Patchouli: From Fragrant Ancient Herb to Cultivated Treasure

Patchouli: From Fragrant Ancient Herb to Cultivated Treasure


 I purchased this fragrant herb out of curiosity. It arrived as a bolted tiny plant with a few flowers blooming on it. My first impression was what a waste of money over this tiny plant but as soon as I opened it, the musky smell surprised me. How can a plant smell like perfume, I wondered.

History & Origin

This beautiful looking plant is Patchouli. It is very commonly used in making perfumes, and handmade soaps. Patchouli is from Lamiaceae family similar to mint. It is native to tropical regions of Asia, particularly India, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia. There is also some research that says that these plants were introduced to India in the early 1800s by the settlers. It was also cultivated in China for a long time before it became famous in Europe in the 1840s. In India, dried patchouli leaves were used as insect repellents to protect the fabric like cashmere shawls that gave it a peculiar fragrance. Though Indian and Chinese medicine commonly used Patchouli for medicinal purposes, French people who had acquired the art of perfume making from Arabs, used dried patchouli leaves to make essential oils and perfumes. Soon this ancient plant became popular worldwide and is one of the most used fragrances in the perfume industry. Now the way patchouli fragrance is often associated with ancient Indian fabric, it was also used to make scented ink. In the 1960s and 70s, Patchouli became synonymous with the counterculture movement in the West, earning its place as a symbol of peace, love, and spirituality. Some researchers believe that in sixties, patchouli was used to mask the smell of cannabis. 

Patchouli Fun Fact- Mattel incorporated patchouli oil into the plastic to replicate the scent of the 1985 Masters of the Universe action figure Stinkor. The oil was utilized to imitate the character's skunky depiction in the cartoon. The scent was pretty strong and resistant to washing. Some annoyed parents disposed of or buried the toys due to its strong scent.

Health Benefits of Patchouli

Patchouli offers an array of health benefits, owing to its potent properties. Due to its antimicrobial properties, it is effective against various bacteria and fungi. It can help alleviate inflammation and soothe skin conditions like eczema and acne.

The rich, earthy scent of Patchouli is renowned for its calming and grounding effects, making it a popular choice in aromatherapy for stress relief and relaxation. The pleasant smell instantly lifts mood hence it is believed to help with depression and anxiety. 

In Chinese medicine patchouli is believed to be useful in treating conditions like cold, nausea, loose motions, skin problems, vomiting, stomachache, headache, fever, and poor appetite.

Uses of Patchouli

Patchouli leaves are edible and in some parts of the world they are eaten as a vegetable or used to make herbal tea. 

In India, it was used primarily as insect repellent. It is believed to be effective against some types of termites As I mentioned earlier, patchouli is widely used in perfume & incense making.

The uses of patchouli are not limited to its medicinal values. Here are some other ways to use patchouli essential oils to make your home feel happier. You can keep the handmade soaps infused with the patchouli essential oils to mask the bad smell in the house. Also, adding a few drops of the patchouli essential oil to the homemade household cleaners  makes it smell so much better. Moreover, you can add a few drops of the essential oil mixes like patchouli, tea tree oil, sandalwood oil  to the water before spraying plants. It helps to control the fungus gnats in indoor plants to some extent. 

Growing Requirements for Patchouli Plants

Patchouli thrives in warm, tropical climates with well-drained soil and ample sunlight. Here are some key growing requirements:

Climate: Patchouli prefers tropical or subtropical climates with temperatures between 60°F to 90°F (15°C to 32°C)

Soil: Well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH is ideal for Patchouli cultivation

Sunlight: It requires full to partial sunlight exposure for healthy growth.

Watering: Patchouli prefers moderate watering, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent root rot.

Methods of Propagation

These plants can be propagated both through seeds and through cuttings. Growing them from cuttings is much easier than growing them from seeds. 

Growing Patchouli from Seeds:

Using Seed Starting Mix

There are different ways to germinate these seeds. You can directly spread them on a moist seed starting mix and cover the pot with a plastic bag lightly. Covering with a plastic bag increases humidity while allowing air circulation. That in turn prevents the seeds from going moldy. Seeds germination occurs in 2-4 weeks. 

Using Paper Napkin 

To germinate the seeds faster, you can spread some seeds on  a moist paper towel and put it in a Ziploc bag. Put the bag in a dry, dark spot for a week. This method can be used for any types of tiny seeds. The problem with this method is you need to have a good vision and a gentle hand so that you can transplant the germinated seeds to the potting mix without any damage. I use my phone camera as a magnifying glass. 


If you have access to AeroGarden or any other hydroponic system, then you can start the seeds any time of the year. 

Growing from Cuttings

Growing patchouli from cutting is the easiest way to grow these plants. Just choose healthy stem cuttings of about 4-6 inches long from a mature patchouli plant. Then, remove the leaves from bottom half to 2/3rd of the stems. Place them in clean water. In just a week or two they start growing beautiful roots. Change the water frequently to keep it clean. You can plant them in pots filled with well-draining potting mix once they are ready. To prevent fungus growing in germination media, add sand or perlite to increase the water draining abilities of the growing media. 

After planting place the pot under a grow light or a semi shade area. Once the plants are settled in the new pot, you can gradually move them to a sunny or part-sun location. 

Pests & Diseases on Patchouli

A number of pests and diseases can affect patchouli plants like aphids, bacterial or fungal wilt, and nematodes. I have even seen a cabbage worm eating my patchouli plant last year. So keep checking the leaves for the pests. Also, the potting soil should be clean. Washing off the leaves, removing the pests manually, and if needed spraying them with organic pesticides like Neem oil/ other horticultural oils can help. 

Cultivars of Patchouli

There are different cultivars of patchouli depending on the countries where they grow. Also, different varieties have different fragrances and disease resistance.

This particular variety that I’m growing is Pogostemon cablin. There is another variety, Pogostemon heyneanus- that is also called the Indian variety. But, I think both these varieties are cultivated in India. Each variety is further classified in the agricultural industry. 

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