Find Your Scent: What Does Patchouli Smell Like?

Patchouli is an undeniably bold fragrance that people tend to love or hate — and while it ‘s often considered a “hippie” fragrance, patchouli is a crucial ingredient in some of the most luxurious fragrances out there. 

Along with the history of how patchouli has been used, we’ll also dive into what exactly this fragrance smells like, as well as which scents it pairs well with. Taking all of this into consideration, you’ll be ready to decide whether or not to make patchouli one of your signature scents this year. 

What Is Patchouli?

Knowing more about what patchouli is and where it comes from is the first step in truly understanding this distinctive fragrance. In this section, we’ll break down what the patchouli plant is, how its fragrance has been used, and the history of patchouli. 


Patchouli essential oil comes from the patchouli plant, a tall, flowering plant that is native to Southeast Asia. The name patchouli comes from two Tamil words, a language spoken in southern India. The Tamil word “patchai” means green, and the word “ellai” means leaf. 

Patchouli is likely named after its leaves, which are large and have a furry texture. The scent we associate with patchouli comes from these leaves — through a process of steam distillation, oils are extracted from the patchouli leaves, which are then used for perfumes and colognes. Of all plant-derived scents, patchouli is one of the strongest, which is why you’ll often find it balanced very carefully in scents.

The patchouli plant itself can grow up to three feet tall and features small purple, white flowers that grow out of its spikes. Patchouli technically belongs to the mint family, but it definitely doesn’t smell like mint… in fact, the smell of patchouli leads many people to believe that it comes from a tree or root rather than a green, leafy plant. 


Originally found in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, patchouli came West along the silk routes that brought fabrics, spices, and various products from Asia to other parts of the world. It’s thought that patchouli was packed along with silk and other precious commodities to protect them from insects like moths because it is an excellent insect repellent

Fast-forwarding many centuries, patchouli rose to fame in the counterculture revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Hippies often put patchouli oil directly on their skin, which is why nowadays it is still associated with the psychedelic colors and free-loving spirit of that time. 

What Does Patchouli Smell Like?

Now that you know everything you need to know about where patchouli comes from, it’s time to answer the important question: what does the patchouli fragrance actually smell like? 

Here’s a closer look: 


Patchouli is a musky fragrance first and foremost. The musk smell has a warm scent that’s woody, slightly powdery, and often associated with vetiver. 

Subtle yet rich, the musky scent of patchouli is the main reason why people often mistakenly think patchouli is a part of the woody fragrance family, along with sandalwood, cedarwood, and pine.


Patchouli is also known for its intensely earthy smell. For this reason, patchouli is often associated with health food stores and incense. The earthiness of patchouli also makes it a darker, deeper scent as compared to a bright, fresh fragrance like bergamot. 


Along with its muskiness and earthiness, patchouli is also a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy. Fans of patchouli tend to love it because of its earthy, sweet qualities — this combination isn’t common, and it’s part of what makes patchouli so distinctive. 


Another word often used to describe patchouli is “resinous.” Resinous essentially means that a fragrance features the smell of natural resins derived from trees and plants. 

To say patchouli is resinous is basically another way to say that it has a rich, deep smell that is slightly sweet and features scents of vanilla and cistus labdanum. 

What Scents Pair Well With Patchouli?

Given that patchouli has a strong, bold fragrance, it’s often used as a base note in scents (which means it’s added to fragrances to give them a richer, deeper smell that lasts longer). With this in mind, here are a few scents that pair well with patchouli.


The sweet scent of patchouli pairs perfectly with the delicious sweetness of vanilla. When combined, these two are a comforting and cozy duo. 


Tonka, or tonka bean, is a sweet, creamy fragrance that’s a bit like a nuttier version of vanilla. Sometimes compared to a sweet almond, tonka mixes with patchouli to make a nutty, earthy fragrance that will keep you grounded even in the most chaotic moments. 


Although you might not know it, you’ve probably caught a whiff of bergamot if you’ve ever had a cup of Earl Grey tea. 

This bright, citrus fruit gives Earl Grey its distinct taste, and pairs well with patchouli. When paired with patchouli, it balances out the rich muskiness of patchouli and gives it a fresh edge. 

If you’re looking for a sweet fragrance that combines patchouli with all of the scents we’ll discuss in this section, look no further than Sweet Ash.

Sweet Ash features patchouli, vanilla, tona, bergamot, juniper, vanilla bean, and white moss to make for a subtle, irresistible smell that will soon become a staple in your scent repertoire. Its down-to-earth feel means that this versatile fragrance can seamlessly transition with you from day to night. 

Broaden Your Horizons

Not to be confused with neroli, another rich, distinct fragrance, patchouli has an earthy, musky smell that comes from the leaves of the patchouli plant. Used in aromatherapy and perfumery for its grounding properties and bold fragrance, patchouli will surely become a part of your signature scent. 

At Snif, we believe in broadening your fragrance horizons, and we’re here to help you do it. With fragrance bundles and a try before you buy option, you can kick off the journey to finding your signature scent.


Patchouli Essential Oil and Its Derived Compounds Revealed Prebiotic-Like Effects in C57BL/6J Mice | NIH 

The Silk Road | National Geographic

Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites | NIH

The essential oil of patchouli, Pogostemon cablin: A review - Beek - 2018 - Flavour and Fragrance Journal | Wiley Online Library

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