Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fragrance Notes: Patchouli

This is the first of many posts to come about plants that are commonly used in perfume. I think it's important for us fragrance fanatics to have some idea of where the smells we wear come from.

The Basics:
Scientific Name: Pogostemon cablin
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Origin: East Asia

The common name "Patchouli" originates from the Tamil language from India and Sri Lanka. The roots of the name are the Tamil words "patchai" (meaning "green") and "ellai" (meaning "leaf"). The plant has been used for centuries for perfume among other things.

Originally, patchouli was used in East Asia both for its scent and its health benefits such as its use in Japan and Malaysia for the treatment of poisonous snake bites and its widespread use in Asia for aromatherapy to promote mental clarity and relaxation.

In the 18th century, Patchouli was introduced to the west by Chinese silk traders transporting silk to the Middle East. The strong scent and oils of patchouli are known to have strongly-moth repellent properties and were packed with silk cloth to repel moth infestations during transit. The silk and leaves eventually found their way to Europe, where patchouli was considered to be a scent of luxury, likely because of the association with expensive Chinese silks. This trend has continued in the perfume industry to this day.

During the war in Vietnam, American soldiers would use patchouli to mask the smell of the graves of those killed in combat. At home in the US, patchouli simultaneously became very popular with the "hippies" and war protesters of the day. War demonstrators would scent themselves with patchouli to represent the fallen soldiers in Vietnam. It is also undeniable that another reason for its surge in popularity was the ability of its strong scent to cover the scent of marijuana smoke. It has experienced a somewhat negative connotation in the US as it is often associated with "hippie" culture as it was often used in the place of bathing.

Today, patchouli is one of the main ingredients of about one third of the world's luxury fragrances and is most common in chypre, woody and oriental fragrances. Fragrances containing patchouli include famous fragrances such as Anateus and Chance by CHANEL, Habit Rouge and Jicky by Guerlain, Eau d'Orange Verte by Hermés, and PRADA Woman. In some, it is the featured ingredient, such as Patchouli Patch from L'Artisan Parfumeur of Paris and Patchouli Pure from the Fresh Index line of fragrances. The oils can often be bought from most essential oil retailers and blend well with sandalwood, lime, and ylang ylang. In most recent years patchouli has fallen slightly out of vogue in Europe and the US, but is still very common in Asia and Latin America.

It is also used commonly in East Asian incense and for the scenting of household products such as paper towels, detergents, and air fresheners. The essential oils derived from the plant are used by some in herbal remedies and the scent is claimed to promote relaxation as it is said to promote mental balance and has a positive effect on emotional sensitivity. The oils are said to be effective in treating acne and skin inflammations. They are also said to have antifungal and insecticidal properties.

Today, patchouli is grown mainly in the East and West Indies commercially. Most distillations are done in China, Indonesia, and India. The oils are easily obtained from the dried leaves via steam distillation. The major chemical component of the oils is patchoulol, which like many terpenes is a complex organic molecule thought to be responsible for giving patchouli its characteristic scent (and flavor if Patchouli were edible).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Update: Douglas Cosmetics, Union Station

Today I visited Douglas Cosmetics in Union Station. It was slightly reminiscent of a small Ulta store. This isn't to say that they didn't have some nice things available there. They (of course) had all of the typical fragrances such as Burberry, Kenneth Cole, etc. They also had a large selection of Bond No. 9 fragrances (including Bryant Park, Chelsea Flowers, Bleecker Street, Scent of Peace, Nuits de Noho, and Wall Street and a few others I can't remember) and a handful of Creeds (Love in White, Vetiver, Silver Mountain Water, etc.) They do have a few other designer frags that are somewhat more difficult to find, but older (Dior Higher and Higher Energy, Versace L'Homme, etc.) One big difference from Sephora is that they carry the cosmetics brands normally in department stores like Estee Lauder, Clinique, and Elizabeth Arden. Overall, the store is a bit small, but full of lots of things to look at. Oh! I had almost forgotten, they also have the Korres Body Water Sprays that Sephora dropped a while back. So, if you don't mind the floor rumbling and the sound of rattling glass every time a train goes by, it's worth a stop if you're there, but unless you love Bond No. 9, I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Douglas Cosmetics, Union Station

I recently discovered the Douglas Cosmetics store at Union Station. It was closed when I got there, but I looked through the window and discovered that they carried the Bond No. 9 line. Even though I'm not really a fan of Bond No. 9, this piqued my interest so I've done some research on the company. It's a German company (under the name "Parfümerie Douglas" in Europe) that is the largest cosmetics retailer in Europe with 600 stores in Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and others.

There are actually 2 stores in the DC Area:
Union Station (50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002)
1145 Connecticut Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20036

The German site for Parfümerie Douglas lists many good lines (Balenciaga & Etro caught my eye). I can't comment on exactly what lines they carry, but I will go down soon and check it out and report back. If you be me to it feel free to comment here and let me know about it.

Search Basenotes with your Firefox search window!

A while back a friend and I made a search engine plug-in for those with a Mozilla Firefox browser. If you install the plug-in it'll add a basenotes search function to the list of search engines. Just add the plug-in, select the basenotes icon in the drop-down menu of search engines and then type in the name of the fragrance or fragrance house you are interested in and hit enter. It'll automatically search the basenotes directory for you and display the results.

To download, click here and click on the name to download it.

CHANEL Allure Homme Sport: Cologne Sport has arrived in Washington, DC

For all of you in the Washington, DC area, the new Cologne Sport Edition of CHANEL's Allure Homme Sport has arrived at area stores. As far as I know, they do not have testers yet, but they should be arriving any day now. The new fragrance is not a lighter concentration of the original Allure Homme Sport, but an entirely new fragrance that is actually of Eau de Toillette concentration with a lot of citrus.

"This season, the fresh, sensual men's fragrance gets a burst of energy from an infusion of sparkling citrus. The sporty scent, noticeably lighter now, exudes a newfound freedom, a sense of spontaneity, a non-stop vitality."

UPDATE: The notes in the fragrance are as follows:
  • Top Notes: Mandarin Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit, Bergamot
  • Heart Notes: Elemi, Spicy Note
  • Base Notes: Cedar, White Musks

UPDATE: The fragrance comes in a 5 oz. bottle and is on sale now at Nordstrom (online and in stores) and for $75. Now available online at Sephora, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Still unsure about the status of Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

(Image from

The Dawning of a New Era

Hey Everyone and welcome to Hortus odorifera. Just to start things off, in case you are curious about the name, it is Latin for "Fragrant Garden" in the binomial taxonomy style used for naming plant species. This new blog is going to feature articles written by yours truly about plants, specifically (but not limited to) those that are quite fragrant and which are important for the human uses, with a focus on plants commonly used in the art of perfume design. Expect to see posts on plants like Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, Lavender, and Patchouli for example.

As for a bit of a bio of myself. I'm a college senior about to graduate from the University of Maryland in May 2007 with a degree in Plant Science. I also work at the United States Botanic Gardens in Washington, DC as a gardener and am a huge perfume and plant dork. I have always had a fascination for both the subjects of plant science and perfume/cosmetics and am writing this blog to fill a bit of a void I've found in the literature available for those who are interested in what it means to read that there is a note of Frangipani in their new bottle of Annick Goutal Songes.

For those of you near Washington or those of you who will be traveling through DC, I will also try to comment about where I've found good places to scout for fragrances and also what new and exciting fragrant plants are available at the US Botanic Gardens and other gardens in the area as well as whatever advice I may be able to offer about other areas.

I will also try to link various things in the entries to sites where you can learn more about them. I hope you find them helpful.

Image: "Frangipani" from (Plumeria)