Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pogostemon cablin - Patchouli

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin; also patchouly or pachouli)  consists of some 30 or 40 species of shrubs, subshrubs, and herbaceous plants native to tropical Asia. 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 heart-shaped leaves are 4 inches long, deeply veined, and notched. Flowers of P. cablin are white, while those of P. heyneanus are tinged with purplish pink. The name Patchouli comes from a Tamil word, paccilai, meaning “green leaf”. An alternate common name seen in some older references is pucha-pat.

Patchouli oil and incense became very popular in the US during  the 1960s and 1970s, due to the hippie movement.  Patchouli oil can be purchased as an aromatherapy oilAromatherapists consider patchouli to be an aphrodisiac based on the belief that the odor stimulates the pituitary gland to release endorphins and so is recommend for external use to treat anxiety.  The oil is used in the East generally to scent linen and cloths, and it is believed to help prevent the spread of disease. When used in Massage and Bath Oil Blends, Patchouli reduces anxiety and depression and produces a warming and sensual feeling.

Patchouli oil is one of the most important and valuable raw materials in perfumery industry and is an important ingredient in East Asian incense. Leaves are harvested several times a year and some sources claim the best quality oil is usually produced from fresh leaves that are distilled close to where they are harvested.  Extraction of patchouli's essential oil is by steam distillation, light fermentation, or drying.

It is used in cosmetics, perfumes, toiletries, potpourri, and breath refreshners and in alcoholic and soft drinks.  It works as a deodorant by masking body odor and is said to rejuvenate dry skin.  The oil of P. cablin flavors chewing gum, baked goods, and candy, and oil of P. heyneanus has been used in India ink.  Major producers include China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, and Brazil.

Studies indicate that patchouli oil is a great all-purpose insect repellent.  The undiluted oil of patchouli, along with citronella, clove and prickly ash, proved effective in providing two hours of  complete protection from mosquitoes.  Cotton balls saturated with pa­tchou­li oil and placed among stored clothing can substitute for the dried leaves as a moth repellent. Patchouli oil has also been used to repel silverfish and bookworms from books.  Mixing equal parts of dried patchouli leaves with the dried and finely ground flower heads of pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium or Chrysanthemum roseum), is believed to increase the repellent’s effectiveness.

In Napoleon's time, the insect-repelling leaves were used in packing expensive, luxurious textiles for shipping to Europe, thus the scent became an indicator of authentic merchandise as it lingered on scarves and shawls worn by wealthy. Copies of the shawls failed to sell until manufacturers realized that the exotic scent was part of the attraction.  Eventually, fashion trends shifted and the scarves, shawls and fabrics soon became part of the wardrobes worn by prostitutes.

The plant and oil have many claimed health benefits in herbal folk-lore and the scent is used to induce relaxation. But Patchouli is not widely used as a medicinal herb; its use may cause loss of appetite, loss of sleep and nervous disorders.  The oil is reported to possess antibacterial properties and infusion of fresh leaves has been given in menstrual troubles. Its leaves have also been used as a first aid measure to stop the flow of blood as styptic.

In China, Japan and Malaysia the herb is used to treat colds, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and halitosis.  And in Japan and Malaysia, it is also used as an antidote for venomous snakebites.

Patchouli should be treated as a very tender perennial or an annual, it grows well in warm to tropical climates.  It thrives in hot weather but not direct sunlight.  It might be better to grow it as a house plant if you live in the colder norther states.  It does well in semishade on a windowsill or under fluorescent lights. 

Patchouli likes a moist soil, the plant grows fast and should be transplanted to larger pots as needed.  If the plant withers from lack of watering, it will recover quickly after it has been watered. It blooms late in the fall and the seed-bearing flowers are very fragrant. The tiny seed-like "nutlets" can be harvested for planting, but be careful handling them as they are quite fagile and can be crushed very easily.

Patchouli can be propagated by rooting some cuttings in fall or winter, (choose a semi-woody stem), and from seed sown indoors in late winter or spring.  You should also pinch off the tips to promote further branching.  The fragrance can be a little strong in close quarters, especially at night.

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