The smell of patchouli oil is so powerful and unique — you either love it or hate it. The mere thought of it, let alone getting a whiff, might invoke memories like hanging out at outdoor music festivals with friends. For some people, the smell of patchouli wafting through the air brings back those feelings of rebellion and excitement.
But patchouli has many health benefits as well. Also, aged and blended with other essential oils , its smell is more mellow. This article will cover some of the reasons you might consider including patchouli in your health and wellness regimen.
What Is Patchouli Oil?
Patchouli oil is distilled from the leaves and flowers of a bushy herb native to tropical areas of Southeast Asia, whose scientific name is Pogostemon cablin. The plant is related to the herbs mint, oregano, and lavender. In order to distill the potent smelling, amber-colored essential oil of patchouli, leaves and flowers of Pogostemon cablin are dried for several days. Then, the oil is distilled using steam or carbon dioxide. As patchouli oil ages, the color darkens, and the scent becomes deeper and smoother.
Patchouli’s smell and medicinal properties come from the many phytochemicals contained in the oil, such as:
- Alpha patchoulene
- Beta patchoulene
- Alpha bulnesene
- Alpha guaiene
The oil can be used on the skin as a fragrance or for medicinal properties (usually diluted in a carrier oil). It can also be diffused in water using a diffuser. Some even take patchouli internally for health benefits – though this is riskier, so don’t try it without consulting your doctor.
History of Patchouli Oil
Patchouli oil has been valued by humans over many centuries, both for its perfume and its medicinal properties. It was first used by the Tamil people of Southern India, and it traveled from there to the Middle East along silk trading routes — where the dried leaves were packed into crates containing textiles to repel moths. Supposedly, Napoleon introduced patchouli to Europe. Patchouli oil is still used in traditional Asian medicine, most commonly in China, Malaysia, and Japan.
Potential Health Benefits of Patchouli
Although more studies on humans are needed to better understand patchouli’s medicinal qualities, there have been promising in vitro and animal studies. Some are listed below:
Patchouli is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to combat both viral and bacterial infections . For example, a 2019 study  explored patchouli alcohol’s effects in vitro and in vivo against the influenza virus. It was shown to significantly inhibit different strains of influenza in vitro, and when administered nasally, improved the survival rate of infected mice as well.
2. Skin Health
TCM uses patchouli to balance skin problems such as eczema, dandruff, and acne. A 2014 study  done on mice looked at the application of patchouli oil prior to UV light exposure. The study determined that the mice who received topical administration of patchouli showed less wrinkle formation and more collagen production after exposure to UV light.
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s immune response.  However, especially in chronic disease, the inflammatory response can become problematic, and contribute to symptoms. A 2017 study  looked at patchouli’s effect when administered rectally in rats with inflammatory bowel disorder, or IBD. (In TCM, patchouli is used therapeutically for IBD.) The study concluded that the patchouli significantly reduced damage to the rats’ colons and also reduced disease activity indicators.
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4. Insect Repellant
Patchouli can be used as a healthy, non-toxic insect repellent or insecticide. It has been shown to be toxic to ants, houseflies, and mosquitoes when applied directly — though less so than synthetic pesticides.
5. Pain Relief
TCM uses patchouli as a therapeutic approach to easing headaches. A 2011 study  on mice determined that the application of methanol extract from patchouli was useful in lessening pain . The study concluded that patchouli’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties contribute to its analgesic effect.
Contraindications for Patchouli Essential Oil
All essential oils are very potent. Talk with your doctor before you include patchouli in your health regimen (topically, orally, or inhalation) to make sure it’s right for you. Pregnant women, people taking blood thinners, or people with bleeding disorders should avoid using patchouli.
If you use patchouli topically, be sure to dilute it in a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond oil. Direct application of any essential oil can irritate your skin, or more rarely, cause an allergic reaction. Even in a carrier oil, test a small patch of your skin first before widespread use.
Ultimately, patchouli essential oil is a potent, fragrant oil with many possible health benefits. Experiment with using patchouli alone, or blending it with other essential oils in a carrier oil. You may discover a natural, non-toxic perfume you love, one that may improve your health and well-being.
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.
Yu Y, Zhang Y, Wang S, Liu W, Hao C, Wang W. Inhibition effects of patchouli alcohol against influenza a virus through targeting cellular PI3K/Akt and ERK/MAPK signaling pathways. Virol J. 2019;16(1):163. Published 2019 Dec 23. doi:10.1186/s12985-019-1266-x 
Lin RF, Feng XX, Li CW, et al. Prevention of UV radiation-induced cutaneous photoaging in mice by topical administration of patchouli oil. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;154(2):408‐418. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.04.020 
Yu X, Yang G, Jiang H, et al. Patchouli oil ameliorates acute colitis: A targeted metabolite analysis of 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid-induced rats. Exp Ther Med. 2017;14(2):1184‐1192. doi:10.3892/etm.2017.4577 
Albuquerque EL, Lima JK, Souza FH, et al. Insecticidal and repellence activity of the essential oil of Pogostemon cablin against urban ants species. Acta Trop. 2013;127(3):181‐186. doi:10.1016/j.actatropica.2013.04.011 
Lu TC, Liao JC, Huang TH, et al. Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Activities of the Methanol Extract from Pogostemon cablin. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:671741. doi:10.1093/ecam/nep183