Five Reasons To Try Patchouli Essential Oil

A musty, earthy smell that can be overpowering in excess, patchouli has gotten something of a bad rep since it emerged in the worldwide spotlight as the unofficial scent of the counter-revolution. But patchouli, with its impressive array of potent medicinal benefits, deserves a closer sniff.

From treating topical infections, calming frazzled nerves, to boosting immunity, you don’t want to miss out on patchouli’s potent perks. (1)

What is patchouli?

The patchouli plant, a bushy evergreen with fragrant leaves and violet flowers, was originally native to tropical areas of Southeast Asia, but now the cultivated plant grows in a variety of locales. It is part of the Labiatae family, a group of flowering plants that includes lavender, mint, and sage.

Did you know?
Many experts theorize the name “patchouli” (Pogostemon cablin or Pogostemon patchouli) is a compound of the ancient Tamil words “patchai” and “ellai,” meaning “green leaf.” (2)

Patchouli oil contains several mono and sesquiterpenoids, alkaloids, and flavonoids, all compounds thought to possess significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. (3)

Patchouli oil in bottles, next to Patchouli plant

Patchouli oil is known to possess significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.

A brief history of patchouli and its exotic bearings

Although patchouli exploded on the scene in this country in the 1960s, patchouli has been popular in Asian countries for centuries. (2) Early European traders, motivated by its high value, exchanged patchouli for gold—legend has it that one pound of patchouli was worth one pound of gold.

Historians believe that the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, better known as “King Tut,” arranged to be buried with 10 gallons of patchouli essential oil inside his tomb. (4) Circa 1840, Europeans started to appreciate patchouli’s unique aroma, which was associated with the exported Indian textiles quickly becoming the rage in Europe.

The fragrant patchouli leaves were packed inside the trunks of silks, carpets—the leaves were said to keep away moths. When European merchants would open these trunks, the strong earthy aroma of patchouli would envelop them. Patchouli soon became inextricably associated with the exotic Far East and its mystical undertones. (5)

While patchouli has been prized for its scent for ages, in recent years it’s come into the spotlight as an active ingredient in insect repellents, skincare formulations, and alternative medicines.

Did you know?
Patchouli has been used in the major medical systems of the world, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, in both internal and topical forms.

TCM has made use of patchouli for centuries, in combination with other drugs, for:

  • colds
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • dermatitis
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • headache
  • fever
  • dampness
  • lack of appetite (6)

What does it smell like?

Patchouli’s distinctive smell evokes extremes—in other words, most people either love it or hate it. Author Lizzie Ostrom in her book Perfume: A Century of Scents, described it as “With its wine-dregs smell, patchouli, a close relation of mint, is suggestive of gnarly plant roots and worms wriggling around in dehydrating soil.” (2)

Top five benefits of patchouli

Although research on patchouli is limited, there is growing evidence that the essential oil offers significant health bonuses.

1. Reduces inflammation

Patchouli oil has antiphlogistic properties, which means that it has the power to soothe inflammation. Swelling is one of the body’s main inflammatory responses. A recent study in mice suggested that one component of patchouli oil could significantly reduce chemically induced swelling in the test mice’s paws and ears. (7)

2. Treats infections

In TCM, patchouli plants are used for treating common antimicrobial and fungal infections. Among the 10 essential oils studied for antibacterial and antifungal activity, patchouli oil was found to be the most effective in restricting the growth of 20 bacterial strains and all 12 strains of fungi. (8)

3. Boosts immunity

In another study, a patchouli extract was screened through test tubes for anti-influenza viral activity. The study showed a concentrated form of patchouli could have a significant reduction in an influenza virus. (9)

woman listening to music and relaxing on a big chair

For those who enjoy patchouli’s unique aroma, it’s a primal blend of sweet and spicy, with undertones of natural musk scent when applied to the skin. Like other essential oils, patchouli oil can help relieve anxiety.

4. Relieves depression

Although most evidence is anecdotal, in aromatherapy, patchouli is thought to relieve depression. (10) Essential oils work via stimulating the olfactory system, which sends messages to our brain. The signals encourage the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine; hormones that can mitigate feelings of anger, anxiety, and anxiousness.

5. Heals skin

In high concentrations, patchouli oil has been shown to be an effective wound healer—ulcers, torn skin, skin abrasions, and pressure sores—demonstrating significant results in regard to healing times, infection spread and odor control. (11)

How to use patchouli oil

  • When combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado), you can apply patchouli essential oil directly to your skin or add it to your bath.
  • You can also put a few drops of patchouli oil onto a cloth or tissue, or a diffuser or vaporizer and take some deep inhales.
  • Historically, patchouli essential oil has been used as an aphrodisiac for hundreds of years. It’s thought to stimulate hormones that can increase your sex drive (for both women and men) and is considered a natural remedy for impotence. (12)
  • Apply a small amount on your skin to soothe cuts, scrapes, sores, and insect bites.
  • Apply a few drops to your stored sweaters, linens or sheets to keep ants, bedbugs and other pests away.
  • Put two to three drops on your underarms to prevent body odor.
  • Mix a couple of drops into your shampoo or conditioner to treat dandruff and oily hair. Let it penetrate the hair shafts for a few minutes before rinsing.

The bottom line

Research on patchouli is beginning to bridge the gap between modern scientific studies and traditional medicinal uses. Scientific research suggests that it does have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and pain-relieving properties. This is why patchouli is making a comeback.

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