Essential Oil Files: Patchouli

Not just a herb for hippies, this small, bushy plant has hidden talents. A relative of the mint family, Patchouli leaf is harvested for its heavy, soothing, pungent oil. This plant has long been one of the most admired as a fragrance for perfume, incense, deoderant and oil.

Originating in South-East Asia, this plant grows wild in the mountains of Java and Sumatra above 3000 ft. However, the herb is extensively cultivated in the surrounding low-lying farmlands. Harvested two or three times a year, the best-quality oil is extracted in the rainy season, undergoing a hand-picking, drying and steam-distillation process to extract the pure essence of the plant.

In many Asian countries, such as China and Japan, Patchouli oil has been used as an antidote for snakebites. It also has an anti-bacterial action that helps to heal wounds and deodorise. Used widely as a repellent, it helps to keep bugs and other insects away from material: in the 19th centuary, the Patchouli packed in fabrics shipped from the East was thought to help denote 'true' Oriental fabric. One study suggests that the oil can be used as an all-purpose insect repellent. In another study, Patchouli was found to be inhibatory to bacteria growth. 

The oil is also an excellent tonic for the skin, particularly when suffering from dryness. It helps to prevent wrinkles, chapping and sagging skin, and speeds the healing of wounds or scars. It has often been used to boost mood, relieve anxiety and promote a balanced state of mind, relieving lethargy and encouraging positive thought.