Patchouli is a species of plant from the family Lamiaceae, commonly called the "mint" or "deadnettle" family. The plant grows as a bushy herb, with erect stems reaching around 75 centimetres (2.5 ft) in height and bearing small, pale pink-white flowers. It is native to tropical regions of Asia, and is now extensively cultivated in China, Indonesia, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, Maldives, Malaysia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Taiwan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, South America and the Caribbean.
Patchouli grows well in warm to tropical climates. It thrives in hot weather but not direct sunlight. If the plant withers due to lack of water, it will recover well and quickly after rain or watering. The seed-producing flowers are very fragrant and blossom in late fall. The tiny seeds may be harvested for planting, but they are very delicate and easily crushed. Cuttings from the mother plant can also be rooted in water to produce additional plants.
Extraction of patchouli's essential oil is by steam distillation of the dried leaves, requiring rupture of its cell walls by steam scalding, light fermentation, or drying. The main chemical component of patchouli oil is patchoulol, a sesquiterpene alcohol.
Leaves may be harvested several times a year and, when dried, may be exported for distillation. Some sources say the highest quality oil is produced from fresh leaves distilled close to where they are harvested; others that boiling the dried leaves and fermenting them for a period of time is best.
Patchouli is used widely in modern perfumery, by individuals who create their own scents and in modern scented industrial products such as paper towels, laundry detergents and air fresheners. Two important components of its essential oil are patchoulol and norpatchoulenol.
Patchouli is an important ingredient in East Asian incense. Both patchouli oil and incense underwent a surge in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in the US and Europe, mainly as a result of the hippie movement of those decades.