CI Fragrance Diaries: Poignant Patchouli
Patchouli is a paradoxical and characterful herb from the aromatic lavender, sage and mint family. When you first encounter the strong, sensuous smell of patchouli you might imagine the plant to be solid and hardy, but in reality it is a small and unassuming perennial shrub which grows to barely one meter with thin stems and soft, fuzzy leaves.
In perfumery, the patchouli fragrance note is grouped with Woods & Mosses and can be described as warm, spicy & earthy with a green, herbaceous heart and a woody base. Like a person with an exuberant character, patchouli will often elicit a strong reaction in people – you will either love it or hate it. Its most endearing feature is that it sweetens with age. With time its powerful odour will mellow, becoming a rich and full fruity scent.
Contrary to its polarising standalone effect, patchouli is able to blend well with almost any note and amplify it – creating depth for other scents to rise from – which is why this fragrance is a cornerstone of modern perfumery. Each year 1000 tonnes of patchouli oil are produced globally, of which 80% comes from Indonesia. A 200kg harvest of patchouli will yield just 1kg of patchouli essential oil.
As with many linguistic inheritances from ages gone by, it’s hard to get to the bottom of the true meaning of its name. One source claims it received its name from the Hindi word pacholi meaning “to scent”. Another source claims it originated from the Tamil words patchai (meaning “green”) and ellai (meaning “leaf”). Our earliest of its use date back to ancient Egypt, indicating that patchouli was traded across the continents.
Patchouli went on to have a long history in China after first being introduced to the region some time during the Northern and Southern dynasties (C.E. 420-589). The plant was widely used as a medicinal herb to treat inflammation, dry skin and other ailments.
It was during the 18th century that Chinese silk merchants noticed patchouli acted as a powerful insect repellent – a matter of great concern when keeping silks safe from moths on the long road to the Middle East. They began to wrap their fine fabrics around patchouli leaves and the silks would arrive with a unique scent which would become the benchmark that determined the authenticity of Eastern fabrics and positioned patchouli as a luxurious and affluent fragrance.
Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have brought patchouli-scented cashmere shawls from Egypt as gifts for Josephine de Beauharnais. She loved them and had to have more.. The mysterious scent was soon coveted by the french elite but they were forced to import the exotic fragrance from the East until the secret of its origin finally broke in 1837. It was the Spanish friar and botanist, Francesco Manuel Blanco, who described the silk scent as Mentha Cablin. By the mid 1800’s, French perfumers were importing the plants and distilling them for the fragrant oil.
Fast forward one hundred years and patchouli saw a resurgence in the 1960’s thanks to the many hippies who travelled to India returning with incense and crude patchouli fragranced products, and today the scent is still associated with this counterculture.
Aromatherapists consider patchouli to be a grounding and balancing scent with numerous health benefits, making it ideal for therapeutic use in cosmetics.
Working with perfumers from the Grasse region in Provence, Cape Island has sourced sustainable and pure patchouli oil which features as the heart note of our Safari Days – a composition that has been designed with the wild African bush in mind. The Safari Days fragrance represents everything that our brand aspires to be… Exotic luxury at its finest.
If you are enticed by patchouli then check out our Safari Days fragrance collection here…
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