Botanical Name: Pogostemon cablin
Patchouli is an aromatic shrub that may grow to 1 meter in moist, rich soils. The leaves are 7-10cm long, ovate and a variable purple-green colour when grown in full sun, but become bright green in the shade. The small delicate, pinkish flowers are borne on long spikes. The plant may not flower readily, but when it does you will notice that the flowers are more fragrant than the leaves. The leaves, flowers and seeds all have a stronger fragrance when crushed. Crushing some stems and leaves in your hands as you walk around the garden will release a strong aroma.
Patchouli is tolerant of Australian conditions and given some minor attention, it will do well. The natural habitat of patchouli is in Malaysia and India, so it does prefer both humid and tropical conditions. However, it is not difficult to create a suitable environment in your own garden.
There are many uses for patchouli, perhaps the most well known use is in perfumes and as scented oils. One of the earliest known uses for patchouli was as protection from bed bugs and moths. Patchouli leaves were placed in shipments of Indian cashmere rugs, destined for England, as protection from moth damage. Ultimately, the cashmere shawls became known for the distinctive patchouli fragrance.
Patchouli is a sturdy, upright bush that may grow to a height of 90 cm. It prefers just the right amount of water – not too wet and not too dry! It is a relatively fast grower from seed or cuttings, and prefers a rich soil and a sunny or part shade aspect. After flowering, tiny brown seeds will appear. The young seedlings benefit from shade while establishing themselves. In very cold climate the patchouli plant will need to be kept in a glass house or warm sheltered position during winter. If not, it will die down and new seeds or seedlings will need to be planted each year. The plant can be cut back if it becomes straggly in shady parts of the garden.
Patchouli is used for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities in the treatment of minor skin conditions, such as acne and is known to sooth dry or cracked skin when used as a foot bath. Its reputation as a skin regenerator and healing agent is well known and it may help prevent scarring form wounds. It is also anti-fungal, has a deodorising function and can also be used to treat insect bites. Patchouli also has a diuretic effect and may assist with alleviating water retention and breaking up cellulite. Some people use the leaves to create an infusion and drink it for relief of menstrual cramps. The Patchouli is also valued for its anti-depressive and mood enhancing effects, though to be due to the active components stimulating of the pituitary gland to release endorphins. Placing crushed leaves in a warm bath will be beneficial for both body and mind.
Patchouli has many uses as an aromatic oil to promote well-being and as a component of perfumes. You can dry the leaves yourself, then use them in potpourri of simmer a few leaves in a saucepan and scent the air in your home. Patchouli also has traditional uses as a shampoo when the leaves are crushed with gugo and lemon grass. Crushed leaves and plant tops may act as an insecticide and help to repel cockroaches, moths and even leeches. The young leaves will have the strongest fragrance and be more concentrated in oils.