Patchouli Essential Oil: The Anti-Establishment Oil You Need to Know About

From fending off insects to boosting mood and treating depression, this essential oil is a heavy hitter when it comes to your overall health.
Patchouli Essential Oil: The Anti-Establishment Oil You Need to Know About

Patchouli oil is intertwined with hippie culture and integral to the spirituality and history of Asia. With a fascinating foray into the New World, patchouli captivated and awed consumers with its potent health benefits and pungent aroma. From fending off insects to boosting mood and treating depression, this essential oil is a heavy hitter when it comes to your overall health.

What Is Patchouli Oil?

Patchouli oil is an essential oil that offers a powerful blend of antioxidants and chemical compounds that help improve the appearance of skin and boost mood. Patchouli essential oil is extracted from the patchouli plant known by its botanical name Pogostemon cablin. The name patchouli is derived from the Indian Tamil words meaning “green leaf.”

Patchouli plants are native to tropical regions in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. It is widely cultivated in Indonesia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Maldives, Seychelles and in the Caribbean. This plant thrives in hot climates and the essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the plant.

Extraction Process

Patchouli leaves undergo a process of steam distillation in order to remove the oil from the plant. Most high-quality patchouli oils are harvested and processed immediately in order to get the most out of antioxidants and compounds in the leaves. Other more affordable oils are made from leaves that are harvested, dried and then steam distilled at a later date.


Originally cultivated in Southeast Asia, patchouli oil made its way to the Middle East as it was traded along the Silk Road. Asian traders would pack garments and bedding with patchouli leaves to deter moths and other insects that could damage the fabrics. The scent of patchouli was often associated with exotic products only obtainable from Asia. It was during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and the prominence of fashionistas during the Belle Époque where patchouli oil really gained popularity in Europe.

Patchouli oil rose to prominence in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s and is often associated with the counterculture of the times. Patchouli was an intoxicating aroma that allowed people in the flower child era to feel closer ties to nature. Many backpackers and travelers jetted off to Asia for aromatherapy and spiritual awakenings after which they returned with souvenirs of patchouli oil to remember their adventures. A natural alternative to high-end perfumes, patchouli oil was the perfect scent for the anti-establishment crowd.


Part of the mint family, this plant exudes a strong scent that has been used for centuries as the base note in perfume. It is often described as spicy, sensuous, earthy and herbaceous. The spicy scent of patchouli oil is attributed to the presence of the chemicals a-bulnesene and a-guaiene, which is used ubiquitously in perfumery.  The scent of this essential oil is extremely pungent, similar in strength to the sharp smells of tea tree oil and peppermint oil. Patchouli essential oil blends well with bergamot, clary sage, myrrh, vetiver and rose oils.

Patchouli Essential Oil: purple plant

Health Benefits of Patchouli Oil

1. Helps You Stay Grounded

Beloved by hippies, spiritualists and nature lovers around the world, patchouli oil contains chemical compounds that help you stay grounded. Rich in patchoulol — a patchouli alcohol — patchouli oil can help to harmonize mood and support emotional well-being. Patchouli oil acts directly on the nervous system and induces the release of “happy chemicals” such as serotonin and dopamine.

A 2011 animal study examined the antidepressant effects of patchouli alcohol on mice. After a two-week period, the mice showed increased neurotransmitter activity. In fact, the treated mice showed increased levels specifically in dopamine, a chemical that induces happiness.

To reap emotional these benefits, apply one or two drops of patchouli oil topically to your neck and temples. You can gently massage for added relaxation or use three to four drops in a diffuser to use as aromatherapy. Alternatively, you can rub a combination of one or two drops of patchouli oil and one or two drops of vetiver oil onto the bottom of your feet.

2. Promotes Healthy Skin and Hair

The astringent properties of patchouli oil enable it to prevent hair loss and reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Patchouli oil stimulates contractions in muscle tissue and skin that can result in stronger gums and reduce the look of sagging skin. Patchouli oil is suitable for all skin types, including for those with oily skin and works to regenerate skin cells for a smoother, brighter appearance.

Studies have also shown that patchouli oil has the ability to prevent hair loss and promote hair growth. The muscle contractions triggered by patchouli oil help to prevent hair loss by strengthening weak hair follicles. Patchouli oil also helps prevent dandruff and scalp irritation that can cause dull, lifeless hair.

To get these hair benefits, add a few drops of patchouli oil to your shampoo or conditioner and massage gently into your scalp. For deeper, penetrating effects, make a hair mask using patchouli oil, lemongrass oil and honey. For skin health, add three drops of patchouli to your moisturizer or five drops to your face wash.

3. Masks Body Odor and Bad Breath

The strong scent of patchouli oil was used in the ‘60s and ‘70s to camouflage the smell of marijuana, which was used prevalently during those years. Patchouli’s potent aroma can hide even the most offensive body odors. Used by van life enthusiasts and long-distance hikers, grab a bottle of patchouli when you want to freshen up a bit.

To alleviate bad breath, make a mouthwash combining patchouli oil and peppermint oil. The deodorizing compounds in patchouli oil will eliminate bacteria that cause bad breath while the peppermint oil offers a fresh, minty aroma that leaves a delightful tingling effect.

4. Prevents Fungal Infections

Patchouli oil contains anti-fungal properties that help to fight off fungal growth that is responsible for diseases such as athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. One study examined the effects of patchouli oil against 22 bacteria and 12 fungi in a lab setting. The results showed that patchouli oil was effect in eliminating 20 of the 22 bacteria and all 12 of the fungi.

These powerful antifungal effects demonstrate patchouli oil’s antiseptic qualities. To reap these health benefits, apply two to three drops of patchouli oil on infected feet or other areas with fungal infections. Alternatively, you can add five to 10 drops of patchouli oil to the bathtub to eliminate bacteria and fungus from your whole body.

5. It’s an Aphrodisiac

Patchouli oil is known for improving sex drive and can also be used to treat sexual disorders such as impotence, sexual anxiety and erectile dysfunction. Used for centuries in traditional medicine as a cure for these common ailments, patchouli oil is a go-to remedy to increase sex drive.

Both men and women can use patchouli oil as an aphrodisiac. Patchouli oil works to increase hormones including testosterone and estrogen, which can stimulate sexual appetite. You can inhale the aroma using a diffuser or apply a few drops behind your earlobes or on your neck.

6. Insect Repellant

Most bug repellant contains toxic chemicals like DEET that can have dangerous side effects. It’s no wonder that people are constantly looking for an effective yet all-natural alternative. Patchouli oil delivers when it comes to keeping bugs away and preventing itchy bites. Used in natural sprays, vaporizers and lotions, patchouli oil deters mosquitos, lice, moths and ants for up to two hours.

For an all-natural bug repellant, combine patchouli oil with other bug-deterrent essential oils such as peppermint oil, geranium oil and lemongrass oil. Mix well with hot water and add to a spray bottle. You can also apply patchouli oil with carrier oil to exposed skin when working out in the garden or heading off for a hike. When lounging on the back porch, add a few drops of patchouli oil to a diffuser to fend off flies and mosquitos. For killing lice, add 10 drops of patchouli oil to your laundry detergent.

7. Boosts Immune System and Soothes Inflammation

Patchouli oil contains anti-inflammatory properties and astringent properties that help to fight off infection, alleviate pain and promote overall health. Inflammation is one of the common causes of a wide array of illnesses ranging from gout to arthritis and asthma. Patchouli oil reduces inflammation when consumed as part of aromatherapy and can target aches and pains caused by inflammation when applied topically.

If you have sore muscles after a workout, mix two to three drops of patchouli oil with your favorite massage oil and rub gently onto any pain points. If your feet hurt after a long day at the office, apply four drops of patchouli oil and carrier oil to the bottom of your feet and massage gently.

Side Effects of Patchouli Oil

While patchouli offers a host of health benefits, there are a few negative side effects that you should know about. First and foremost, patchouli should never be consumed orally. Additionally, patchouli oil can cause skin or eye irritation in some individuals.

Never Consume Orally

Patchouli oil is considered toxic when ingested. If you happen to accidentally ingest patchouli oil, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t try to induce vomiting as the oil can travel to your lungs and increase the risk of danger. Be especially careful with patchouli oil around children and make sure to store oils and diffusers out of reach.

Skin and Eye Irritation

Patchouli oil, like tea tree oil, is a strong eye irritant. Make sure to avoid applying it near your eyes or on eyelids and wash your hands after each use. If you do get patchouli oil in your eyes, rinse immediately with warm water. Patchouli oil can also cause skin rash in people with sensitive skin. To avoid this side effect, always apply patchouli oil in combination with carrier oil such as coconut oil, jojoba oil or almond oil.

Presence of Pesticides

Some patchouli plants are grown using pesticides, which can seep into the oils of this plant and end up in your essential oil bottle. To avoid the negative side effects of patchouli, make sure to purchase oils that list where and how the patchouli is harvested and always opt for organic brands when possible.

It’s Flammable

Patchouli oil is extremely flammable when exposed to high temperatures. Make sure to store your patchouli oil in a cool, dry place. If your oil does catch on fire, use a fire extinguisher. Dumping water on a patchouli oil fire will only cause the flames to spread.

Strong Odor

The reason many people love patchouli oil — its strong scent — is also one of the negative side effects. Patchouli oil’s aroma and scent is powerful and some may find it overwhelming. Reactions include dizziness, feelings of nausea and excess coughing. To avoid this side effect, use only one or two drops when adding to a diffuser and make sure to use in a well-ventilated room.

Freshen Up and Harmonize Your Mood With Patchouli Oil

Commonly associated with anti-establishment culture and used by travellers to mask odor, patchouli essential oil delivers a range of health benefits that can make life more enjoyable. Whether you choose to use patchouli oil on hair and skin for a healthier appearance or you prefer to inhale the mood-altering effects, this oil will be one of your favorites.

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