Patchouli, also known as Pogostemon cablin in scientific name and Guang Huo Xiang in Chinese, has a reputation for being one of the best summertime medicines. One of its most popular modern preparations is the Regular Care Herbal Supplement (Huoxiang Zhengqi Shui), which is so versatile that it is always one of the must-haves in the Chinese family’s medicine cabinet checklist. This is one of the classic herbal formulas frequently used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). But don’t mistake it for a specific medicine for relieving summer-heat only. Instead, this formula has an extensive medicinal uses, especially on regulating vital energy, clearing dampness, and dispelling cold.
What is patchouli?
Medicinally it refers to the dried aerial part of Pogostemon cablin (Blanco) Benth., a plant in the family Lamiaceae. So, it is also commonly known as Herba Pogostemonis sometimes. Actually another herb called Agastache rugosa in different genus also shares the name of Huo Xiang. In comparison, patchouli herb has stronger scent and better medicinal properties. It is normally harvested during summer when the plant flourishes. After the reaping, it needs to be dried in the sun by day and covered tightly by night till it is fully dried.
This is a perennial herb or shrub that grows to 30 to 100cm in height. A unique aroma will send out when it is rubbed. Stems are erect and with multiple branches on the upper part. Older branch is stout and nearly round but the younger one is square and densely covered with gray-yellow pubescence. Leaves are opposite, rounded to broadly ovate, 2 to 10cm long, 2.5 to 7cm with, and with acute or obtuse apex, cuneate or cordate base, margin with blunt teeth or sometimes split, hairy sides, and densely hairy veins. Hairy petiole is 1 to 6cm in length. Verticillaster densely gathers into fake spica. Flowers are purple. Nutlets are nearly spherical and slightly flattened. It is native to tropical regions of Asia. In China it is mainly produced in Guangdong and Hainan but few of them bloom there.
Main chemical constituents are patchouli essential oil, which mainly contains patchoulol, norpatchoulenol, α-patchoulene, β-patchoulene, γ-patchoulene, α-guaiene, α-bulnesene, pogostone, caryophyllene, eugenol, patchoulipyridine, etc.
Patchouli oil benefits
Patchouli can be used for cooking in some uncommon dishes and snacks for the purposes of adding the flavor layers and increasing nutritional value. And patchouli plant is also a good option for front house landscaping. Apparently what this herb can do is much more than the above-mentioned benefits. Its whole plant can stop vomiting, heal abdominal pain in cholera, get rid of bloating, and clear summer-heat; fruits can be used as fragrance; leaves and stems are rich in essential oil that can be used as the raw materials of perfumes thanks to its strong and heavy scent. When it is used in aromatherapy, it blends well with lavender, jasmine, vanilla, and others according to the preference. You are bound to be marveled at this long list of patchouli products – patchouli based perfumes, soap, candles, hand lotion, incense, fragrance for women, air freshener, aftershave, cologne for men, deodorant, herbal shampoo, tea, and so on. More importantly, it is an herb for healing, which is widely used for the treatment of acclimatization failure, acne, seasickness, air sickness, air-conditions disease, Meniere’s syndrome (vertigo, tinnitus, and deafness), pediatric indigestion, prickly heat, leukorrhagia, hangover, insect bites, eczema, etc. As for how it works, please refer to its pharmacology.
Modern pharmacological actions of patchouli oil
1. It can promote the secretion of gastric juice, enhance the digestion, and relieve gastrointestinal spasm;
2. It has antiseptic and antibacterial effect;
3. It astringes to arrest diarrhea, dilates capillaries, and induces perspiration slightly.
Selected herbal remedies of Pogostemon cablin
The Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is pungent in taste and slightly warm in nature and enters three channels of spleen, stomach, and lung. Essential functions are resolving damp with aromatics, harmonizing the stomach to prevent vomiting, and dispelling summer-heat to relieve superficies syndrome. Vital patchouli uses and indications include bloating and fullness of the stomach due to damp retention in middle-Jiao; loss of appetite; vomiting; diarrhea; chills, fever and headache by exogenous summer-heat and damp; fever and fatigue in the early stage of damp-warm syndrome; Chest tightness and nausea; nasosinusitis; and tinea of feet and hands. Recommended dosage is from 5 to 10 grams (fresh herb) or 10 to 20 grams (dried herb) in decoction, teapills and powder. And cooking it for too long is inadvisable.
1. Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San. From Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary), this is a formula mainly used for typhoid fever induced headache, chills and fever, cough, crymodynia in heart and abdomen, nausea and vomiting, vomiting and diarrhea in cholera, deficient singing in viscera, malignant malaria, overall puffiness, prenatal and postpartum blood-qi tingling, and pediatric indigestion. Other major herbal ingredients are Da Fu Pi (Areca Peel), Bai Zhi (Angelica Root), Zi Su Ye (Perilla Leaf), Fu Ling (Poria), and so on.
2. Hui Sheng San. From Bai Yi Xuan Fang (Precisely-selected Prescriptions), this prescription combines patchouli leaf with Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel) to treat profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting in cholera.
3. Huo Xiang San. From Ji Feng Pu Ji Fang (Jifeng’s Formularies for universal relief), this recipe uses it along with Gao Liang Jiang (Galangal Root) for the treatment of malaria.
4. Bu Huan Jin Zheng Qi San. From He Ji Ju Fang, it is usually made for distention and fullness in stomach, reduced appetite and nausea, and sleepiness and fatigue due to cold-damp affecting spleen. Other major herbs are Cang Zhu (Atractylodes), Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), and more.
5. Gan Lu Xiao Du Dan. From Wen Re Jing Wei (Compendium of Epidemic Febrile Diseases), it is mainly designed for equal damp-heat in the early stage of damp-heat syndrome. The rest chief herbs include Huang Qin (Scutellaria), Hua Shi (Talcum Powder), Yin Chen Hao (Capillaris), etc.
Patchouli side effects and contraindications
Generally this herb is considered safe when used in food amounts. As of the writing of this article there is no known patchouli essential oil side effects reported. In spite of the extensive patchouli oil uses, TCM wise it shouldn’t be used in the cases of yin deficiency with blood dryness, fire excess from yin deficiency, and constipation due to excessive pathogen.