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The scent of patchouli is grounding and bewitching, and will transport you to dense Indonesian forests.

What is patchouli?

Patchouli is a fragrant bushy herb that belongs to the same family as mint. It can grow as high as three feet tall, with purple and white flowers growing from its long stems.

Why do we love patchouli so much?

  • It has an earthy, warm aroma that takes you on a meditative journey. 
  • It is antibacterial and soothing to the skin and armpits. 
  • Its aroma is said to balance and ground the mind, and harmonise emotions.

Like moths to a flame

On Saturday, 4th July 1846, the London Daily News advertised: “Viner’s patchouli is confidently recommended as the only remedy known to prevent moth. In foreign countries, the peculiar properties of this Indian perfume are highly appreciated.” This perfectly illustrates how patchouli arrived in England during the Victorian era: the plant's aromatic leaves were slipped into the folds of Indian textiles to avoid the ravages of insects during their journey to other lands. Impregnated with an unmistakable aroma, Indian shawls were sent to Great Britain, where they were all the rage. The ubiquitous scent soon became symbolic of luxury and the mark that distinguished a material of Indian origin.

Why is patchouli linked to hippies?

The scent of patchouli made a comeback in the 1960s, also imported from Asia - but this time in backpacks! The Hippie Trail was a promising mystique adventure and, if lucky, a spiritual enlightenment. An overland round trip of roughly 12,000 miles, this trail took hippies through Istanbul to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India. Herbal handbook writer Stephen Orr writes that patchouli’s association with the era is “due to the Asian travels of backpacking hippies, who brought home the scented oil and incense as a reminder of their spiritual awakenings.”

The story also goes that patchouli oil was used to mask the scent of marijuana. In terms of pure usage, it’s plausible: cannabis was a booming business in the American counterculture of the 1960s. It was also suggested that marijuana and patchouli don’t smell all that different and hippies simply wanted their bodies to smell like their bedrooms. An argument can also be made that patchouli smells of fresh soil and roots, an ‘authentic’ scent that recalls hippies’ aspirations to connect with the natural world.

Where does Lush source patchouli?

Patchouli is used in our products in several forms (essential oils, root…), and each of them can be purchased in different places worldwide. For example, our dark Sumatran patchouli oil comes from a remarkable producer, the Gayo Lues Permaculture Center in Indonesia. Their practices are designed to support the health of Sumatra and Borneo islands’ ecosystems, protecting the primary rainforest and its inhabitants, like the noble orangutans. 

To learn more about our other sources, browse your Lush product’s list of ingredients and click on the ones you are interested in. This should take you to a page full of details!

Two of Lush’s most iconic fragrances contain patchouli. If you’re a fan of the earthy oil, have a look (and smell!) at our best-selling Karma and Lord of Misrule ranges.

Homepage - Patchouli