Patchouli Phreak Project

by | Jun 20, 2024 | natural aromatics, natural perfume, natural perfumery course | 8 comments


Patchouli – most people love it or hate it. I’m a hippie from the mid-1960s, so you can guess where I stand. The phrase patchouli phreak was used back then, it described us. The patchouli phreak project will cover something I don’t believe us hippies would have imagined – that we collected and hoarded oils for decades, but here we are!

I have a collection of patchouli oils from various countries and from different time periods. I wish I still had some I got back in the 60s, but they’re long gone, used up, vaporized into the air. Recently, I did a scent re-evaluation of many of the oils and discovered some amazing evolution in the scents. Patchouli is a “base” note in perfumery, which means it will last indefinitely under good storage conditions, and mellow and evolve during storage.

Patchouli shrub in my front garden

In the next few months, I will write about many of the oils I have stashed in my extensive collection. I’m not going to give the history and create monographs of each oil, I just want to share some of my observations after almost 60 years of collecting them. For the record, I typically use light patchouli in my perfumes, a molecularly distilled oil suitable for replicability and smoothness.

It’s important to reference the Lexicon I provide for my students to describe all the variations in scent notes that I found within the different patchoulis. Typical textbooks and references say that Patchouli is a base note, woody, musky, balsamic, earthy, etc. However, those few descriptors are rather limited and don’t convey the variety of top, middle, and base notes found within this intriguing oil. Many people don’t know that almost every essential oil and absolute has its own top middle and base notes. Of course, we know that where they are grown, harvest time, soil, and extraction methods can give great variance to any oil.

The Most Unique and Lovely Oil

Many of the patchouli oils I have are rather as expected. I should add that many of my patchouli oils are aged, some of them 20 years or more. So my findings while hopefully expanding your observations of oils when you evaluate them in the future, will also encourage you to put some aside and age them, like a fine wine, to determine where their chemical constituents take them. I can say without hesitation because Patchouli is such a stable heavy molecule not one of my patchoulis ever went bad (oxidized) or rancid as some oils can.

Sixteen ounces of last-century exquisite patchouli oil 

from Camden Gray

Lexicon for the oil I’m describing today from Camden Gray, purchased in 1999:

Smooth, rich, earthy, balsamic, cedar, mitti, ozonic, geosmin, petrichor
From Wikipedia:

Petrichor wafts through the air when rain falls on rich, healthy soil. That soil is home to millions of microorganisms that produce a chemical compound called geosmin.

Geosmin is a gas produced by a group of bacteria called Actinomycetes, though it’s unclear why. You can smell geosmin after it rains, or in your garden after tilling soil or watering plants.

So, petrichor is detected as the rain falls on the soil, and geosmin is the scent released as a gas by the soil bacteria. I took a course in soil microbiology and was married to a Ph.D. in soil microbiology, so I am always intrigued by soil/bacteria/air/water interactions. I also smell the subtle ozone in this oil that can manifest before it rains.

This oil seems to include a spectrum of scents from petrichor to geosmin. Very unusual.

Mitti is an Indian co-distillation of soil that has been saturated during monsoon, then dried out and mixed with sandalwood oil in the distillation unit. The patchouli I’m writing about here has that mitti smell (actually more mitti-ish than any mitti I ever experienced) without the sandalwood, of course.

Patchouli is expected to be smooth, soft in nature, if “loud” in wafting diffusion. A little goes a long way, as you may know. Earthy is a given, it has deep, rich tones, but this oil takes it beyond that, really invoking soil in a beautiful, fresh, uplifting way. It’s just so unique from all the patchoulis I have ever experienced.

Balsamic is a sweet, warm, resinous, forest-type fragrance. This oil certainly takes me to a sweet-smelling forest, a touch away from a fougere family perfume, only needing to be uplifted by some lavender and wild citrus.
I’m encouraging you to put the base note oils away to age in a cool, dry place, and observe their evolution over time. This patchouli project has been very inspiring to me, and I hope you look forward to the next oil I write about.

Leave a comment on this oil or any patchouli oil you love, and I will enter you in a random drawing for one ounce of it. Open to USA residents only. The drawing will be held on June 25th, 2024, and will be announced here on the 26th.


  1. Sandra

    I love the scent of patchouli, so earthy and calming.

  2. Georgia

    Ooo I just love patchouli so much! I’m trying to grow out enough to distill it. Indian silks were packed with patchouli leaves to keep moths from eating them and that’s how it became so popular!

  3. Bonnie

    For an oil with such a strong personality, I have always been amazed at how soft, rangy and delicate are patchouli plants. As if they need a strong spirit to support their fragile physical being. I agree, that aged, patchouli oil is another level of elegance. I look forward to reading about the other patchouli extractions in your collection.

  4. Laura Tooley

    Patchouli has been my favorite fragrance since I was a child. My sister who is 20 years older than me often wore it in the 1960s.

    The descriptive scent qualities provided In the article elicit wonderful visualizations of the scent.

    I too have assembled a small collection of patchouli oils over the years and have marveled how some that did not have the best characteristics when I first acquired them, have matured and improved with time. Would love to hear about other patchouli oils you’ve collected.

  5. Susan Marynowski

    I’m not quite old enough to be a phreak, but I love patchouli SO MUCH! I have worn it as a fragrance for many years and have tolerated the teasing because it just feels right for me.

  6. Aliza Earnshaw

    I adore patchouli. It makes me feel grounded and peaceful and happy, and now, because of your blog post, I understand why: It’s triggering the same feelings I get from gardening, from being close to the soil.

    The only thing about patchouli that’s a problem is how lingering it is, and how widely it wafts. I fear offending people who associate the scent with pot, dirt and sex — the “dirty hippie” association of it. So I have been trying to figure out ways to enjoy it myself without inadvertently triggering negative feelings in others.

    One way has been using a soap I happened to buy in England — the brand is called Faith in Nature, and the scent is actually called Aloe Vera, but there’s plenty of patchouli in it. I also have tried adding a little patchouli to lotion — it seems like a simple way to wear a diluted version of patchouli, and I enjoy the scent as I apply the lotion.

    I sure wish this were a scent that made everyone as happy as it makes me! And thank you so much for this wonderful description of all the notes in one specific patchouli. It was so educational.

  7. Jen

    Patchouli is one of my favorites. Deep, earthy, sultry. I specially adore it’s heavy scent during warmer weather,

    • Anya

      Hi Jen

      Congratulations, you have been randomly chosen as the winner of this fabulous patchouli oil. Please write me privately at Anya at and provide me with your mailing address. The oil will be mailed next week.


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