CTFA name: Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Oil
Return to herb list |
Photo © Steven Foster
The patchouli plant, or Pogostemon cablin, is an upright, bushy, evergreen perennial herb1 with lightly fragrant leaves,2 and white, violet-marked flowers.1 Native to tropical Asian countries,1,2 patchouli is widely cultivated all over the tropics and subtropics3 including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, southern China, Seychelles, and Brazil.2
History and Cultural Significance
Patchouli oil is distilled from fermented leaves.4 Other Pogostemon species as well as similar species produce inferior oils.5 The best quality oil is produced from plant materials harvested near plantations where there is less chance of damage to plant materials prior to processing.6 Patchouli oil scent has staying power and is perceptible for weeks or months.7,8 At high concentrations, patchouli scent can be sickeningly sweet,7 but a strong aroma is a sign of superior quality.9
Patchouli has a long history in southern Asia and the Far East as incense, body and garment perfume, and insect and leech repellent.3 Ink in China and India was once perfumed with patchouli.3,7 After his North African campaign (1798-1799), Napoleon Bonaparte brought cashmere shawls back to Paris that were scented with patchouli to protect them from moths.7 Prior to the import of patchouli oil to France around 1826, European manufacturers tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the shawls but they were not popular as they did not have the authentic scent of patchouli.4,7 Patchouli was fashionable in Europe during the 1860s and regained popularity during the hippie movement in the United Stated during the 1960s.1
The major use for patchouli oil is in perfumery. It is also an ingredient in toiletries, cosmetics, breath fresheners, incense, insecticides, disinfectants, and commercial food flavoring.1 Patchouli is one of the most widely used ingredients in perfumes2 and is often the fundamental note in oriental-type perfumes.3 It is employed as a fragrance component in cosmetic preparations, soaps, and hair removal creams2 because of its masking effect on noxious odors.3 Patchouli was used in a breath freshener popular during Prohibition called Sen-Sen.7 It is a pest deterrent used to keep wool moths out of Indian shawls and rugs.4 Patchouli essential oil is used in flavoring chewing gum, baked goods, and candy,10 nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages, desserts, puddings, meat and meat products.2 It has recently been added to low-tar cigarettes and tobacco for flavor.3 Fresh leaves are sometimes used as seasoning9 and added to potpourri.1
Historically patchouli has been used to reduce appetite, water retention, exhaustion, and inflammation4 and is said to be a good tonic for veins.11 It has cosmetic and skin uses as a cell rejuvenator and antiseptic.4 It has traditionally been used to treat acne, eczema, inflamed, cracked or mature skin, dandruff, athlete’s foot,4 varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and impetigo.1 Patchouli has been used for emotional disorders such as nervousness, depression, insomnia, and has also been employed as an aphrodisiac.4 It has been used to mask bad breath from alcohol, onion, and garlic in after-dinner candies3 and gargles, alone or with other flavors.2
In the East, patchouli oil has been used to prevent spread of infection1 due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties.12 In the Philippines, an infusion of patchouli leaves has been used internally for painful menstruation.3 In Thailand, blends of patchouli with other herbs were utilized as a remedy for diarrhea. There are also early reports from Japan and Malaysia that patchouli served as an antidote for snakebite.3 In traditional Chinese medicine, patchouli is used in combination with other herbs to provide relief for colds and flu, fever and chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, malarial and dysenteric disease, and bad breath.2,8
In aromatherapy, patchouli oil is utilized as a relaxant3 for nervous exhaustion, depression, stress-related complaints, and low libido.1
In one study, inhaling patchouli essential oil produced a decreased response in the sympathetic nervous system; it lowered systolic blood pressure.13 More studies are needed to determine if inhaling patchouli oil may be helpful in controlling hypertension.
The bulk of patchouli oil production is from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and China.4,7 Little information is available on market trends for patchouli. With an increasing trend for preference of natural products, demand for natural fragrances and flavorings such as patchouli continues to grow, despite market competition by synthetic substitutes which have the advantages of lower production costs, stable pricing and regular supply.14
Before the tsunami of 2004, upstream and coastal villages of Indonesia were cash crop oriented with crops such as patchouli representing a significant source of income on a household level.15 After the tsunami, farmers relying on cash crops encountered serious difficulties in finding external markets for their produce. Even when trade remained possible, prices decreased noticeably. Fortunately, patchouli is not a seasonal crop and can provide regular income throughout the year seven months after planting.14
Green trade organizations aim to secure sustainable supply systems and to ensure benefits to local people from national, regional and international trade.16 One such organization, ForesTrade, produces crops such as patchouli oil by a cooperative network of small farmers, indigenous organizations and local businesses in South and Southeast Asia and Central America.15
1 Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
2 Leung AY, Foster S, eds. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 1996.
3 Oyen LPA, Dung NX, eds. Plant Resources of South-East Asia: No 19 – Essential-oil plants. Bogor, Indonesia: Prosea Foundation; 1999.
4 Keville K, Green M. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press; 1995.
5 Bruneton J, ed. Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed. Paris: Lavoisier; 1999.
6 Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover Books; 1971.
7 Arctander S. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Carol Stream, IL: Allured Publishing Corporation; 1994.
8 Tucker AO, Debaggio T. The Big Book of Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press; 2000.
9 Yen KY. The Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica: Crude and Prepared. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC Publishing Inc; 1992.
10 Facciola S. Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications; 1990.
11 Schnaubelt K, Beasley JM, trans. Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy. 1st ed. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 1998.
12 Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Practice. Philadelphia: Elsevier Science; 2003.
13 Haze S, Sakai K, Gozu Y. Effects of fragrance inhalation on sympathetic activity in normal adults. Jpn J Pharmacol. 2002 Nov;90(3):247-253.
14 Iqbal M. International trade in non-wood forest products: An overview – essential oils. Available at: http://www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/x5326e/x5326e0d.htm. Accessed September 13, 2005.
15 Action Contre la Faim: Aksi Melawan Kelaparan - Food Security Surveillance Team. Food Security Assessment General Report: April – May 2005: District of Aceh Jaya and Aceh Barat NAD Province, Sumatra – Indonesia. Available at: http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/sumatra/reference/assessments/doc/AcehBarat/ACF-FSR_AcehJaya-AcehBaratBaseline_0507.pdf. Accessed September 13, 2005.
16 Dürbeck K. Unasylva - No. 198 - Non-wood Forest Products and Income Generation - Green trade organizations: striving for fair benefits from trade in non-wood forest products. Available at: http://www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/x2450e/x2450e04.htm. Accessed September 13, 2005.