Scent Sense: Patchouli

“Patchouli has always been a part of my fragrance, like a line through my life.” (Julia Roberts)

Patchouli is a popular and essential ingredient in many of today’s oriental, chypre and fougère perfumes. From the mint family with the oil being extracted from its bright green leaves through a process of steam distillation. A powerful fixative and used mainly as a perfume base.  Sweet, dark, with an earthy, herbaceous and woody edge. Patchouli becomes better with age; moving from being green, tart and at times unmelodious to a rich and full fruity-like nuance. Patchouli blends well with vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood, clove, lavender and rose.

The name patchouli derives from the old Tamil words patchai, meaning “green”, and ellai meaning “leaf”. The origin of the name points out to the native land of this herb, stemming from the Dravidian language spoken mostly by Tamil people of the Indian subcontinent. Patchouli is being cultivated all over Asia, West Africa, and South America.  In the 1840s patchouli was used in the transport of silk and cashmere fabrics to avoid insect and moth infestation and damage. Little did the early traders know that this would bring about a trend of luxury; associating the patchouli scent with opulent fabrics. These importers gladly trading one pound of patchouli for one pound of gold.  Traditionally patchouli is recalled as the 1960’s hippie scent of choice. Not a proper nice girl scent but rather being used to mask the strong odour of a concentrated form of cannabis or bodies that have not been bathed for a few days; not uncommon as part of the hippie lifestyle. Unfortunately giving it a bad name as a synonym for too heady, too overwhelming and too a common fragrance.

Interestingly Egypt’s King Tut arranged to have ten gallons of patchouli oil buried with him in his tomb. The Romans used it as an appetite stimulant. Patchouli has been used often as a medicinal ingredient to treat skin inflammations and scars, headaches, colic, muscle spasms, bacterial and viral infections, anxiety, and depression. The Chinese, Japanese and Arabs believe it to possess aphrodisiac properties. Our story of patchouli just would not be complete if we did not share how excited fans rushed into stores in spring 1989 to grab their copy of Madonna‘s fantastic new album ‘Like A Prayer‘ hot off the press and zooming up the charts. Lurking within the shrink-wrap of the LP, Cassette and CD copies wasn’t just some of the best music ever recorded, or an information leaflet explaining the danger of AIDS to our society. Oh no, there was also something a little more…sensual as well! For included in the printing process of all batches of the first pressings of Madonna’s new album was a healthy sprinkling of scent! Those first in line to buy the album were treated to a strong aroma of patchouli oil when they pulled out the LP’s inner sleeve or flicked through the CD and Cassette booklet. Definitely a fragrance oil that has gained a celebrity status!

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