Aromatherapy: Patchouli

In India this essential oil with the lyrical name of patcha pat has long been used to keep moths and other insects out of linens and woolen shawls and rugs. It is the characteristic scent found in Indian bedspreads and cottons. Hand-woven silk and wool rugs from Persia, India, and Turkey had dried patchouli leaves laid on them before they were rolled for shipping. Europeans actually refused to buy cheaper local imitation Oriental rugs because they didn’t smell authentic.

To some people the scent of patchouli is exotic, sensual, and luxurious, but to others it’s too forceful and repellent. It is so overpowering that most aromatherapy cosmetics forgo its virtues in favor of other essential oils that are more universally appealing. The leaves of this pretty Malaysian bush carry little indication of their potential, since the scent is only developed through oxidation. The leaves must be fermented and aged before being distilled, which can take as long as 24 hours. Even then, the translucent yellow oil smells harsh.


As it ages, it develops patchouli’s distinctive scent.

Patchouli also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, a notion that probably originated in India, where it is used as an anointing oil in Tantric sexual practices. Perfumers must think that it works since minute quantities of high quality oil scent such famous perfumes as Tabu and Shocking. All attempts to make a synthetic patchouli have failed utterly.

Principal constituents of patchouli: Patchoulol (up to 50 percent), patchoulene (similar to azulene), pogostol, bulnesol, bulnese, eugenol, cadinene, carvone, and benzoic and cinnamic aldehydes, among others

Scent of patchouli: The odor is heavy, earthy, musty, pungent, and penetrating.

Therapeutic properties of patchouli: Antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, and antifungal; reduces fluid retention

Uses for patchouli: Cosmetically, the essential oil is a cell rejuvenator and antiseptic that treats a number of skin problems, including eczema and inflamed, cracked, and mature skin. As an antifungal, it counters athlete’s foot. The aroma reduces appetite and helps to relieve headaches, unless the patient doesn’t like it! Add 8 drops per ounce to a hair conditioner to help eliminate dandruff.


To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:

  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.



Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.