What Does Patchouli Soap Smell Like?

May 17, 2020

Delicate purple and white flowers on a patchouli plant

The easy to identify scent of patchouli essential oil is rich, earthy and strong. It stimulates the senses; as deep a mystery and as dark as the night itself. We love patchouli soap blends so much at Island Thyme Soap Company we'd marry it if we could. But not everyone is a fan.

Patchouli: A Love or Hate Relationship

Most people either love or hate the smell of patchouli. There doesn't seem to be any in-between. Those who hate it say it just smells like dirt. Those who adore it like we do describe it as a mysterious and intensely earthy; dark-cold yet slightly sweet fragrance fills the senses, like a walk in a deep forest after a heavy rain; fertile, soft mud surrounded by moss and mint leaves.

Metaphysically and magically, patchouli is associated with both love and money, an unusual combination, and is often used to attract a rich mate. So there’s always that.

Botanical profile

Patchouli is a bushy herb with frilly green-leafed, purple-flowers. It’s member of the Lamiaceae, or mint. The name is derived from the Tamil words “patchai” for green and “ellai” for leaf.

There are several varieties of patchouli. Pogostemon cablin and P. heyneasus are the two most often cultivated for the oil found in the leaves. Of these two, P. cablin has a more potent fragrance. Dark patchouli essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves using iron vats whereas light patchouli essential oil is steam distilled using stainless steel vats. As the name suggests, light patchouli essential oil is lighter than the dark variety, clearer in color and fades more quickly. Dark patchouli essential oil is a more tenacious, deeper, and richer essential oil. The longer a dark patchouli essential oil ages, the more potent the the staying power.  Due to its intense scent, even when diluted, a little dark patchouli oil goes a long way.

Patchouli’s History

Originally grown in the East Indies, patchouli was a popular fragrance for centuries and even used as a flavoring herb in foods. Because patchouli was believed to repel moths, Asian silk and cashmere manufacturers would sprinkle it in the shipping containers they sent to markets in Europe. The silk was permiated with the exotic patchouli scent, which became associated in Western minds with the romance of far-away places. Europeans soon began associating the strong aroma with the luxury goods that were pouring in from the exotic East. It eventually became a symbol of luxury and the chosen scent for linen boxes used by Queen Victoria.

Counter Culture: Hippies and Flower Children 

Not only was patchouli valued in Asian incense and a fragrance base note included in European perfume to anchor some of its top notes, it also became highly popular during the hippie movement of 1960s and 1970s as a singlular fragrance note.  It was the favored scent for flower children all across Europe and North America.

Patchouli incense was often burned to disguise the scent of marijuana smoke. The essential oil was often worn alone on the skin as perfume for music-loving counterculture. Timothy S. Miller, author of The Hippies and American Values described hippies as a group sounding many early warnings of the increasingly obvious and severe degradation of the environment. Hippie writings on the topic tended to be antitechnological and philosophically based on Eastern metaphysics and pieces of the Native American tradition.

In Perfume: A Century of Scents, author Lizzie Ostrom describes patchouli as the “Anti-perfume. Sounds perfect for the anti-establishment types. She quipped, “With its wine-dregs smell, patchouli, a close relation of mint, is suggestive of gnarly plant roots and worms wriggling around in dehydrating soil.”

“Patchouli oil was the perfume that pretended it wasn’t. Unlike those ‘stuffy’ Diors and Guerlains that were made from a long list of ingredients, this was a natural product, which meant untampered with by humans (allegedly) and therefore authentic - straight from the Earth.” says Ostrom.

The Smell of Woodstock

Close your eyes and imagine visions of Woodstock. Now imagine the scent that filled the air. That entire famous weekend full of music and love in 1969 was marred by downpours of rain, which turned the festival grounds into a miserable bowl of mud. The festival-goers embraced it. 

We think it’s serendipitous a fragrance so deeply associated with hippies smells so wet, earthy and strong. Seems like kids of all ages like playing in mud.

If it smells like dirt, why is it so popular?

Even if you're not looking to bring back memories of the 60's, the dirty little secret is how beautifully patchouli fragrance blends with other essential oils. The flower children grew up to spend $80+ for perfume and cologne. There are some very upscale fragrances that you’d never guess feature notes of patchouli, like Thierry Mugler’s Angel, among others.

Our patchouli line uses the highest quality dark indonesian patchouli.

We think we have the best patchouli soap on the market. 

For the purist, we have Dirty Hippie Patchouli Coconut Milkl Soap. It's as close to earthy as your can get.  No frills or fuss, just straight, dark indonesian patchouli anchored in green clay. 

If you're not a purest, luckily patchouli essential oil mixes well with many other essential oils.

Lavender Patchouli Coconut Milk Soap is our best seller. East meets West in this simple yet elegant blend of French lavender and dark patchouli essential oils. This all-natural soap artfully combines the distinctive tones of two of the most celebrated scents in the world. It's magical and intoxicating!

The tie-dye swirls of our big, groovy bar of Flower Child Coconut Milk Soap host a heady blend of dark patchouli, sweet orange, lavender and lemon essential oils.

Patchouli Paradise Coconut Milk Soap marries the aroma of dark Indonesian patchouli with sweet orange essential oil making the lathering experience rich and bright. This beautiful orange bar of all-natural soap is cheerfully sprinkled with organic calendula petals.

Our Cedarwood and Patchouli Coconut Milk Soap features both woody and earthy notes of moss, musky bark, spicy red Virginia cedar all anchored on deep notes of dark Indonesian patchouli.

And our newest addition, Patchouli and Vanilla Bean Coconut Milk Soap is deep, earthy and bitter-sweet, like Dark Chocolate. It combines the slightly sweet, dark and musky-earthy aroma profile of Dark Indonesian Patchouli and the intense aroma of Madagascar vanilla beans with a subtle touch of cream. 

Since the possibilities are endless, we'll be adding even more blends featuring patchouli in the future. Or if you have a favorite, let us know! 

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