Patchouli, one of the most sacred oils of India, is rich, seductive, and imbued with silence. Patchouli essential oil now has fantastic research on its digestive abilities and its antidepressant skills.
A gorgeous, lusty antidote for anxiety, its effects are fast and immediate, even though its overall energy is slow. It is a beautiful skin food and protectorate, especially against harsh weather.
Patchouli essential oil has insecticidal solid and snake-repellent skills and is cited in Ayurveda for snake bites, especially from cobras.
What is Patchouli Essential Oil Good For?
Modern studies have revealed several biological activities such as antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, antithrombotic, and fibrinolytic (dissolves blood clots) properties. It also has aphrodisiac, antidepressant, antimutagenic, antiemetic, and cytotoxic activities. (Swammy, 2015) Aromatherapy is used to soothe anxiety and stress, to help insomnia and digestive issues, and as a tonic for colds and skin infections.
Where Does Patchouli Essential Oil Come From?
The name Patchouli sounds so evocative and exotic, yet its meaning is simply 'Green leaf' (Patch-green and ilai-leaf). It's not surprising that the secrets of the fragrance should be revealed in its name because if you were to see the plant, you would never guess where it came from. Patchouli essential oil smells rich, damp, woody, and resinous. It would be easy to imagine it had come from the heartwood of a tree or some arcane resin. Patchouli is distilled from a plant's leaves and pinkish flowers from the dead nettle family. It's extraordinary to think that Patchouli is a mint.
We might imagine that Patchouli comes from India, and its use has been recorded in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least 5000 years. But records by King George V, then Emperor of India and Governor of the Botanic Gardens of Calcutta, show that the plant's introduction to India had only taken place a decade before, in 1834. (Murugan, 2010) It originates from the areas that still export the most patchouli essential oil across the southeastern peninsula of Asia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Madagascar, and Indonesia.
Indonesia currently exports about 90% of the global patchouli oil essential oil supply.
The Secret Scent of Patchouli
The history of Patchouli is full of intrigue and greed, as the smell of the orient first reached British shores in the form of Paisley shawls in the 1840s. Every society woman wanted one of these beautiful soft textiles, which were imported from India in their thousands, all smelling of exotic Patchouli. The shawls were pricey, and very soon, the wool mills of northern England - where there was less money - started manufacturing excellent copies. The problem was, they smelt wrong. Where was the delicious Kashmiri fragrance?
Hand-dyeing textiles is a smelly business. While many dyes come from flowers, they need a mordant to act as a fixative. One of the best mordants is urine. Soaking yarn well to fix the colors has a less-than-desirable byproduct. In the East, they discovered that Patchouli was solid and attractive enough to disguise the fragrance.
In addition, the voyage from England to India, in the 1800s, via the Cape of Good Hope took at least six months, and sometimes three or four months more, depending on the weather and the final destination. That's a long time to keep precious cargo safe. Pests love to travel the seas with sailors and cargo, cockroaches, bed bugs, termites, flies, mosquitoes, and silverfish, and then we have mice and rats, all looking for places to keep warm and lay eggs. What better place to travel than in a delicious pile of soft scarves?
Patchouli has superb insect-repellent skills. Merchants carefully placed leaves into the bundles to protect them, then deftly removed them to conceal the secret before taking shore.
Of course, the secret would eventually be uncovered. When the Swiss began printing imitation Javanese batik patterns in the mid-1800s, they added a final treatment of patchouli oil to mimic the smell of their original batiks. (Johansen, 2008) (Robinson 1969, 42).
Patchouli Essential Oil in Perfumery
The plant is shrubby, can grow to around three feet, and likes to grow in dappled light, especially in shady teak forests. Leaves and stems are harvested and allowed to dry gently in the shade. They then undergo a distillation process to extract the essential oil. Patchouli essential oil is traditionally distilled in iron stills, contributing to its dark treacle appearance.
An important ingredient, patchouli essential oil provides a rich and heavy base not that acts as a fixative for perfume blends. It blends well with other essential oils and hints of the exotic to them. The smell of Patchouli essential oil is often associated with the hippy movement of the 1960s and 70s; however, theirs were often synthetic copies that lacked the complexity and elegance of patchouli essential oil.
Till now, more than 140 compounds have been identified within samples of patchouli essential oil, including terpenoids, phytosterols, flavonoids, organic acids, lignins, alkaloids, glycosides, alcohols, aldehydes have been isolated and identified from Patchouli. The main phytochemical compounds are patchouli alcohol, α-patchoulene, β-patchoulene, α-bulnesene, seychellene, norpatchoulenol, pogostone, eugenol, and pogostol. (Shwamy, 2015)
Unlike other oils that have much shorter shelf lives, patchouli essential oil is like a fine wine that improves with age.
The Energetics of Patchouli Essential Oil
Often when I do this kind of work, it becomes challenging to marry the nature of the oil with the science that needs to be explained. This is never so much so than with patchouli essential oil.
Energetically it is lusty, sensuous, slow, and inviting. It reminds us of the body's sacredness and how it can also be a doorway to spirituality. It grounds and earths us in the realm the Kabbalah calls Malkuth, the first position on the Tree of Life. It sits at the bottom of the tree beneath Yesod. It is the first step taken on the journey back to G-d.
Worldly spirituality, grounded and on the journey towards mastery of the shadow. Overcoming greed, lust and fear are all lessons of Patchouli, as are gratitude and forgiveness.
As a "medicine" for stress, it works so quickly. Smell it, and it's like it slows the second hand on the clock. Time seems to stretch out with Patchouli, and it's like a massive weight is hooked up on your thoughts, dragging them down from the headspace into the body. And suddenly, it's just quiet.
The Aphrodisiac Nature of Patchouli Essential Oil
Patchouli essential oil has a very masculine feel to it; indeed, in tantra meditations, it invokes the sacred masculine. The Lingham is smoked with Patchouli to bring the holy fire. So, by that, we might think about action over thought. The divine masculine represents leadership, taking charge, and doing rather than being. These, too, are the energetics of Malkuth.
So you might want to use patchouli essential oil to seduce, invoke passion and drive, or fight off fear or procrastination. Where something like grapefruit or sweet basil will get you on the starting blocks to get you running, Patchouli is the strong warrior striding out slowly, confidently, and font. If Patchouli had clothes on, he'd have animal furs draping over rugged leather and armor!
Now, from that divine vision to the less compelling images of how it acts upon poop!
Patchouli Essential oil and Digestive System
The leaves of the patchouli plant have been used as a decoction (boiled with other plants) in Chinese medicine for treating colds, headaches, diarrhea, and fever for centuries. Traditional usage also includes nausea, dermatitis, vomiting, abdominal pain, dampness, and to stimulate appetite. (Murugan, 2010)
Today, we understand that these excellent effects happen because of some ways that Patchouli essential oil acts upon the microbiome. Before we delve into how Patchouli works upon it, it will behoove us to get familiar with some details about the microbiome. There are many things to understand.
Also Read: Patchouli Essential Oil Recipes for Diffuser
What is The Microbiome?
A massive community of bacteria lives within our digestive systems, whose job is to help digest our food. However, we are beginning to understand that so many other aspects of our health may depend on the microbiome, in particular, homeostasis, immunity, and neurological health.
The gastrointestinal tract measures between 250-400m2 and represents one of the most significant human body interfaces and antigens and environmental factors. In an average person's lifetime, about 60 tons of food will pass through their digestive system. As each piece of food travels through, it takes an abundance of microorganisms from the environment. Each one of these is a potential threat to gut integrity.
The "gut microbiota" is a collective of bacteria, archaea (a group of microorganisms similar to bacteria), and eukarya (single-celled creatures such as microalgae). This community has co-evolved with human hosts over thousands of years to form an intricate and mutually beneficial relationship. It has been estimated that more than 1014 different types of microorganisms inhabit each gastrointestinal test and that they number in their trillions, somewhere between 10 and 100 trillion in each person. (Manokaran, 2022) Recent research suggests there may be as many bacteria living in our guts as we have human cells. This environment of bacteria, microorganisms inhabiting it, and the host body are often referred to as a 'superorganism.'
The microbiota gives us enormous amounts of support. It strengthens the integrity of our guts and shapes the epithelium of the intestines. It harvests energy and nutrients from our food, protects us against pathogens, and regulates our immunity.
However, these mechanisms can be disrupted by dysbiosis, which means the human bacteria balance falls out of balance. (Thursby, 2019) With this can come a surprising variety of illnesses.
The microbiome is best understood by seeing the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract being made up of two distinct layers. The epithelial layer, the solid tissue, is then coated with a slime on top that processes food through. The mucosa is made up of mucin cells.
Many of these bacteria live within the mucosa and work to protect the body from infection and inflammation.
When we look at rodent experiments, though, we see that if someone is malnourished, to get the necessary nutrients they need, the superorganism will devour mucin cells to supplement its diet. As the mucin layer thins, the tissues secrete proinflammatory cells. This is similar to what we might see in colitis or IBS, but it also means the rodent gets fatter.
Emotional and Mental Wellness and The Microbiome
The microbiome has a more arcane, fascinating, and vital action too. It might be the explanation for what we see as the mind-body connection. The gut-brain activity is gaining increasing traction in fields investigating the biological and physiological basis of psychiatric, neurodevelopmental, age-related, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Current research implicates gut microbiota in many conditions, including autism, anxiety, obesity, schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's. (Cryan, 2019)
The microbiota communicates with the brain through various routes, including the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, the immune system, and tryptophan metabolism.
Tryptophan has emerged as a key player in the microbiota-gut-brain axis. An essential amino acid critical for protein synthesis, it is the only precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is our mood modulator. It is necessary for emotional balance. As well as regulating our emotions, it contributes to how hungry we are, how well we sleep, and how severely we feel pain. Oddly, since it is a neurotransmitter, ninety percent of serotonin is found in our gut, where it is synthesized, rather than being found in the brain. Here it governs colonic motility and secretory activity in the stomach.
When Tryptophan catabolizes (breaks down), its catabolites are vital in gut inflammation.
Tryptophan and its metabolites also help develop the central and enteric nervous systems. Many neurologic and psychiatric disorders are caused by tryptophan dysregulation.
Tryptophan, directly and indirectly, influences gut microbes, which in turn causes changes in behavior and cognition. (Roth, 2021)
Amino Acid Messengers
In addition to those mentioned above, gut-brain communication involves microbial metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids, branched-chain amino acids, and peptidoglycans. (You'll understand this more when we get into the machinations of Patchouli.)
The microbiome is shaped mainly during early life. Many factors can influence microbiotic composition, including infection, mode of birth delivery, whether breast or bottle-fed, the nature of their early food, environmental stressors, and genetics.
Microbial diversity diminishes with aging. Stress, in particular, can significantly impact the microbiota-gut-brain axis at all stages of life, as can the use of antibiotics that can profoundly attack these allies to bring problems with immunity and the emotional well-being of inflammation.
Ok, ready…Patchouli then…
Patchouli and The Microbiome
A trial describing how Patchouli essential oil had probiotic effects was published in Frontiers Medicine in 2019. It explains how researchers divided mice into four groups: Patchouli essential oil, Patchouli alcohol or pogostone (PO), and β-patchoulene (β-PAE). These are the main active ingredients of Patchouli, each proven to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-allergy, and anti-cancer properties when tested in cellular and animal studies. (Leong, 2019)
The rodents were treated for 15 days. It is unclear what "treated" entailed here, but the trial discloses "non-toxic doses of ..". That implies oral dosage rather than topical use. It makes sense to exercise caution as aromatherapists and be clear of the limitations of this study. The mode of delivery would be different than through the skin. If it were taken orally, the oil would be metabolized differently than if it was used topically. The dosage would be more than our recommended maximum dilution of 3%. O, and of course, these were mice…So, in all cases, this is not a like-for-like experiment using patchouli essential oil on a person's skin.
That said, it gives us tremendous insights into what Patchouli essential oil is doing in our bodies.
Please offer a prayer of gratitude for the sacrifice of the furry ones because they were then euthanized before swabs were taken from their intestinal mucosa along with fecal samples.
The results showed that:
Patchouli significantly improved the condition of the gut lining in several different ways.
First, it improved E cadherin's expression and balanced N cadherin's levels. (Leong, 2019)
E-cadherin is an enzyme that encourages cells to build upon other cells to thicken tissues. Down-regulation of E-cadherin and up-regulation of N-cadherin are usually seen in patients with colitis, Crohn's disease, and especially colorectal cancer. When E-cadherin outnumbers N-cadherin, it becomes difficult for colonic tumors to sustain themselves. (Lubosova, 2010) (Schneider, 2010)
Patchouli then increased levels of the enzyme p-lysozyme in the mucosa. (Leong, 2019) Lysozymes stop harmful bacteria from growing, because they break down carbohydrates living in bacteria peptidoglycan cell walls. (Peptidoglycan…remember I said that was one of the routes of gut communication to the brain? )
Then, Patchouli promoted the growth of a mcin protein, Muc-2 (Leong, 2019), secreted from goblet cells in the epithelial lining into the lumen of the large intestine. Muc-2, along with small amounts of related-mucin proteins, creates the protective gel that protects the intestinal epithelium.
Patchouli helped make more slime, people!
Patchouli not only toughened the fleshy tissues of the gut and improved the mucosa, but it also suppressed proinflammatory cytokines. (Leong, 2019)
Then it got to work on the bacteria
Patchouli essential oil improved several beneficial bacteria levels, reducing some not-so-good ones.
Certain short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)-producing bacteria, e.g., Anaerostipes butyraticus, Butytivibrio fibrisolvens, Clostridium jejuense, Eubacterium uniforme, and Lactobacillus lactis were significantly enriched in the mice that had been treated with the patchouli extracts. (Leong, 2019)
Consider that short-chain fatty acids are a set of keys that fit locks that open up to good health. Great, so we see more SCFAs, but more of those keys would only be helpful if there were more locks (receptors) to put them in.
This is what we see.
Patchouli essential oil stimulates epithelial tissues to make more receptors for the good bacteria to bind to. (Leong, 2019)
By contrast, Patchouli essential oil cleverly reduced levels of several more harmful pathogens, Sutterlla spp., Fusobacterium mortiferum, and Helicobacter spp..
Recent reports link Sutterella as problematic to gastrointestinal diseases, the most intriguing being ulcerative colitis. We are protected against microbial invasion by antibodies called Inter Globulins. Interglobulin-A helps the microbiota to maintain homeostasis. Sutterella is problematic to gastrointestinal health because it degrades IgA. (Nadeem, 2020). It's interesting to see why Patchouli essential oil has always been so helpful for these conditions.
Sutterella is higher in the microbiome of children with autism than in the general population. (Manakoran, 2022) It has been suggested that this might be one of the most disrupting elements of the condition, and research is now being done into using probiotics. Patchouli essential oil would be indicated for people who have autism because of how it grounds and slows the mind anyway. This is an excellent example of how essential oils don't have side effects but have many main effects.
A reminder that Patchouli also reduced levels of helicobacter bacterium in the microbiota, a pathogen strongly associated with peptic ulcers, chronic gastritis, duodenitis, and stomach cancer.
We spoke earlier about Tryptophan, didn't we? Understanding that Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, but when it degrades, the catabolites can cause problems in the system. The other trial was able to show that the reason that Patchouli is so helpful for ulcerative colitis is that it effectively clears up after this process. (Qu, 2017)
When you can feel the focus of your energy being pulled down from your head down into your body, what you're probably actually feeling is Patchouli interacting with the lining of your gut! It couldn't be less romantic, could it?
Also Read: 10 Popular Patchouli Essential Oil Recipes
Patchouli Essential Oil - A Marvelous Antimicrobial Agent
In traditional medicine, patchouli plants treat fungal infections and the common cold.
In a study comparing 10 different essential oils for antibacterial and antifungal activity in vitro against fungi and bacteria taken from the skin, mucous membrane, nail, foot, and armpit, Patchouli essential oil was found to be the most effective in inhibiting 20 different bacterial strains and all 12 fungi it was exposed to.
In particular, Patchouli essential oil effectively inhibited Acenitobacter baumanii, Aeromonas veronii, Candida albicans, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enteric and Staphylococcus aureus. (Ickikawa, 1989, Pattnaik, 1996)
Patchouli Essential Oil Affects Dopamine
We've spoken of how excellent patchouli essential oil can be for mood and how it dispels thoughts and helps us to feel more in touch with our senses. In particular, we think of its aphrodisiac action. There is always a danger of being reductionist in speaking about molecules. Still, these effects in mood may be partly ascribed to the Tryptophan, but certainly to its actions on dopamine.
Interestingly, rodent studies show that Patchouli doesn't have that strong an action on serotonin, per se, but significantly affects dopamine levels. (Astuti, 2022)
As a neurotransmitter, dopamine is involved in pleasurable reward and motivation, behavior and cognition, sleep and arousal, and mood; it also helps food to move through the digestive system and other things.
Patchouli Essential Oil for Sleep
Lovely and soothing, Patchouli essential oil helps to bring deep sleep and dispel nightmares.
Patchouli Essential Oil for Skin
We saw how it had been used for dermatitis, and indeed it has both a cooling and soothing effect on the skin and nourishes it well. It is helpful for dry and cracked conditions, as well as those that are very inflamed. It would be beneficial in situations that are worsened by stress.
It has a protective element to it, and it is beneficial in creams to protect from the rigors of the weather, sunburn, and windburn. In particular works well with Patchouli, especially if blended with German Chamomile.
Trials also show that ulcers and suppurated wounds smell and hurt less and are aided in healing by Patchouli. (Lu, 2015)
Safety of Using Patchouli Essential Oil
It should not be used in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. Exercise caution if you have a platelet disorder or are on anticoagulant medication. Cease the use of patchouli essential oil 48 hours before planned surgery. However, this would be a great oil to use immediately to help your wound heal.
In a stressful world, patchouli essential oil can bring immediate solace. A relatively inexpensive tool that brings life and magnetism to all blends and remembrance that our bodies are our temples. How we show up in the world is sacred, and Patchouli helps us be grounded, calm and valuable to the community.