Give thanks to patchouli

Sweet and earthy patchouli

Patchouli is not a gorgeous plant. Its flowers are ordinary, and some people associate patchouli with mothballs or beatnik culture. That said, patchouli is without a doubt one of the most valuable base notes in perfumery. I wager to bet that many people wear it unaware of its presence in the fragrance mix. In this newsletter, I will do my best to elevate your esteem of this fabulous essential oil.

First, some history: in the 1800s, Indian textiles were impregnated with patchouli oil to protect them from insect damage during transport to Europe. The scent association of patchouli with Asian textiles became so pervasive, European weavers were obliged to scent their imitation fabrics with the oil. During the social revolution of the 1960s, the patchouli enjoyed a resurgence because it smells of nature and has an exotic freshness that sets it apart from old-fashioned perfume.

From left to right: textiles from Kasmir; detail of "Will You Go Out With Me Fido?" by Alfred Stevens (1859); hippies from the 1960s

  The essential oil of patchouli is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of   Pogostemon cablin  . A small, bushy herb from Indonesia and the Philippines, patchouli is widely cultivated in warmer regions of Asia. The best quality oil comes from plant material that is harvested during the wet season. The leaves cannot be distilled directly due to a need to rupture the cell walls. Light fermentation is the technique of choice, although blanching is sometimes used to produce an oil of inferior quality. Fortunately, the relatively low-cost and wide availability of patchouli reduces risk of adulteration, unlike many costly essential oils.

The essential oil of patchouli is obtained by steam distillation of the leaves of Pogostemon cablin. A small, bushy herb from Indonesia and the Philippines, patchouli is widely cultivated in warmer regions of Asia. The best quality oil comes from plant material that is harvested during the wet season. The leaves cannot be distilled directly due to a need to rupture the cell walls. Light fermentation is the technique of choice, although blanching is sometimes used to produce an oil of inferior quality. Fortunately, the relatively low-cost and wide availability of patchouli reduces risk of adulteration, unlike many costly essential oils.

  Patchouli is beloved for its complex odor and incredible tenacity. Deep, sweet, and smoky, patchouli slows the evaporation of more volatile oils and lends an earthy note to perfume. Aromatherapists prize patchouli for its relaxing and balancing effects. Unlike volatile essential oils, patchouli improves with aging. The new oil can have minty or harsh herbal notes that mellow with age into a smooth, deep sweetness.

Patchouli is beloved for its complex odor and incredible tenacity. Deep, sweet, and smoky, patchouli slows the evaporation of more volatile oils and lends an earthy note to perfume. Aromatherapists prize patchouli for its relaxing and balancing effects. Unlike volatile essential oils, patchouli improves with aging. The new oil can have minty or harsh herbal notes that mellow with age into a smooth, deep sweetness.

To make perfume, I use a five year-old essential oil of patchouli from White Lotus Aromatics, as well as a “double distilled” patchouli from Eden Botanicals. The five year-old patchouli is my favorite. The notes are more complex, the body is fuller, and the sweetness is more exalting. It reminds me of a cool, sweet creek running through lush woodlands. I use the double distilled variety for lighter perfumes where earthy notes are inappropriate. I’ve experimented with two different varieties of SCO2 extraction, but I find both inferior to the essential oil. A resinoid version of patchouli exists, but I have never tried it.

Patchouli blends so well with most other oils, it is hardly worth listing them all. A few notable pairings include rose, neroli, bergamot, sandalwood, tobacco, and clary sage. Mandy Aftel writes “patchouli does wonderful things to rose, deepening and layering it so that it gives the impression of petals opening and unfurling infinitely.” To experience patchouli in my perfumes, I use it so extensively that I suggest that you try my collection, either The Field to Fragrance® Travel Collection, or my Sample the Field to Fragrance® Collection.

Thank you for being a subscriber to The Virginia Perfume Company's mailing list. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about patchouli. Stay tuned for future articles on ingredients, artistry, and methods that make perfumery a wonderful experience for the senses.

Kelly Heaton, Owner and Perfumer
The Virginia Perfume Company
Makers of Field to Fragrance®
perfume@fieldtofragrance.com
www.fieldtofragrance.com