Reclaiming Patchouli from the Deadheads

Best known for its popularity with hippies, patchouli is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a plant that smells like a Grateful Dead concert.” But the earthy, herbaceous fragrance, derived from the patchouli plant’s aromatic leaves, had been used in perfumes for centuries before it was co-opted by 1960s peace-lovers. It’s time to reclaim the musky scent, which is showing up as a sensual—and sophisticated—balsamic base note in colognes, perfumes, and unisex blends. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Where it’s from

A bushy herb in the mint family with small, pale pink flowers, patchouli is native to tropical Asia.

Where it’s found

This powerful fragrance is found in everything from everyday laundry detergents and air fresheners to fancy soaps and perfumes. As a base note in Atelier Cologne’s Mistral Patchouli, it’s a musky counterpoint to zesty top notes and a floral heart.

What it’s good for

Patchouli is believed to have insect repellant properties, specifically against termites and moths. It’s also used as an antidote to snake bites and to combat skin disorders, like acne and eczema. As aromatherapy, patchouli is thought to relieve depression and anxiety—and some claim the earthy scent has aphrodisiac properties.

Need to know

If you don’t want to smell like a flower child, steer clear of synthetic patchouli and cheap blends.

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