Plant Profile: Patchouli Herb

A plant profile of the patchouli herb, includes a history of the patchouli plant and medicinal, culinary and growing information.

| December 1991/January 1992

  • A profile of the patchouli herb plant.
    A profile of the patchouli herb plant.
    Illustration By Fotolia/Morphart

  • A profile of the patchouli herb plant.

The patchouli herb is an aromatic plant often used in perfumes and natural remedies,

Plant Profile: Patchouli Herb

Sage, rosemary, and thyme (but not parsley): despite their differences in looks and taste, all of these kitchen favorites are members of the mint family, Lamiaceae (Labiatae), as are dozens of other herbs around the world. One mint relative that’s not so well known in temperate North America (though it has been grown here at least since 1900) is patchouli, two species of which (Pogostemon cablin and P. heyneanus) are increasingly seen in the catalogs of herb nurseries these days.

The genus Pogostemon consists of some 30 or 40 species of shrubs, sub-shrubs, and herbaceous plants native to tropical Asia. The name means “bearded thread” in Greek and refers to the hairy middles of the four stamens. Other characteristics of the genus include flowers in whorls in the upper leaf axils; a tubular, five-toothed calyx; a tubular corolla with four nearly equal lobes, and one style with two stigmas. The fruits are four seedlike nutlets.

The name patchouli comes from a Tamil word, paccilai, meaning “green leaf”. An alternate common name seen in some older references is pucha-pat.

The species of patchouli commonly available in the United States are P. cab­lin and P. heyneanus, also known as P. patchouli or P. patchouly. The latter is sometimes known as smooth or Java patchouli. Both are shrubby plants which may grow 3 feet tall under optimal conditions. The green leaves are roughly egg-shaped, up to 4 inches long, deeply veined, and notched. Flowers of P. cablin are white, while those of P. heyneanus are tinged with purplish pink. They have little fragrance.

Uses of Patchouli

Patchouli is known principally for the fragrance of its essential oil. As one writer has rhapsodized, “Fine patchouli has a winelike, ethereal quality, deep and woody, spicy, almost dry and earthy.” Even those who don’t care for the fragrance of the oil may find the scent of the fresh leaves quite pleasant.

8/19/2015 1:16:04 PM

In love with anything that contains Patchouli in it! I have dried leaves looking to make infused oil.

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