It is one of those scents many people have heard about but the question in their mind remains: what does patchouli smell like?
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Why Is Patchouli Linked To Hippies?
Patchouli is associated with pot-smoking hippies as urban legend explains the scent masks the smell of marijuana (jury is still out on the accuracy of this statement).
It’s also commonly used as a base note in perfumes, but many are still not aware of what it is and what it actually smells like.
What is Patchouli?
The patchouli scent is a strong and dark scent but actually is a cheerful little (2.5 ft) bushy herb that blooms with light purple, pink-white flowers in the fall. It thrives in warm, moist tropical and subtropical climates.
Patchouli originates from Southeast Asia and due to the popularity of its scent, is grown in Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, China, and South America.
While Patchouli leaves are sometimes used as a cooking spice or tea, it’s most commonly used in incense and perfumery. After leaves are harvested, the essential oil is extracted from the leaves by steam or fermentation.
What Does Patchouli Smell Like?
Patchouli oil has an intense aroma, a combination of musk and earthiness, that’s also mildly sweet and minty. It smells a bit like wet soil or a cold, dark basement.
One of the best rules of thumb with patchouli scents is a little goes a long way. Patchouli oil can be worn alone as a single-note fragrance.
In perfumery, it is often used combined with other popular base notes such as vetiver, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh, or cedarwood.
Patchouli is also used as a fixative to extend the life of more volatile fragrances notes such as jasmine, rose, bergamot, and citrus.
Thierry Mugler’s Angel Perfume, for instance, combines patchouli with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate to form its much-imitated, signature scent accord.
Patchouli Scent Benefits
There is no shortage of Patchouli smell benefits. Now, patchouli oil itself can bring a variety of boons: it can help treat skin conditions, mitigate oiliness in hair, and give flavor to foods (when used in small measure, anyway).
But the scent itself can also be incredibly beneficial. For example, inhaling patchouli essential oils can stimulate the production of serotonin, which can be immensely helpful for relieving depression and mitigating anxiety.
By extension, this benefit can confer extra benefits, such as regulating appetite, easing physical pain, and increasing concentration.
On top of these medical benefits, of course, there are also aesthetic benefits. The earthy, musky scent of patchouli can help pull together the effect of a forest-themed space or confer a natural smell to a person about the town.
The Use of Patchouli in Perfumery
So, what does it smell like in perfume? Patchouli perfumes are used throughout the world, though it originates in Southeast Asia (to this day, it comes largely from India, China, Madagascar, Indonesia, and the Philippines).
Perfumers make the oil with a one-two-punch of drying and steaming. First, they pluck leaves from the patchouli plant, then shade-dry them to eliminate excess water. Then, they steam the leaves to distill the chemical compounds of the leaves into a liquid form.
From there, the patchouli oil is added to soap, detergents, cosmetics, and more. Interestingly, though, it is often not the primary scent in cosmetics (except for its use in hippie communities, as we detail above).
Instead, patchouli’s musky scent can add a strong grounding note to other aromas, giving the foundation that makes distinguishing lighter, more floral scents easy.
That said, patchouli-forward scents are also interesting in their own right. They bring an earthy, heady aroma that can be sexy and interesting.
So who likes patchouli? Do guys like its smell? Even though patchouli is widely associated with hippies, don’t let that stereotype limit your perception of the wonderful herb. It has a deep history, an interesting smell, and a variety of uses. All that remains is for you to put it on.
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Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.