Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport

The Power of Patchouli

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Patchouli reminds me of Brussels Sprouts or Cilantro. You either love it – or hate it. There’s really no in-between.

Personally, I’ve always been fond of Patchouli, enjoying its fragrance in candles and essential oils. I knew Patchouli came from some exotic plant, but never in my wildest dreams thought about growing it in New Hampshire – until early spring of 2015.

While shopping for container annuals and herbs at Salem’s Lake Street Nursery during the early days of spring, there it was….a tiny 4 inch pot of Patchouli for under $5!

This trip to the nursery was after the record breaking winter of 2015, so there was so much hope for the months ahead – coming across the small Patchouli plant was an unplanned bonus. I had no idea what to do with it – nevertheless, it made its way back to Nashua  to be added as a whimsical item for the 2015 garden.

The young leaves had the fragrance of….well…Patchouli!

It was amazing to touch the leaves, releasing their oils to scent my hands and the air nearby.  It was also fun to show it to garden visitors, by breaking off a piece and asking them to guess what it is. Most people remarked it smelled familiar, but they can’t come up with the plant. Once I tell them, there’s always great discussion on the memories that the Patchouli fragrance evokes. One garden guest immediately shared that it smelled just like our friend, Karen. (She was absolutely right – I never think of Karen without thinking of her signature fragrance!)

By the end of the 2015 growing season, the Patchouli plant was about a foot and a half tall and wide and it seemed a shame to let the October frost claim it. So, an experiment ensued.

I cut the stems off and dried the leaves to create a small dish of Patchouli Potpourri. Within a few weeks, the fragrance from the dried leaves disappeared. After cutting back the plant to the soil level, it was watered well and over-wintered in the basement.  By spring of 2016, the Patchouli plant came back to life and was ready for another growing season in our New Hampshire garden.

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The perfect place in the 2016 garden was under a 30 year old Weeping Cherry tree in the backyard.  By the end of the summer, it turned into a huge shrub – reaching its maximum size of 3′ x 3′. Unfortunately, the growing season was not long enough to allow it to reveal the white flowers I’ve read about when researching Patchouli.

By late September, as the cooler nights started to set in, it was time to do something with the Patchouli. I really wanted to create some essential oil…..so I did.

It was a several week process — I used instructions found online. Since I don’t have the equipment to steam distill the oil, I used the method of infusing the dried leaves in the oil. Basically, you dry the leaves and infused them in a carrier oil. I used organic Sweet Almond Oil.

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Time to cut back the Patchouli

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The neighborhood Garden Cat supervised the Patchouli Harvest

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Patchouli after being infused in oil for 2 months. The entire plant fit in one hand.

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Production line – 12 one ounce bottles!

The jury is still out on the final result.  Personally, the fragrance is light and smells fresh or green – not deep and musky as I expected. Apparently Patchouli Oil improves with time. As it ages, it turns darker and the fragrance grows more potent.

Interestingly, many people are anxious to receive gifts made with plants from my garden. Not true with the Patchouli Oil.  More people than not have kindly said, “Thanks but no thanks.” So my few Patchouli loving friends are part of a longer term experiment to determine if the end product actually improves as it ages – like a fine wine!

In the meantime, I’ve been researching the various uses for the oil beyond it’s powerful fragrance. Among other things, I learned Patchouli Oil has been used for thousands of years and was once considered very valuable, being used as an exchange for gold by early European traders.  One pound of Patchouli for one pound of gold. King Tut even arranged to have 10 gallons of it buried in his tomb!

The history also includes use to scent fabric in the 19th century, to keep moths away, as well as to treat skin maladies and sexual dysfunction.  Today, it’s being used primarily as I expected, as a fragrance. The aromatherapy benefits of Patchouli Oil include anxiety, stress, and depression relief. You can learn more about the history and uses of Patchouli Oil at Mercola’s website.

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In the end, my production of Patchouli Oil resulted in 12 ounces of medium-yellow colored oil – to perfectly fill the 12 bottles I ordered for the project.  The label designed for the bottles includes one of the sunflowers from my garden grown during the 2016 season.  It will be interesting to save a bottle or two for a few years to see if the fragrance and color deepen to what I was initially expecting.  Only time will tell.

“Suddenly, I felt like I was wearing Patchouli Oil in a room full of Chanel.”

~ Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

2 thoughts on “The Power of Patchouli

  1. That is one well-grown patchouli plant! I’ve never tried making my own patchouli oil, but I use my dried leaves to make incense every autumn, and I’ve made beads (like rose beads but with patchouli) with them in my old cast iron skillet. What will be your next patchouli project?

    • The plant was beautiful last summer. Not sure if I’ll grow it again, but I like your ideas, Carolee. I’d also consider making smudge sticks.

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