Throughout the history of patchouli oil, this fragrant South Asian plant has been used to clarify the mind, repel pests, and surround its users with a pleasant and unforgettable scent. Those long trips between India and England by coach in the 19th century always included the leaves of the patchouli plant to protect merchandise as well as surround the rider with a familiar scent. Pure patchouli oil and leaves have been used to protect textiles from moth damage since at least the 1800s, and Queen Victoria may even have had patchouli leaves placed in her linen chest! The leaves were not just used for travel purposes; patchouli oil was extracted from this member of the mint family by steam distillation, and that practice has become big business. In old India the plant was a medical remedy with a noble past, since it served the people of India’s medical needs in several different ways through the years.
The Indians liked to call the oil ‘puchaput’ since the fragrance became stronger with age. The word patchouli came from two words: ‘patch,’ which means green, and ‘ilai,’ which means leaf. The Indians that lived centuries ago said the oil sharpened their wits and banished that lethargic feeling that can slow the body down in late afternoon. Researchers now know the exotic and heavy fragrance of the oil helps patchouli produce a balancing effect on the emotions.
Indian women didn’t waste any time when the oil was extracted from the leaves. They concocted perfume mixtures using patchouli as well as lemongrass, and rose oil. Using the mixture became a ritual for nobility. The privileged discovered it was a natural skin care product that could add moisture to dry and aging skin. The rich musky, sweet, and strong spicy aroma of the oil was a mark of distinction for one segment of Indian society, but all social groups used patchouli oil for one reason or another.
Originally, goods for export such as clothing and bottles of India ink were wrapped in patchouli leaves to preserve them on their journey to England. Over time, the unmistakable smell of patchouli oil became a marker of genuine oriental goods, and after dried patchouli leaves became available for purchase in England, some English merchants would buy patchouli oil to scent their wares and pass them off as genuine, and expensive, oriental commodities.
The history of patchouli oil took a bit of an infamous turn when it became associated with the hippy movement of the 1960s and ’70s: self-professed hippies loved patchouli because of its evocative Eastern scent and rumored aphrodisiac properties, and they also found that using pure patchouli oil could focus the mind during meditation. However, patchouli oil has been used to align the body’s energies and bring light and focus to the mind centuries before the hippy movement made it famous.
Patchouli Oil Can Expand Thoughts And Increase Energy
Old Indian ink is a mixture of patchouli oil and camphor oil, and the custom of putting patchouli sachets between the sheets to keep the bedbugs away was a common practice, and is still a method of debugging in some homes in India. But the Indians weren’t the only culture to use patchouli oil. The Chinese believed the oil could act as a catalyst for increasing the life force in the body. That force is known as ‘Chi’ or ‘Qi.’ If Chi is circulating in the body as well as around it, the potential for sickness and injury is greatly reduced.
The clarity of thought that was produced by the oil when the Chinese inhaled it carried a harmonious flow of emotional energy through the body, so patchouli was used and appreciated in traditional Chinese medicine.
Patchouli oil has also been the oil of choice for topical massage in regions of the world where it was available: applied to the skin in small amounts, patchouli oil is used therapeutically to heal skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, dry or chapped skin, and acne. It has also been traditionally used to keep hair sleek and strong, and to prevent dandruff.
In aromatherapy, pure patchouli oil is still used as a relaxant because the warmth and depth of the aroma produces a comforting feeling. Some people inhale patchouli oil to balance the chakras when they are spinning in the wrong direction. They believe that the oil touches the non-physical aura, and aligns the energy points within the body so there’s a constant flow of natural well-being that increases awareness. When that happens, the distinctive fragrance with the noble past does what it has always done, but in a modern way.