this splendid fragrance flow with facets of crispy, waxy green apple and tropical, sugary pineapple.
A floral heart bouquet soon follows marked by elements of dreamy, musky rose, intense and intoxicating jasmine, warm, spicy ginger and powdery violet.
The scent completes with a dry down characterized by sensual, amber-tinged oak moss, erotic, aromatic white musk, earthy, passionate patchouli and warm, woody and slightly dry cedar wood.
Black Currant Tobacco
The head notes of this wild, heady and masculine fragrance burst with facets of spicy, sweet and fresh bergamot, woody-nuanced raspberry and tangy, fruity black currant.
These aspects soon fall away into a glorious floral heart laden with creamy gardenia, intense, haunting jasmine and hot, piquant clove.
A dry down of woody, mossy whiskey-tinged tobacco leaf, smooth and buttery sandalwood and dark, sensual and musky patchouli completes this robust, unforgettable scent.
Wild Iris Galbanum
This robust scent bursts open with aspects of invigorating grapefruit, fresh lemon, fatty apricot kernel and crisp green apple.
Elements of intense, woody galbanum, rich, intoxicating jasmine and smooth, raspberry-nuanced iris form a splendid heart bouquet, which seamlessly folds into an intriguing dry down marked by facets of elegant, lush vanilla, sensual white musk, dark, erotic patchouli, buttery sandalwood, exotic spices and dry, somber and balsamic cedar.
This intoxicating fragrance streams with opening facets of sweet, dark and berry-nuanced cassis, fruity plum, clean, fresh lemon and succulent mandarin.
These aspects soon flow flawlessly into a heart note featuring ambrosial, fleshy, rich and incredibly fruity osthmantus, floral, bitter neroli, musky, dreamy rose, aquatic, green and spicy hyacinth, fiery, clove-like carnation and fresh, slightly pungent coriander.
The fragrance completes with a base note marked by earthy patchouli, potent green oak moss, creamy sandalwood, radiant, velvety civet and dark, honeyed amber.
Whether used in niche perfumes or mainstream mass-appealing designer fragrances, patchouli adds a touch of sophistication and intrigue.
For our clients, patchouli has served them well as a favorite ingredient in both classic and conventional perfumes – its appeal is never ending, whether it is a singular scent or part of an olfactory profile.
If you’d like to incorporate patchouli into your product or product line, contact our teams today and discover a new world of fragrance possibilities.