How Patchouli Made Its Triumphant Return to Perfume Bottles Everywhere

Photo: Getty/Isabella Dias
In American culture, patchouli has traditionally brought about a very specific image from the "free love" era, featuring long hair, incense, and tie-dyed wall hangings (think: a scene out of That '70s Show). But long before its most recent hippie-era history, the musky scent was used in a number of East Asian practices, popping up in rituals everywhere from India to the Middle East. It was popular in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, and brought to Europe in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte via the Silk Road. In 2019, the rich scent has made a resurgence in the fragrance industry, taking on a new life entirely.

That's for good reason: While the aroma of patchouli is undoubtedly linked to memories of peace and love for many, it also has its fair share of positive properties. "Patchouli is soothing to the nervous system, grounding and centering," says Amy Galper of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. "It supports the flow of energy and circulation and eases feelings of irritability and stagnancy discomfort during women’s cycles." And, fun fact! When you blend patchouli with sandalwood, ylang ylang, or jasmine and sandalwood, she says that it can offer some aphrodisiac properties (in case you're looking for something to spritz yourself with ahead of a romantic evening).

Modern perfumers, it seems, are taking note. "I grew up in the '60s and '70s in San Francisco," says Katharine L'Heureux, founder and CEO of Kahina Giving Beauty of her earliest associations with the note, which at the time weren't totally positive. "Now I realize that a good quality patchouli is something quite different from the fragrance of my memories." She formulates her products with a patchouli sourced from India (where it's known as "Tamil"), which she classifies as earthy, woody, and slightly spicy.

And she isn't the only one blending to capitalize on patchouli's powerful aromas. Lately, it's been popping up in perfumes, candles, room sprays, and oils from some of our favorite brands, none of which are meant to be used to mask the scent of cannabis. Instead, the scent beautifully lends its warm, musky notes to create intoxicating fragrances that are somehow sweet without actually being sweet at all. Sniffing patchouli is like being wrapped in a hug in the middle of a forest. Even legacy luxury brands are making note of patchouli's, well, notes, with Gucci, and Lancôme both utilizing it in their latest eau de parfums.

So in addition to all of the fruity and floral fragrances that have become staples in your spring scent wardrobe, consider adding elegant patchouli into the mix, care of some of our faves.

To up your scent game even further, memorize these rules for how to wear it the right way, or add some functional fragrances into the mix.

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