East Indian Mint (aka. Patchouli) is a mint relative originating in the Philippines but now cultivated in other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as in parts of Africa, India and South America for its stems and leaves, which yield a essential oil used in the food and fragrance industries.
It is a much-branched herbaceous shrub 0.5 to 1 m (1.5 to 3.5 ft) tall with a bushy appearance. The foliage is mint-like, with square stems and with soft, fine hairs on both the stems and leaves.
Leaves dull dark green, heart-shaped, 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) long and toothed along the margins. All parts of the plant give off a sweet fragrance when crushed.
Flowers small, bisexual, either white, pink or pale purple and borne on tall, narrow spikes that grow above the foliage, where they bloom from late autumn to winter.
The leaves and young shoots yield on steam distillation a viscous, yellow-green to brown essential oil traded as 'Patchouli oil'. Its main use is as a fragrance and flavouring component in food, perfume and personal care products. Its persistent, woody aroma was at one time widely used to scent men's grooming products, such as aftershave as well as other types of male toiletries. The fragrance notes of the oil reportedly improve with age.
The harvested and dried leaves and stems are also valued for their fragrance and are used in clothing and linen cupboards in its native range, as a deodoriser and as a repellent against fabric eating insects, such as clothes moths.
Leaf harvesting in commercial operations starts when the plants are around six months old, with harvesting repeated every three to four months after that. The leaves are selected when they become pale green to light brown and when the bush gives off its characteristic aroma, usually around early to mid morning. The harvested leaves are then shade dried, bagged and left to ferment for a short time, which reportedly increases their oil yield at distillation.
Around 2,000 kilograms of dried leaves are produced per hectare per year
in commercial operations and with an oil content of 2.5 to 3.0%, yield around 50 to 60 kilograms
of oil (45 to 54 pounds per acre).
Grows naturally and develops leaves with a high oil content in humid tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally areas with annual lows of 18 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 1500 to 3500 mm and a dry season of 5 months or less.
Patchouli is also cultivated with irrigation in drier areas, such as around Bangalore (in Karnataka state, India), which has annual rainfall of 923 mm and a dry season lasting 5 months.
New plants are usually grown form cuttings, as seed are rarely produced. It performs best on rich, free-draining clay and loam soils of a moderately acid to slightly acid nature, generally with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
In the lowland tropics it is commonly cultivated as an understory plant, usually beneath tall and widely spaced timber and coconut trees because of the shade they give. Shading is less of a requirement in elevated tropical and subtropical areas and the plants are grown in full sun.
It is a short-lived perennial that loses it vigour after around three years and needs replacing with new plants.
Patchouli is listed s a weed in at least one reference publication, but there does not appear to be any record of it as as serious weed anywhere in the world. This may be due, in part, to its shy seeding habit.
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