How to Distill a Patchouli Plant for Essential Oil

Written by ellen douglas
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Patchouli, which many people associate inextricably with the hippie movement, in fact boasts a long history as a perfume fixative and textile preservative. Because the fresh leaves of the Pogostemon patchouli plant yield a somewhat displeasing sharp scent when used in fragrance formulas, perfumers generally distil dried leaves in order to make patchouli essential oil. Patchouli grows best as a tender perennial. In warmer climates the shrubby herb stays in the ground year-found, but in colder zones it's best grown in pots and brought indoors for the winter.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Patchouli plants
  • Pruning shears
  • Stockpot and lid
  • Small grill or canning rack
  • Brick or casserole dish
  • Heat-proof bowl
  • Ice cubes
  • Glass or ceramic jar with lid
  • Small glass vial or bottle with cork or stopper

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  1. 1

    Harvest the plant in midmorning, after the dew dries. Prune several patchouli plants by cutting them down almost to the base, leaving several inches to regrow.

  2. 2

    Hang the plants, in bunches, in a shady, dry area for several weeks.

  3. 3

    Separate the leaves from the stems and reserve the stems for another use, such as adding fragrance to a fire.

  4. 4

    Place a heat-proof grill or canning rack at the bottom of a large stockpot.

  5. 5

    Put a clean brick or overturned casserole dish over the grill and rest a heat-proof bowl, face up, on top of the brick.

  6. 6

    Set the dried patchouli leaves on top of the grill, in a circular pattern around the brick and bowl. The leaves should reach about halfway up the outside of the bowl.

  7. 7

    Pour distilled water over the leaves, completely saturating them.

  8. 8

    Turn the burner on high. When the water begins to boil, lower the heat to simmer.

  9. 9

    Cover the stockpot with its lid inverted, so that the handle hangs upside down inside the pot, centred over the bowl.

  10. 10

    Place ice cubes on the centre of the pot's lid. This action causes condensation within the pot. The bowl collects the distilled patchouli water essence.

  11. 11

    Simmer the patchouli leaves and water for several hours, adding fresh distilled water as needed. Make sure the distilled water goes only over the leaves, not in the collected liquid in the bowl.

  12. 12

    Replace the ice cubes on the outside of the pot's lid as needed.

  13. 13

    Allow the pot and its contents to cool.

  14. 14

    Pour the collected patchouli essence from the bowl into a glass or ceramic jar. This hydrosol, useful in its current form as a perfume or bath ingredient, can be further separated into essential oil and a less-potent hydrosol.

  15. 15

    Place the covered jar in the freezer and remove once the liquid has frozen.

  16. 16

    Pour off the unfrozen liquid floating on top of the frozen matter. This is your patchouli essential oil.

  17. 17

    Store the patchouli essential oil in a small dark vial or bottle.

  18. 18

    Check the oil every month or so by placing it on a wood scarf or adding it to jojoba oil and dabbing on the skin. More than many other oils, patchouli oil needs a significant ageing process in order to achieve the desired mellowness.

Tips and warnings

  • Aromatherapists consider patchouli oil useful in treating depression and even as an aphrodisiac---assuming, of course, that you have no unpleasant associations with patchouli's ubiquitous use in "head shops" and other '60s-era hangouts.
  • Cosmetically, patchouli essential oil works well in moisturising and anti-ageing skin formulas.
  • Fragrance makers utilise patchouli oil as a base note essence. Master perfumer Mandy Aftel advises that it blends well with cedarwood, clary sage, clove, lavender and rose.
  • Dried patchouli leaves are also readily available from herb supply companies or from health food stores.

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