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What is Patchouli?

Jane Harmon
Jane Harmon

If you were alive during the sixties, you most likely know the scent of patchouli, even if you don't know that's what it's called. You probably even have an opinion on it, whether positive or negative. Patchouli was a very popular scent among the counterculture, featured in both perfume oils and incense, often burned to disguise other burning odors.

But did you know patchouli is a plant? The familiar fragrance is derived from a distillation of the leaves of the patchouli plant into an essential oil, which is often used today in modern perfumery. The scent is rich and earthy, combining a floral sweetness - even though it is made from leaves - with a musky scent reminiscent of fresh-turned soil. Some people loathe the scent and say it smells like dirt, while others adore its vivid and powerful fragrance.

Patchouli is frequently used in incense.
Patchouli is frequently used in incense.

Originally grown in the East Indies, patchouli was a popular fragrance for centuries and even used as a flavoring herb in foods. Because patchouli was believed to repel moths, Asian silk and cashmere manufacturers would sprinkle it in the shipping containers they sent to markets in Europe. The cloth was imbued with the exotic scent, which became associated in Western minds with the romance of far-away places. Patchouli is now grown commercially in hot southern climates.

Patchouli essential oil may be yellow or amber in color.
Patchouli essential oil may be yellow or amber in color.

Metaphysically and magically, patchouli is associated with both love and money, an unusual combination, and is therefore often used to attract a rich mate. You can make your own richness enhancing perfume oil by adding 10 to 15 drops of patchouli oil, some cinnamon oil and vetiver to a 15 milliliter bottle, then filling the bottle with a scentless blending oil such as grapeseed or apricot kernel oil. Don't apply essential oils directly to your skin, as some of them are quite strong and can burn. To make a light perfume spray, let handfuls of the dried herb steep in vodka for several weeks, then strain the alcohol off the herb. This scented alcohol, called a patchouli tincture, can be diluted with water to make a cologne spray and blended with other tinctures to create your own personalized scent.

Discussion Comments


I'm bombarded with this scent at work. One woman believes that since its an essential oil rather than a commercial fragrance, it shouldn't be bothersome to people who may have fragrance allergies. I personally have seen how patchouli affects my coworkers who don't normally have allergies to scents. It's not good. It was once used to cover the smell of dirty hippies who have been playing happy little drug games at rainbow festivals. Hey, I remember those days too.

But, now that we're all grown ups and have to work together in peace for "the man," let's be respectful of the people around us. Let's not poison our coworkers with these overwhelming scents. I'd like to concentrate at work. I don't want to have to deal with asthma attacks because of someones lack of consideration.

Unless you're going to bust out with some dirty hippie supplies, just leave that crap at home. (FYI: I use the term dirty hippie in a sarcastic way. I actually love my hippie friends – just not their patchouli.)


I never liked it before, but now in my 50's I smelled a soap made with it and fell in love. I bought some essential oil and am experimenting to find the effect I am looking for. I am leaning towards making some type of soap.


I love patchouli oil. When I wear it, I get asked out on dates by nice, handsome, usually well off men.


My neighbor wears this vile stuff! I also have an asthma attack every time I am around her. She is a lovely lady but that smell will keep us from being "visiting friends".


It is my signature perfume. I love this scent. You either love it or hate it. It isn't a scent for everyone. We all have a different body chemistry!


I am allergic to incense, but I tried patchouli incense and it does not give me an allergic reaction. I love the smell and how it calms me down.


I grew up in the era when this scent was very popular. I still love it and use the soaps.


Patchouli is amazing. It reminds me of when I was a child and played in the woods behind the house I grew up in.


I've always loved Patchouli oil. It's woodsy earthy scent is very 'grounding' and calming. As someone who grew up in the 60's I was exposed to it often.


I love the stuff and am amazed at how many people either really like it or really don't like it. I think it's rich.


It is the most vile smell i have ever come across. A co-worker wears this and i have an asthma attack every time i am around her.


after being exposed to Patchouli, I think it's nasty. It stinks and clings to everything around it. i'd rather get sprayed by a skunk.


I am using garlic (orally) and patchouli oil externally and am able to deter mosquitoes from biting me!

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    • Patchouli is frequently used in incense.
      By: styleuneed
      Patchouli is frequently used in incense.
    • Patchouli essential oil may be yellow or amber in color.
      By: viperagp
      Patchouli essential oil may be yellow or amber in color.
    • Patchouli is often used in perfumes.
      By: kmit
      Patchouli is often used in perfumes.