What does patchouli smell like?

Posted by Sabine van der Plas on

If you’ve smelled patchouli before - chances are you can identify or even recall its strong and characteristic aroma. If not - read along to discover this wonderful scent in words.

The scent of patchouli

Patchouli oil comes from steam distilling the leaves and stems of patchouli: a plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae) with green hairy leaves and white-to-purple flowers that's native to tropical parts of Asia. Its scent however, is one you wouldn’t expect from a plant in the mint family: as it is rich, earthy, sweet, woodsy, musky and a little musty. With a hint of mint. Reminiscent of freshly turned soil - in a great way. It's grounding, mysterious and sensual.

A base note

In perfumery and aromatherapy patchouli is considered a base note, which means the fragrant molecules are heavy and long-lasting. They don’t evaporate as quickly as top notes (such as peppermint and lemon). A perfume - almost always - consists of base, heart and top notes to give it complexity and longevity, and make the scent dynamic. Consisting of many different molecules with different volatility, patchouli oil in itself also has a scent journey. Mandy Aftel describes it in her book Essence & Alchemy: ‘It has a sweet, rich, herbaceous top note and an earthy, slightly camphorous body note that evolves into a dry, woody, spicy note.’

The scent of the 60s and 70s

Patchouli reminds people of the 1960s and 1970s, when wearing a pure patchouli scent was popular, especially in the hippie movement. Inferior synthetic formulations became common too, which led to a misconception about the natural material and patchouli became synonymous with an unpleasant, pungent fragrance.

Patchouli in perfumery

However, patchouli has been an elementary ingredient in perfumery and a key note of the chypre family of perfumes: a warm, mossy-woody base with contrasting fresh citrus top notes. But also floral perfumes such as well-known Chanel No. 5, Miss Dior and Lancôme La Vie est Belle feature patchouli. Next to adding its rich and earthy aroma to the scent composition, it works as a fixative, it extends the longevity of top and heart notes by slowing their evaporation.

A powerful and long-lasting aroma

Also by itself, patchouli’s aroma is also a powerful one: it can remain perceptible for weeks, even months. And too much patchouli can easily be overwhelming. As with wine, patchouli oil ages well: its scent will get even deeper, more complex and can develop smoky and fruity notes.

Curious for patchouli? It's a base note in our ancient forest blend.

Want to learn more about patchouli? Click here!

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