Hair & Beauty Magazine

Patchouli-a Perfumers Perspective

By Ambrosia

Patchouli-a perfumers perspective
I'm writing a book about Natural Perfumery...So as part of the "Summer of Patchouli Love" project run by Monica Miller of  "Perfume Pharmer" I thought I'd add a few of my thoughts as a perfumer on this strange and wonderful oil...In one of the chapters I've started a kind of reference series for budding perfumers to use when selecting ingredients for a perfume. And this is my entry for patchouli:
PatchouliForms it comes in: trad. EO, iron free distilled EO and absolute distilled from the fermented leaves of the pogostorum plant
Appearance: A thick, dark brown liquid, clearer in iron free eo
Origin: India and Asia
Therapeutic uses: Traditionally used in Asia to treat depression, as an antiseptic and to repell moths. Patchouli is grounding, soothing and also quite sensual.
Scent profile: Dark woody, sweet amber, earthy, musty with a touch of fruit and spice  (lighter in iron free version). Aged Patchouli is softer than fresh, which can have a sharp, biting by note to it.
Colour profile: (note:This is my own visual imagery of what a scent "looks like" to me! Kinda wierd I know, but that's how my brain works!) Dark soft rusty brown, with black and grey shadows and a few distinct purple and bright rust coloured streaks through it! Depending on the kind of patchouli, there may also be some greenish touches as well...and if it is the clear distilled patchouli you have, it will have a metallic touch and less of the dark brown and black, and also less of the rust.
Effect in blends: Used as a fixative basenote, it "sweetens" and deepens blends. Great for musky florals such as jasmine. Adds depth to citrus. Spice note can clash with some ingredients. Can also make blends overly sweet
Patchouli-a perfumers perspectivePatchouli is one of my favourite ingredients.
Growing up on the tail end of the 60's revolution has left me with a nostalgic love of the sweet and heavy scents that accompanied the long flowing psychedelic flowered dresses of that era...Deep pungent oils from little Indian bottles, Patchouli is truly the scent of those years.
Which is why of course so many people have a Love/Hate relationship with it.
For me, it brings up the image of good times. My teenage years where I still believed that anything was possible...where we all dreamed of changing the world, and the ideas of “Peace” and “Love” were more than just slogans to write on a rainbow coloured t-shirt.
From an Aromatherapy point of view, it is a truly magical ingredient. Patchouli has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, as it has wonderful healing properties. It is soothing and antiseptic in skin care applications, and it makes a wonderful insect repellent (which is part of the reasons that the scent became so much part of the 60's...all those long flowing dresses came over scented with it from India to keep them from being eaten by bugs on their long journey in packing boxes!).
But for me the most interesting of it's properties is use in depression and anxiety!
The scent of patchouli is fundamentally soothing. In ajuveda it is used to”settle disharmonies of the Mind”, and has a long history of use in psychiatric illnesses ranging from depression to outright mania!(It's also used as an aphrodisiac in perfumery blends...but more of that later on...)
So the first time I used it, was in an aromatherapy blend I made to use myself in the middle of a particularly dark and depressing winter in Berlin, Germany. I combined patchouli with some lemon oil in my trusty oil burner, and was amazed and delighted to feel how much the scent lifted my mood!
When I first started out as a perfumer, I fell in love with patchouli all over again. It makes a wonderful base note in floral and oriental scents, with it's deep, sweet musty tenacity. I must have combined it with every other base note in existance over the years, an have used it in a number of my commercial perfumes too:
Patchouli-a perfumers perspectiveMy original Aromatherapy experience with patchouli led me to create one of my very first commercial perfumes: "Happiness". It's based on Patchouli married to a delightful lime topnote, with sandalwood and other citruses rounding off the scent. It's a remarkably light, fresh scent and the patchouli isn't really noticeable as an ingredient (even though there's a lot of it in there!) In fact a dear friend of mine was chatting to me about the Summer of Patchouli project the other day, and remarked "I really hate Patchouli!" Which had me in fits of see, she's been wearing my "Happiness" almost every day for years and constantly tells people how much she loves it!
Patchouli-a perfumers perspectivePatchouli is like that. in perfumes, it is truly the skill with which you choose your ingredients and your deft hand with blending which makes the difference between a musty sweet mess, and a truly delightful elegant concoction. Patchouli can ruin a blend really quickly. It has some rather contradictory notes in it that you have to work with carefully, and this is where many perfumers go wrong when trying to use it.
For starters it has a strong musty note to it. Patchouli oil is made from the fermented leaves and flowers of the patchouli plant, and this fermentation process always leaves a very earthy, musty touch to it. The fermented leaves look like shrivelled, brown slightly moist, well, mess really! I was horrified the first time I imported a large quantity of the stuff and at first thought my oder must have gone "off" duiring the shipping process!
This mustiness is something you have to be careful with in blending, along with the sharp, acrid bynote you don't really notice on first sniff. If you pair patchouli oil with any ingredient that has similar notes somewhere hiden in its makeup, you will amplify them tenfold!
Patchouli-a perfumers perspectiveBut you can also use them!
The second perfume I made with patchouli was "Love Potion". Here I used patchouli solely for it's renowned aphrodisiac qualities. Here it is patchouli's deep, sweet and musky qualitites that seem to play on our deepest senses... I wasn't seeking to make the perfume gentle and sweet here, so I played up the wilder side of the herb by adding liberal amounts of spices like coriander and cardamon to a heavy oriental blend with a deep, sultry jasmine heart, all on a deep sexy base where I combined patchouli with incense resins for an exotic touch.
This allowed all of the sharp and wild notes in patchouli to actually be a feature that fitted in perfectly with the bite of the spice, and the dirty muskyiness of the jasmine!
The result is a dry, wildly spicy Oriental perfume that is almost the polar opposite to it's gentler sister "Happiness"....and has just as many devout followers from a completely different perfume loving group!
What they have on common is that neither of them are obvious patchouli perfumes to a non-perfumer, even though it is a main player in both perfumes recipe!
My next challenge is to create a perfume in which Patchouli is actually centre stage for the "Summer of Patchouli Love" project! So I have a workbench covered in little bottles again...should I go in the direction of an elegant chypre with a touch of apricot and caramel? Or do it soft and clean with vetiver for warmth and a fresh clean topnote? Or go classic hippie and do a straight rose and patchouli? Decisions, decisions......wish I could just submit 3 totally different ones, they all seem lucious and full of possibilities! But somewhere I have to decide and focus on just one direction.....
Whadyall think?

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