Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth, also patchouly or pachouli) is a species from the genus Pogostemon and a bushy herb of the mint family, with erect stems, reaching two or three feet (about 0.75 metre) in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers. The plant is native to tropical regions of Asia, and is now extensively cultivated in China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as West Africa.
The heavy and strong scent of patchouli has been used for centuries in perfumes, and more recently in incense, insect repellents, and alternative medicines. The word derives from the Tamil patchai (green), ellai In Assamese it is known as xukloti.
Pogostemon cablin, P. commosum, P. hortensis, P. heyneasus and P. plectranthoides are all cultivated for their oils and all are known as patchouli oil.
Patchouli grows well in warm to tropical climates. It thrives in hot weather, but not direct sunlight. If the plant withers due to lack of watering, it will recover well and quickly after it has been watered. The seed-producing flowers are very fragrant and bloom in late fall. The tiny seeds may be harvested for planting, but they are very delicate and easily crushed. Cuttings from the mother plant can also be rooted in water to produce additional plants.
Patchouli is used widely in modern perfumery and modern scented industrial products such as paper towels, laundry detergents, and air fresheners. Two important components of its essential oil are patchoulol and norpatchoulenol. Since the 1960s, it has become associated with American counterculture.
In several Asian countries, such as Japan and Malaysia, patchouli is used as an antidote for venomous snakebites. The plant and oil have many claimed health benefits in herbal folk-lore and the scent is used to induce relaxation. Chinese medicine uses the herb to treat headaches, colds, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Patchouli oil can be purchased from mainstream Western pharmacies and alternative therapy sources as an aromatherapy oil.
One study suggests patchouli oil may serve as an all-purpose insect repellent. More specifically, the patchouli plant is claimed to be a repellent potent against the Formosan subterranean termite. During the 18th and 19th century, silk traders from China traveling to the Middle East packed their silk cloth with dried patchouli leaves to prevent moths from laying their eggs on the cloth. It has also been proven to effectively prevent female moths from adhering to males, and vice versa. Many historians speculate that this association with opulent Eastern goods is why patchouli was considered by Europeans of that era to be a luxurious scent. It is said that patchouli was used in the linen chests of Queen Victoria in this way.
Patchouli is an important ingredient in East Asian incense. Both patchouli oil and incense underwent a surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in the US and Europe, mainly due to the hippie movement of those decades.
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