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Patchouli

Patchouli

 

"We did not process the broom.However, we produced splendid patchouli; the leaves arrived from Singapore; one must believe that to have them travel in boat holds, in a warm and humid atmosphere did enhance perfume production! In the factory, on the right inside was the room for bags: we kept there all our bags, oranges, 'coulanes'? We also placed there our patchouli reserves and it was wonderful? The smell of the jute bags mixed with all other scents !"

-- From comments by Baptistine in the book Coulanes by Roseline FERRANDO A description of the Perfumery Industry History in the Grasse, Vallauris - Golfe-Juan region.

Before embarking upon another plant monograph, in this case Patchouli/Pogostemon cablin, I would like to mention once again a very important point. The information being shared is, at best, an attempt to open up to greater view a world that may be little known or understood. It is based partly on personal experience and partly on the experience of others who have a great deal more knowledge than I from the level of understanding essential oil production. I would like to gently encourage all reading this to bear in mind that I am also a very beginning student in understanding this subject. In short this is not meant to be an authoritative commentary on Patchouli but just one door into a very interesting world.

I think one could spend many years to truly understand all the information surrounding even one plant and its oil. Knowledge in the profound sense of the word alludes not to some stagnant body of information which is fixed and not open to change but something which is forever new and beautiful, freshning ones heart and spirit with ever new vistas of understanding. When one applies it to a subject so special as the world of nature, her aromatic plants, and the oils produced from them, I think one will truly find that they are in the primary class. Nature is after all nature and when even the tiniest glimpse into the infinite mysteries contained therein reveals itself to the heart one can only be glad that such a kindness was granted one. So it may prove that many of you possesses more up-to-date knowledge than is at my disposal and if you care to share it with me it would be a great happiness.

Etymology

Patchouli [a. patchouli, ?the vernacular name over the greater part of the Madras Presidency? (Sir G. Birdwood in Athen?um 22 Oct. 1898), the elements of which are referred by some to Tamil pach, pachai- green and ilai leaf: cf. the Bengl pacha-pt (pt leaf), and Eng. putcha-leaf, or PATCH-LEAF.

PATCHOULI, PATCH - LEAF, also PUTCH and PUTCHA-LEAF, s. In Beng. pachapat; Deccani Hind. pacholi. The latter are trade names of the dried leaves of a labiate plant allied to mint (Pogostemon patchouly, Pelletier). It is supposed to be a cultivated variety of Pogostemon Heyneanus, Bentham, a native of the Deccan. It is grown in native gardens throughout India, Ceylon, and the Malay Islands, and the dried flowering spikes and leaves of the plant, which are used, are sold in every bazar in Hindustan. The pacha-pat is used as an ingredient in tobacco for smoking, as hair-scent by women, and especially for stuffing mattresses and laying among clothes as we use lavender. In a fluid form patchouli was introduced into England in 1844, and soon became very fashionable as a perfume.

The origin of the word is a difficulty. The name is alleged in Drury, and in Forbes Watson?s Nomenclature to be Bengali. Littr? says the word patchouli is patchey-elley, ?feuille de patchey?; in what language we know not; perhaps it is from Tamil pachcha, ?green,? and ?l?, ?lam, an aromatic perfume for the hair. [The Madras Gloss, gives Tamil pa??ilai, pa??ai, ?green,? ilai, ?leaf.?]: http://original.bibliomania.com/Reference/HobsonJobson/data/683.html

The fragrance of Pogostemon cablin or "Patchouli" became popular in the United States during the counter culture era i.e the 1960's, and for many people(who lived through that period) the smell has strong associations for better or worse. Unfortunately the aroma that was associated with that time was often a product of synthetic formulations or poor distillations and has sometimes given the actual aroma of a well-distilled oil a poor name. The fragrance may deserve "re-exploration" by those who have negative associations of the oil for one reason or another. Properly matured leaves that have been distilled in stainless steel vessels in particular display very soft, subtle, precious woods-herbaceous notes that few associate with this plant. Those oils are also very light in color as compared to the darker colored oils that come from crude iron distilling vessels.

 

Plant description

The plant Pogostemon cablin is an "aromatic, herbaceous, perennial shrub, with erect stems, large green leaves and small white-pink flowers... Leaves are opposite, broadly ovate, apically acuminate, basally truncate to cuneate, with coursely serrate to dentate margins; slightly fleshy, softly tomentose mainly on the underside, and dropping when mature....mature leaves are 5-10 X 2.5-8cm, light to medium green in color, varying considerabley with location or cultivar....The essential oil is contained mainly in glands on underside of leaves..Glandular hairs are small with a short single celled stalk and double-celled head..." --Weiss, Essential Oil

Crops

Botanical nomenclature contains many descriptive words not in everyday use and for those who wish to gain a more exact mental image of the parts of the plants it may prove useful to refer to a glossary on the subject like the one listed below:
http://garden-gate.prairienet.org/botrts.htm
    glossary of roots of botanical names

The main source for Patchouli Oil is the leaves which have been properly prepared for distillation. The roots of mature plants as well as their stems also possess some essential oil but it is of an inferior order. So our investigation will now take us into the realm of how the plant is grown and harvested, how the leaves are prepared for distillation, etc

 

Personal Exposure to Patchouli

My contact with Patchouli has been somewhat limited. I have had the opportunity to visit the field station of the CSIR complex located north of Bangalore where cultivars of the Johar type were being grown on an experimental level. This was several years back. Since that time much work has been done in India with Patchouli because it is one of the oils that is imported from Indonesia in huge quantities. Some people may be under the impression that India has been producing significant quantities of patchouli on a consistent basis for many years but in actual fact very little indigenous oil was produced until the last couple of years(Still the amount being produced though of very high quality is a fraction of what India needs to become self sufficient in this oil. The consumption of patchouli oil in India is in the range of 40 metric tons mostly for mouth refreshners and chewing tobacco with smaller percentages used in perfumes and incense ). There can be no doubt that in ancient times patchouli was growing as a naturalized plant in India but as a commercial essential oil crop in modern times the production has been insignificant. Problems with the disease the correct cultivar suited for Indian soil types, climates, etc werenot addressed until one of India's major fragrance houses, SH Kelkar took up the work a number of years ago. They dedicated significant amounts of money towards practical research to develop a cultivar that could be grown in different regions of India. A variety called "Johare" was developed by their dedicated efforts and now it is being spread to regions of India where it is being grown successfully yielding healthy plants which, when distilled yield a superb patchouli oil.

"PATCHOULI (Pogostemon cablin)
The Patchouli Johare variety was introduced and tried under partial shade and open field. The partial shade had recorded 9 tonnes of herb yield as compared to 7.8 tonnes in open field without any change in oil content and oil quality. The tissue culture population and the MH treated population had stiff stem and more branched bush plants. These plants were resistant to little leaf and wilt diseases as compared to normal population. The MH and Tissue cultured population were multiplied and supplied to State Horticulture department for trial cultivation in Anugul of Dhenkanal district in Orissa and to Santiniketan in West Bengal besides massive multiplication in the RRL research garden. Work on the mutant population is in progress. ":
rrlbhu.res.in/ar2000/Current.html

So for detailed information about its current production we need to turn to Indonesia. Those of you who have an opportunity to study Ernest Guenther will find a significant amount of detailed information on Patchouli but for more contemporary information one might find E. A. Weiss, Essential Oil Crops a better source of information. In the following summary I will draw from both from Guenther and Weiss as each contributes material of value.

 

Environmental Considerations

Patchouli is a plant which enjoys high relative humidity and temperature and an even rainfall distribution. It thrives best where the temperatures remain in the 25-30 centigrade range and the yearly rainfall amounts to 80-120 inches(even distribution) If natural rainfall falls below 60 inches then irrigation becomes necessary to produce a commercial crop. As important as sufficient water is a fertile, well drained soil which means that the crops grows best on undulating land. It can grow in flatter regions as well but no water logging should occur as this proves fatal to young plants. The plants are very demanding in terms of proper fertilization and the traditional pattern has been to establish the crop on newly cleared lands and after three years rotate a less demanding crop into its place. But for long term care, the soil has to be nourished with natural fertilizers in the form of compost and green manure crops. The application of these age old and simple technologies will accelerate as people on the consuming end become more interested in supporting the higher costs of organic production.

Plants are generally propogated from cuttings(although in India and other countries tissue culture propogation is proving a good means of producing the plants in large quantities. These cuttings, selected from the mid-stem sections of semi-mature plants are then placed in shaded nursuries while they sprout new rootlets. As this is a crop which is generally handled by small land holders, the transplanting into field conditions is done by hand. Individual holes are dug for each rooted cutting and planted three nodes below the surface. They can be planted in open field conditions or as in intercrop among young or even mature plantations of coconut, rubber, citrus or coffee.

They often thrive under these situations where more intense cultivation practices are followed. It takes approximately 900 lbs of rooted cuttings to plant 1 acre of land devoted to patchouli. Planting is usually done so that within 6 months the plants will form a canopy to suppress weed growth. Weeding is generally done by hand during this time and after harvest as the tending of these crops is done by the farmers and their families on small plots of land.

The transplanting of the rooted cuttings usually occurs at the beginning of the rainy season as the cloud cover moderates the intense sun rays and helps prevent the tender young leaves from getting scorched. It also is the time when their is sufficieint natural moisture for the plants to establish a strong root system so that they can survive periods of time later in their life cycle when water may not be as abundant(during the non-rainy season)

I know that it may seem a bit tedious to go through the above facts and figures but unless we begin to grasp the labor involved in producing the aromatic crops from which the oils we love are distilled, the proper appreciation for the total process may not be born in our heart. Also in due course of time it may happen that some among you may become directly involved in supporting the production of a particular crop and for that reason alone one should become acquainted with the entire process of essential production from field to distillery.

 

Harvesting

The first crop is usually ready for harvest in the 4-6 month period when the plants are approximately 3 feet high. The foliage at that time is pale green to light brown. Subsequent harvests occur every 3-6 months during the productive life of the plant. One thing which could potentially improve the quality and quantity of oil is periodic foliar feed with kelp based products. I am not aware of any research that has been done in this area but with the thick foliar nature of the plants the micro nutrients contained in the kelp could greatly assist in the overall health of the plant and its subsequent oil. In order to produce oil of the highest quality only the three to five uppermost pairs of mature leaves should be harvested as this is where the highest concentration of oil is found in its purest form. This practice is only possible among small landholders and is seldom followed. From the level of the plant this method is ideal as it allows more rapid regrowth of the plant as their is a greater volume of remaining herbage to promote photosynthesis. It also is practical as the small local stills are often not equipped to handle large amounts of material as may happen when more vigorous harvesting techniques are followed. Generally speaking farmers tend to cut the plants 4-8 inches above the ground which means that included with leaves is a good deal of stem material. Ideally this should be separated out at the distillery but in fact is often included in the distillation process. Harvesting should not occur after rain or in the early morning when the leaves are wet with dew. The amount of material yielded by one acre is 2-4 tons in the first year under good conditions. A smallholder harvesting only the top sets of leaves obtains considerably less(although of higher quality). The yield is from 400-1100 kgs of material.

The percentage of moisture in the fresh patchouli cuttings is 80-85% with an oil yield of .5-1.2%. It means that 150 kilos of air dried material is realized from 1000 kilos(1 metric ton) of fresh material and from this 1-2 kilos of oil is obtained. This is based upon Indonesian growing and harvests techniques. In Malaysia the yield is a bit higher with 200 kg of air dried leaves being produced from 1000 kg of fresh materials resulting in 2-3kilos of oil. Indian grown patchouli has shown to be the richest in oil with 200 kilos of air dried leaves producing 3-4 kilos of oil. After the first harvest their is a significant decline in production of fresh leaves. It can fall from 20-50% of the initial crop.

 

Drying of the leaves

Once the material is harvested there is the critical issue of how they should be properly dried. Fresh patchouli leaves are seldom distilled(although it can be done with the proper equipment) The essential oil bearing glands of the fresh leaves are not easily ruptured by conventional distillation techniques but drying and light fermentation does allow regular steam distillation to occur. The proper drying and fermentation of the leaves goes a long way towards determining the quality of the oil. "After cutting, the stems and leaves are spread out to dry in thin layers on a hard, dry surface, usually in front of native huts or , more rarely on concrete floors. In Sumatra, the native growers frequently use bamboo racks. Proper drying is of great importance for the quality of the leaves, as well as that of the oil. During the process, the material should be frequently turned over by hand or with sticks in order to promote even and thorough drying and to prevent (rapid)fermentation. Drying is done directly in the sun, although shade from a shed with air freely circulating would be preferable . Sun drying doubtless causes some loss of essential oil by evaporation and, furthermore, leaves dried to quickly become brittle and easily turn to dust. On the other hand when dried too slowly the leaves remain damp, and develop the disagreeable moldy odor which remains predominant and is imparted even to the oil(Sun dried herbage may also become over dry, with subsequent loss of oil or leaves through shattering, while a dry temperature about 40 degrees Centigrade in Malaysia resulted in 80% loss of oil-E. A. Weiss)Depending on sunshine and atmospheric humidity, drying requires about three days, when leaves develop a strong characteristic patchouli note which is much less noticable in the fresh leaves. Careful growers spread their leavesupon grass mats and cover them with during rain showers, or take them under sheds or inside the huts upon indication of rain. The same is done as a protection from due. During the drying , it is most important to avoid fermentation whch readily takes places if the leaves are not spread out but stacked in wet condition. Rain showers may by sheer force through particles of earth or dust upon leaves while spread on the ground; this accounts in part for the small percentage of earth or little stones sometimes found in bales of dried patchouly. Improper drying is not always due to bad will on the part of the growers, but often to weather conditions beyond their control. Even well dried leaves, if stored loosely for a prolonged time, may on account of prevailing atmospheric humidity, develop that moldy odor which is so objectionable...."-- Guenther-Volume 3 Essential Oils

"Following drying, leaves are stripped from stems and placed in woven baskets containing about 15 kgs to allow fermentation, which a skilled grower controls by smelling the leaves. Over fermentation produces a moldy note while under-fermentation reduces oil yield but has no effect on the quality.." --E. A Weiss-Essential Oil Crops


Distillation

"The art of distilling patchouly involves considerable experience and is of paramount importance for producing a high grade of oil. Each lot of leaves requires special distillation methods, according to its condition. A lot containing much stalk material must be treated differentlh from consisting mostly of leaves. A lot containing much dust resulting from too brittle leaves again requires a different treatment.. There exists no general and fixed rules by which a high-grade oil of patchouly can be obtained, the working methods depending upon the type of still employed and upon the condition of the plant material. It can only be said that too short a distillation gives oil of low specific gravity ; whereas too high steam pressure or to long distillation may yield oils that contain resins of disagreeable odor. The difficulty lies in finding the optiumum and the proper point at which distillation should be stopped. The extreme limitations of distillation vary within 6-24 hours....

The bulk of patchouli oil is produced by smallholders and the crude oil sold to larger operators for cleaning and refining. Many small producers use direct-fire stills with leaves kept above the water level by a grill and a second grill may be used to keep layers of the leaves separate. ...A charge is normally 75-100 kilos of dried leaves which may be moistened with water during filling. In these still distillation time is generally 6-8 hours but up to 24 hours depending on the skill of the operator, since the most desirable oil fractions distill over last. Oil yield averages 1.5%-2.5% and is directly influenced by the amount of non leafy material included in the charge, depth of charge or amount of heat used to boil water or steam temperature...."-- E.A Weiss-Essential Oil Crops

Aging of the oil
Freshly distilled oil have a somewhat "green" and harsh note which, however, changes considerably with time. Aging of the oil for a prolonged period will develop that full, rich and almost fruity note for which the best grades of patchouly are renowned and so highly esteemed by expert perfumers..."

 

Review

In review I would like to share Guenther's succinct comments on what contributes to a good oil. If one reads them carefully one can see how complex the relationship is between the proper growing, harvesting, distillation of the plant and the oil produced. His analysis is classic and the principles he is explaining can be applied to many other aromatic plants and the oils they produce. Each aromatic plant is going to have its unique characteristics in terms of growth habit, when to harvest, etc and each distilling technique is going to have its own parameters for individual plants. This is something to keep in mind at all times. It is quite easy to think of this process in overly simplistic terms when in fact every part of the process from field to distillation unit is an art, science and craft.

1. The Quality of the Leaf Material-
a. The richest soil gives the best leaf material; the latter should contain few stalks. Good material yields about 3.5 per cent of oil
b. The plants should not be cut prematurely; yet the native growers are inclined to do so because they are usually in need of cash. Such plant material is too young and usually gives an inferior oil
c. The first two or three cuttings on a newly started planting five better leaf material; the quality declines with subsequent cuttings
d. The leaves should be slowly, carefully, and well dried in the shade without fermentation or wetting during the drying
e. Plants originating from the state of Johore and Pahang, seem to give a somewhat better oil than those from neighboring Sumatra(Indonesia) Probably there exists in Sumatra several varities of patchouly the botany of which is not yet fully established;some sections of Sumatra produce better leaf materials than others. It is possible also that the natives not only the planted patchouly but also leaves growing wild on the edges of jungles or old clearings. Labor in Sumatra is rather scarce, and this may be one of the reasons why Sumatra left material is always carefully prepared. It general , it can be said the quality of the Sumatra lots is irregular-sometimes excellent, sometimes inferior.
f. The age of leaves seems to have a marked influence upon the quality of the oil. The superiorityh of European and American distilled oils may be due to the long transport of the baled material. The usually high specific gravity of these oils may be attributed to evaporation of the lower boiling point constitutents of the oil in the plants, quite likely also to oxidation and polymerization, affecting the properties and quality of the oil. In British Malaysia and especially in Sumatra, the producers often distill the plant material too soon after drying; in fact some that leaft material is not baled at all but arrives in distilleries loosely packed in sacks. This, of course, gives oils of different qualities.

2. The Method of Distillation
a. The steam pressure during distillation must be carefully regulated. It is adviseable to alternate between higher and lower steam pressure
b. Prolonged distillation usually gives a higher yield and better quality of oil, provided the oil is not 'burned'. The most valuable parts of patchouli oil are contained in the higher boiling fractions obtained after prolonged distillation. Evidently increased consumption of fuel adds to production costs, but the top qualities of oil merit higher prices

3. Aging of the Oil
Aging of the oil is of utmost importance. A patchouli oil several years old possesses a much finer and fuller odor than one freshly distilled.

The uses to which patchouli oil is put include cosmetics, perfumes of all kinds, toiletries(with soaps being a major consumer of this oil), breath refreshners especially in the East(40 metric tons of patchouli are used by India's pan and tobacco chewing industry), incense, etc

Stephen Arctander provides us with some descriptions of the essential oil and absolute which act as a framework for our own odor profiles(this is a challanging individual activity but one that is worth pursuing as it allows a person to become familiar with oils of different origins.

Patchouli Essential Oil below summarized from Stephen Arctander-Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin::

Description: Patchouli Oil(native distilled) is a dark orange or brownish-colored, viscous liquid.

Odor Characteristics: ... possessing an extremely rich, sweet herbaceous, aromatic spicy and woody-balasmic odor. An almost wine-like ethereal floral sweetnessin the initial notes is charcteristic of good oils although this topnote can be absent of masked in freshly distilled, otherwise good oils. The odor should remain sweet through all stages of evaporation. Patchouli will remain perceptible on the perfume blotter for weeks or even months.* Dry or tarlike notes should not be perceptible throughout the first hours of study of the oil on a blotter, and cade-like, dry cedarwood like odor which may appear in the topnote should rapidly vanish and give way to the rich sweetness...Many perfumers have never-or rarely- have ever smelled other types than the dry,phenolic, cade-like type(*Obviously Arctander is describing a patchouli oil that is well aged and well distilled and this type of oil is not very common. It is rare in the first place to encounter an oil that is aged for two years) This type may be their standard of evaluation or they may actually like to use this type. In both cases it can be said that the bodynotes of patchouli should display an outstanding richness, a root-like note with a delicate earthiness which should not include "mold like" or musty dry notes... Tenacity in odor is one of the typical virtues of patchouli oil and is one of the reasons for its versatile use.

European or American distilled oils or a pale orange or amber-colored visicous liquid of seet, rich, spicy aromatic and herbaceous odor; it bears an overall resemblance to the odor of the native oil, but has a pronounced topnote of fruity, wine-like sweetness and less pronounced woody-earthy notes.The odor is often more spicy-balsamic and usually more tenacious than that of the native oil.

Blends well with: blends beautifully with labdanum, vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood derivatives, oakmoss, geranium, clove oils, lavender, rose, bergamot, neroli, orris... cassia, myrrh, opoponax, sage clary absolute, borneol, pine needle oils.

Perfumery uses: forms an important part in Oriental bases, woody bases, fougeres, chypres, opoponax bases...

Flavor Uses-Once widely used in Sen-Sen type of licorice flavoring. Combined with geranium, ionones, orris extracts, nitromusks, anise, clove, etc it produced a heavy Oriental flavor , popular as masking agent for alcoholic breath, onion or garlic odors, etc. as an "after dinner" candy:
http://www.slotbook.com/sensen.htm
     Great site on Sen-Sen

Essential Oil Content: 1-3.5% essential oil content in leaves. Hence it requires 29-100 kilos of leaves to produce 1 kilo of oil.

The Absolute of Patchouli
Patchouli concrete or resinoid is obtained by solvent extracting dried leaves, and it is a very viscous liquid who color depends on the solvent used...Dark orange brown, olive green, pale orange, dark brown Odor is finer than that of the distilled oils, very sweet, aromatic, rich and spicy and improves with age. Yield of resinoid from leaves is approximately 5%. An absolute can be prepared from the resinoid with an average of 70-80% of absolute from concrete. Hence 20 kilos of leaves yield 1 kilo of resinoid and 1.25 kilos of resinoid yield 1 kilo of absolute. It is one of the highest proportions of absolute from resinoid known.

Interesting notes (Information is provided for cultural interest, not as a recommendation for treatment of disease)
In the 19th century, the fragrance was used to scent fabrics manufactured in India for export to Europe. The oil is thought to improve with age, and is used with camphor to give India ink its characteristic odor. In its native Indomalaysian region it has been used also as an insecticide and leech repellent. Traditional uses in Malaysia include treating cough, asthma with a decoction or juice of leaves taken orally; treating rheumatism with a lotion made from the roots and applied topically; treating boils and headaches with a leaf poultice applied topically; also used in mouth refreshners like Sen-Sen.

Christopher McMahon White Lotus Aromatics, Ltd.

e-mail: somanath@aol.com

LINKS

http://www.winrock.org/FORESTRY/FACTPUB/AIS_web/AIS15.html patchouli as and undercrop http://www.fao.org/inpho/vlibrary/x0043e/X0043E0i.htm good basic information about patchouly http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/patcho15.html Modern Herbal selection on patchouly http://www.benzalco.com/patchouli/patchouli_page.html excellent article on Indonesian patchouli
http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl?767 phytochemicals