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Patchouli

Pogostemon cablin syn. P. patchouli

Herbs gallery - Patchouli



Common names

  • Patchouli

Patchouli is a luxuriant perennial herb that grows up to three feet or one meter in height. The plant possesses stems that have square shapes and bears elliptical leaves. The leaves of the plant are soft and grow opposite to each other. They emit an aroma when rubbed. Patchouli bears spikes that bear whorls of flowers whose colors vary from white to pale purple. Some flowers may be whitish with a tinge of purple and found growing on auxiliary as well as terminal spikes.

In many Asian countries, especially India, China and the Arabic nations, the herb has been traditionally and extensively used in preparing a number of herbal medications to treat several conditions. Patchouli has been widely used as an aphrodisiac or a magic potion that arouses sexual desire. While the leaves of the herb possess therapeutic properties, the essential oil obtained from patchouli is still used widely in India to prepare scents as well as an insect repellent.

Patchouli is basically indigenous to the Philippines and Malaysia in Asia, but presently it is extensively grown in different tropical and sub-tropical climatic regions worldwide. This herb has been widely used in Chinese, Indian and Arabic herbal medicine since ages. As mentioned earlier, the essential oil obtained from the plant is extensively used in India as well as other Asian countries for manufacturing scents as well as insect repellents. The primary role of patchouli in traditional herbal medicine of India, China and the Arabic world has that been of an antidepressant, antiseptic and aphrodisiac. Many herbalists also recommend medical formulations prepared with patchouli for topical application to treat fevers and headaches.

The patchouli belongs to a genus comprising approximately 40 plant species that have similar appearance like the nettle or balm. The herb has square stems bearing egg-shaped, soft, serrated or incised leaves and has spike shaped or whorls of flowers whose hue varies from white to pale purple. Some of the blossoms are also found to be whitish with somewhat purplish tint. The leaves of the plant are highly scented and emit a potent fragrance when rubbed.

Usually the herb is harvested twice or thrice every year depending on the type of soil and climatic condition where it is being cultivated. The harvested leaves are either dried or distilled by steam to obtain the fragrant essential oil. The essential oil obtained from the herb possesses an unsophisticated characteristic. In effect, the aroma of patchouli is that of the rich and fertile earth. Besides, to a certain extent, essential oil is thick or coagulated having a dark brown color. On several occasions, the essential oil is found to have a hint of green. Chemical analysis of the patchouli essential oil has revealed that its main active constituents include patchoulol, patchoulene (a substance having the same composition as azulene that possesses anti-inflammatory properties) and norpatchoulenol.

Herbalists, common people as well as industries in Asia, particularly in India, extensively exploit patchouli. In fact, one is able to distinguish real Indian shawls as well as Indian ink from the scent of patchouli. On the other hand, patchouli became popular in the West only during the beginning of the 19th century. In fact, it was first used by the Paisley weavers in Scotland who manufactured shawls as per the Indian designs and exported them to different European nations and other countries. The shawls made by these Scottish weavers were permeated with the aroma of patchouli, something similar to the shawls worn by women in India. It is interesting to note that these weavers found it practically impossible to sell their shawls if they did not have the scent of patchouli.

Patchouli has been extensively used as an aphrodisiac, antiseptic and antidepressant in the traditional Asian herbal medicine. In Asian countries, such as Japan and China, this herb has been also used as an energizer, tonic, febrifuge (a medication used to dispel fevers), antiseptic and insecticide for long. In addition, patchouli has also been widely used as an antidote for venomous snake bites and insect stings. Another major use of the herb, especially in the East, is its exploitation for manufacturing perfumes as well as aromatic incense and scented industrial products.

It may be mentioned that in the West, patchouli is presently widely used in aromatherapy to treat skin disorders. The essential oil obtained from patchouli is said to possess renewing properties for the skin tone and facilitates healing skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, scar tissue as well as split skin. In addition, the herb is also very useful in treating nervousness, depression and all conditions associated with stress. There are several other remedial uses of this herb, including treatment of conditions like water retention, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and cellulite (fatty deposits beneath the skin). In order to treat any of these conditions, blend a few drops of patchouli and geranium essential oils and dilute the combination in about 10 ml to 20 ml of carrier oil and apply them topically as massage oil. Alternately, the formulation may also be used in bath water. It may be noted here that sweet almond oil may act as effective and versatile carrier oil in this case.

It is interesting to note that in Asian legends, patchouli is regarded as a magic potion that brings wealth, opulence and money.

Before we wrap up the discussion, the main uses of the herb are highlighted again. In many Asian nations, especially in India, China and the Arab countries, patchouli is regarded as an important and useful herb. Herbalists in these countries have been widely exploiting patchouli for the treatment of different medical conditions since time immemorial. As discussed earlier, the most widespread use of this herb has been as an aphrodisiac or a potion that help in increasing sexual desire among people. In addition, it was also extensively used as an antidepressant and antiseptic. Many herbalists in Asia still recommend medical formulations prepared with the herb to alleviate headaches and dispel fevers. Then again, in India, patchouli is extensively used for its fragrance and forms an important ingredient in the manufacture of scents, incense as well as insect repellents.

Parts used

Young leaves and shoots, essential oil.

Uses

In several Asian nations, patchouli is added in herbal medications having a status of an antidepressant, aphrodisiac and antiseptic. In addition, the medications prepared with the herb are also applied topically to treat fevers and headaches. The essential oil obtained from patchouli is utilized in aromatherapy for healing skin disorders. It is commonly believed that patchouli possesses a recovering or renewing impact on the quality of the skin and aids in dispelling skin conditions like eczema and acne. Some herbalists also recommend the essential oil for treating medical conditions, such as hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

In Japan, Malaysia and many other Asian nations, people also use patchouli as a remedy for poisonous snake bites. According to traditional medicine, while the herb and the essential oil obtained from it possess numerous benefits for the health, the aroma of the flowers is made use of to encourage relaxation. Chinese herbal medical practitioners use patchouli for treating nausea, colds, headaches, diarrhea and soreness in the abdomen. The essential oil obtained from the herb is available commercially in the form of an aromatherapy oil and one can buy it from any ordinary Western pharmacies as well as stores selling medications for alternative therapies.

The herb is also extensively used for various purposes by the contemporary industries. In the East Asian nations, patchouli forms a significant element in production of aromatic incense sticks. In addition, manufacturers of air fresheners, laundry detergents, paper towels and other similar products use the aroma of the plant to add fragrance to their products. Chemical analysis of the essential oil obtained from patchouli has revealed that it contains two significant elements - norpatchoulenol and patchoulol.

The leaves of the patchouli have been used by the Chinese silk merchants travelling to the Middle East way back in the 18th and 19th centuries to protect their merchandise from decay. Precisely speaking, these Chinese traders placed the leaves of patchouli leaves between the bundles of silk with a view to protect them from damage by eggs laid by moths on the fabric. Quite a few historians guess that patchouli's association with luxurious merchandise from the East prompted many Europeans of that period to believe that the scent prepared from the herb was a very lavish item. According to a number of accounts regarding the British royalty, patchouli was made use of in this manner in the linen chests of Queen Victoria!

Habitat and cultivation

The patchouli is indigenous to the Asian countries like the Philippines and Malaysia. However, presently the herb is grown in different tropical as well as sub-tropical climatic regions across the globe. The shoots and leaves of the patchouli possess remedial properties and they are usually harvested twice or thrice annually conditional on the soil and climate of the region where the plants are cultivated.

This species develops and thrives best in climatic conditions ranging from warm to tropical. Patchouli grows well in hot weather conditions, but cannot thrive in direct sunlight. In case the plant dries up owing to inadequate watering, it has the aptitude to recuperate easily and rapidly when it is watered again. The seed-bearing flowers of patchouli herb are very aromatic and blossom during the later part of the fall. The plant is primarily propagated by its seeds that are minute and so fragile that they get crushed easily. The seeds of patchouli are harvested basically for growing new plants. Alternately, new patchouli plants may also be grown from cuttings. The cuttings from the mother plants are rooted in water to develop new plants.

Constituents

Patchouli herb contains a volatile oil, which comprises mainly the sesquiterpenes patchoulol (35%) and bulnesene.

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