VETIVER & VETIVERT

Vetivert ~  An ambitious discussion of the grass Vetiver from the rootlets,  of the essential oil Vetivert, and its uses, growth, description, organoleptic qualities, and uses.

photo of a basket made of Vetiver rootlets and a bottle showing the dark color of the oil. Oil courtesy of PrimaFleur Botanicals

A Vetiver basket and Vetivert essential oil

VETIVER • The ROOTS OF A FRAGRANT PLANT

Jeanne Rose

COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL ~ Vetiver or Vetivert is Chrysopogon zizanioides. Vetiver is the plant, and Vetivert is the plant’s essential oil.

            VETIVER(T) NAME/NAMING INFORMATION ~ Chrysopogon zizanioides (Vetiveria zizanioides) is now under the unique denomination Chrysopogon zizanioides L. Roberty based on a similar analysis of related genera. However, the former term, Vetiveria zizanioides, is still widely used in the current literature.

            “Vetiver belongs to the same part of the grass family as maize, sorghum, sugarcane, and lemongrass. Its old botanic name, Vetiveria zizanioides (Linn) Nash, has had a checkered history—at least 11 other names in 4 different genera have been employed in the past. The generic name comes from “vetiver,” a Tamil word meaning “root that is dug up.” The name zizanioides (often misspelled zizanoides) was first given by the great Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in 1771. It means “by the riverside” and reflects that the plant is commonly found along waterways in India.” — https://www.nap.edu/read/2077/chapter/7

            Family ~  From the grass family Poaceae. The term Poaceae is derived from the Ancient Greek word for fodder.

            Essential Oil Plants of the Grass Family ~ Poaceae (Gramineae)

Chrysopogon zizanioides is commonly known as Vetiver, a bunch grass whose roots are used.

Cymbopogon citratus West Indian Lemongrass;

Cymbopogon flexuosus is East Indian Lemongrass

Cymbopogon martini var. motia is Palmarosa grass,

Cymbopogon martinii var. sofia is Gingergrass

Cymbopogon nardus is Citronella grass.

VETIVER COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ Haiti, Java, Brazil, China, Madagascar, Japan, La Réunion, and India for the Khus variety.

IS VETIVER ENDANGERED? ~ The plant does not seem to be endangered. However, there is fear that consumers will mistakenly order the fertile plant over the internet and introduce it to a place where it may overrun the indigenous plants.

The annual world trade in Vetivert oil is estimated to be approximately 250 tons, with Brazil, China, Haiti, India, Japan, Java, and Reunion being the primary producers. The main consumers are Europe, India, Japan, and the United States.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ There are about 50 species of Chrysopogon, of which only one is used in aromatherapy and that species zizanioides has two main types, a fertile one and a sterile one. This is a perennial grass with very fragrant, long rhizomatous roots, growing to six feet high.

             “It is essential to realize that Vetiver comes in two types—this is a crucial point because only one is suitable for Use worldwide. If the wrong one is planted, it may spread and produce problems for farmers.

            A wild type from North India known as Khus or Vetiver. This is the original undomesticated species. It flowers regularly, sets fertile seeds, and is known as a “colonizer.” Its rooting tends to be shallow, especially in the damp ground it prefers. If loosed on the world, it might become a weed.

            A “domesticated” type from South India. This is the Vetiver that has existed under cultivation for centuries and is widely distributed throughout the tropics. It is probably a man-made selection from the wild type. It is nonflowering, does not seed (or at least is non-spreading), and must be replicated by vegetative propagation. It is the only safe type to use for erosion control.” — https://www.nap.edu/read/2077/chapter/7

            Vetiver can grow up to (5 ft.) high and form clumps as wide. The stems are tall, and the leaves are long, thin, and relatively rigid. The flowers are brownish-purple. Unlike most grasses, which form horizontally spreading, mat-like root systems, vetiver’s roots grow downward, 7 ft. to 13 ft. in depth.

Its southern cultivar is a densely tufted, perennial grass that is considered sterile outside its natural habitat. It flowers but sets no seeds. It is a lawn grass in the tropics; however, when eaten, the sharp calluses on the lemma, referring to a part of the spikelet of grasses (Poaceae), can pierce an animal’s stomach.       

            Vetiver is the best plant in the world to stop erosion and repair damaged land from erosion. Once permanent Vetiver rows are established, the roots should never be dug up. The aromatic roots have been used since ancient times in India. The fragrant, insect-repelling roots yield oil, which is valuable in the perfume industry. Traditionally, these roots were woven into mats, fans, and fragrant screens, while the tops of the grass were used for thatch, mulch, handicraft, fodder, and animal bedding.

Vetiver plant showing the long roots.

http://haitireconstruction.ning.com/page/growing-vetiver-for-essential

PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS, AND YIELDS for Vetiver ~ In Haiti, January and February is the high season for picking and distilling the Vetiver roots. The roots of Vetiver are picked, washed, comminuted (chopped), dried, and macerated (soaked) in the distillation water before being steam distilled. 

The quality of the oil depends on the age of the roots and the length of distillation which is from 12-36 hours. Maximum oil content is associated with freshly harvested roots, and the extractable oil decreased with delays in harvest and storage period.

            Yield ~ 0.5%.

ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS of Vetivert

  • Color …………………. Depending on the source, it is honey-colored to a caramel brown.
  • Clarity ………………… The lighter the color, the more it is clear, and the darker and semi-opaque.
  • Viscosity ……………. Viscous to very viscous and thick like molasses.
  • Intensity of odor …….… 4-6 (often the darker the color, the more intense the odor)

The guide to gauge the Intensity of odor ~ On a scale of 1-10, the stronger or more intense the odor, the higher the number. Lemon is low, and Peppermint is about 7-8. Vetivert is often not very intense and softens with Use in a perfume.

      •   Tenacity …………….  This essential oil is very tenacious in any type of blend or perfume.
        Taste ……………………. A burning, bitter, aromatic flavor, a smoky scent that rises the throat.

Various Vetivert Oil

3 bottles of Vetivert, from old-fashioned and fragrant dark color to modern low intensity amber color to a medium hue and scent.

ODOR DESCRIPTION/ AROMA ASSESSMENT ~ In general, the odor of this EO is very distinctive, yet when compared one with another, there are definite differences. The newer samples of Vetivert are lighter in color, and the lighter the color, the less intense and less complex the odor.

As you can see from the above illustration, the color varies from pale yellow to very dark brown. Color is removed from the oil because perfume makers do not like color in their perfume. I prefer the deeply rich, intense scent of the original Vetivert types with the rich dark color for my perfumery classes and personal perfumes.

            Vetivert, when double-distilled, has an earthy, green tenacious character with sweet wood quality. During re-distillation, a small fraction of the constituents is removed, thus removing some of the therapeutic quality, and other Vetivert oils are recommended when therapy is required.

            It has a persistent green-woody note and can be soft, woody-fruity when used with Patchouli, Sandalwood, and Jasmine.

CHEMICAL COMPONENTS ~  There is great variety in the GC/MS of Vetivert. Still, I have seen Vetiverol up to 50%, Vetivol up to 10%, terpenes like Vetivene up to 20%, and phenols up to 11%, Furfural, and Sesquiterpenes.

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GENERAL PROPERTIES of Vetivert Essential Oil

            When applied in a blend or lotion, Vetivert is a fixative in a perfume, a stimulant by application, an antiseptic, tonic, and soothing sedative. It is not taken internally; when inhaled, it is a quieting nerve tonic.

Application  Vetivert is used as a fixative in perfumery. When used in massage oil, it is suitable for circulation. It is used as an ingredient in lotions for aching joints, arthritis, or rheumatism.  It is a circulatory tonic, and it can alleviate some menstrual problems.  Specifically, it is said to promote alleviating cramping. 

            Application/ Skincare –   It is moisturizing and a humectant for dry skin.  So, it is used in skin care on dry, irritated, mature, or aging skin.  Vetivert EO is useful in lotions to assist in skin hydration; if used with Lemon oil, it will help to even out the color of the skin and, when used regularly, will help to reveal a smoother, better-looking complexion. The EO is useful in anti-aging creams and lotions, especially with Frankincense and Rosemary EO.

            Prima Fleur recently wrote in 2022 that “Vetivert (Chrysopogon zizanioides)  ~In skincare, vetiver is a moisturizing humectant for dry irritated (winter) skin and is found in cosmetics, soaps, and natural perfumes as a fixative. ~ And the essential oil derived from the root is the true treasure of this grass. The oil is used –  in massage and aromatherapy, the oil is most often used to help reconnect to earth energy and calm the central nervous system of one who feels “uprooted”

Exfoliation, a recipe for the skin – Exfoliation is like peeling the skin off an onion.  Dead cells are removed with scrubs, masks, or acid peels, revealing the younger, smoother layer of skin beneath. My favorite exfoliants are ground almonds, ground walnuts, ground oats, or a combination of these with hydrosols to hydrate and essential oils to treat. Essential oils such as Roman Chamomile, Sandalwood, Rose, and Vetivert should be gentle.

             I am particularly fond of ¼ cup ground Almonds with enough Roman Chamomile or Rose hydrosol to moisten and a drop of Vetivert. Mix together, apply to a clean moist face, and gently massage in with circular motions. Let it sit while you shower, and then gently rinse it off.

Pain Release Formula – Mix together 20 drops Grapefruit – white, + 10 drops Rosewood + 5 drops Vetivert. Shake vigorously and apply by massage to any painful spots on your body.

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3 bottles of Vetivert, from old-fashioned and fragrant dark color to modern low intensity amber color to a medium hue and scent.

PERFUMERY ~ Vetiver grass roots contain essential oil and, used with other tropical odors, is considered a high-class perfume. Copper plate inscriptions have been found that list the perfume (probably as a maceration) as one of the substances used by royalty. Vetivert oil is one of the ingredients in Chanel No. 5. The famous French perfume was introduced in 1921 and is still in production. Vetivert oil is contained in 90% of all western perfumes, and its greatest Use is in modern perfume creations.

Depending on the country where used, this plant, when distilled, is used in perfumery and, if dried, used as potpourri and bug repellent.

Vetivert oil is estimated to be approximately 250 tons per year in world trade.

Vetivert Blends Best with citrus, florals, and woods.  Try it with Atlas Cedar, Oakmoss, or Sandalwood; spicey odors such as Frankincense,  Cinnamon, and Clove; herbal scents such as Clary Sage, Geranium; citrus odors like Grapefruit and Lemon; food odors like Chocolate or Coffee; resins like Galbanum and Elemi; florals such as Jasmine, Lavender, Rose, Ylang-ylang; and other rich, long-lived scents. 

            Blending Tips – Used primarily as a base note to give tenacity and a richly distinctive masculinity.

            Blending with formula ~ When making perfumes, always mix your oils together and then shake them via succussion (succussion – to fling up from below) to create a synergy.  Let them age.  Add more oil if needed.  Age again. Then add the carrier. Alcohol is not usually added to a Chypre-type scent.

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Chypre #3 ~ Vetivert Perfume

Top Note – 8 drops Clary Sage flower
Heart Note – 3 drops Cypress berry + 3 drops Grapefruit peel + 2 drops Petitgrain leaf
Base Note – 4 drops Vetivert root + 2 drops Oakmoss
Fixative Note – 1 drop of Labdanum resin

Mix these essential oils together, and let them age for a few weeks. Smell and adjust ingredients if necessary. Dilute with more essential oil or alcohol and age again before using.

Diffuse/Diffusion – Vetivert can be diffused if you mix it with other essential oils, specifically those that are less viscous such as Lavenders or citrus odors. It makes a very warm, grounding odor that helps calm a household.

Emotional/Energetic Use – In folklore, Vetivert oil is used to increase financial abundance. In a more common ritual, inhaling the oil is said to protect the body from negative energies, including physical illness. Vetivert is employed in massage and aromatherapy for its grounding influence to calm the central nervous system.

            Emotional Uses include Inhalation: “The scent is calming and sedating, used for comforting and for people who feel ‘uprooted’ or without stability.  It affects the parathyroid glands” — 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols, p. 147.  It also alleviates stress, tension, and nervous tension.

            Vetivert is also a good grounding oil for those who focus on mental activities to the exclusion of the physical; the herb decoction is added to the bath for an exceptional stress-relieving soak, and the bath waters are inhaled.

Energetic Use includes some mention the use of Vetivert oil in blends for shock due to, for example, an accident, loss of employment, bereavement, separation, or divorce.

Ritual Formula – Send All Evil Away

Make a formula of 20 drops Rosewood + 10 drops Palmarosa + 3 drops Vetivert.

Mix it together and use by inhalation or add to 70 drops (2 ml +) of a carrier oil.

Apply to wrists with intention and inhale.

Critical Use: Oil of Depression and the immune system or Oil of Tranquility.

Small bundles of Vetiver rootlets with a bottle of medium-brown color essential oil of Vetivert.

Vetivert oil ~ courtesy and Prima Fleur

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Vetivert EO Tomato Tales & Jeanne Rose’s experience

I collected the oil of this plant for 30 years from various company lists. I didn’t like the odor, so I kept the oil and let it age on my shelves. This is one of the major essential oils that can age gracefully for many years. I have stock from 1983 and after. I have stock from a company now long gone that had added synthetics. Why this was the case, I do not know, as it is a relatively inexpensive essential oil.

For all these years, I was not that fond of Vetivert essential oil, although I loved the fans and fragrant baskets made with the roots. I tried to like the scent but was not successful using it in perfumes or blends. It took my friend, Marianne Griffeth, of Prima Fleur Botanicals, to teach me to love it via her ability to make successful and fragrant blends using Vetivert. Her combinations were always warm and delicious smelling ~ she talked about it so much that I began to try to use Vetivert oil. I have been getting better and better and am now genuinely loving the scent. I love the deep, dark Vetivert I get from Prima Fleur Botanicals, although I also use the less intense oils I have obtained from others.

Recently, in 2020, I took 1 tablespoon of plain, unscented cleansing cream and added 1 drop of Vetivert oil and massaged my clean face, and then let it sit for a few hours before I washed it off with warm water. This was a pleasant experience, and my face looked dewy and soft.

A basket made of the rootlets of Vetiver.

Vetiver roots made into a basket.

HERBAL USES: Varieties of this plant are grown throughout the tropics and used to thatch roofs or as a terracing plant. The roots of this grass acquire a soft, almost sandalwood-like odor when dried.  If these plants are kept moist and laid about the house, they help to keep bugs and moths out. And these dried roots are one of the best fixatives for dry potpourri as they blend well with the Rose scent. These roots can be used in bath herbs, powdered for sachet, or drunk as a tonic or stimulant tea. — Herbs & Things, Jeanne Rose’s Herbal, p. 112.

            Sometimes the roots are cleaned and used for brushes, window screens (when wetted, they will cool the house as the wind blows through), fans, mats, and baskets, and the chemical constituents of zizanol and epizizanol are insect repellents.

            Potpourris and Sachets are usually made of three main ingredients: (not EO) the main plant for its scent and color, the essential scent, the blender plant scent, and the fixative plant scent, which are usually resins and base notes. Remember that Potpourri ingredients are generally left in whole form so that the form of the plants is still identifiable (with fixative ingredients in powder form), while Sachet ingredients are all comminuted and/or powdered form.

            Scent your basic herbs and resins with their own essential oil and age them before using them in the final construction.

HYDROSOL ~ To date, I have not had the opportunity to try a Vetiver hydrosol.

PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components; most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.

HISTORICAL USES ~  Historically used in perfumery while the herb is woven or used in mats to fragrance the air.

Interesting Information: One type is called Khus-Khus.  The roots are used to make fragrant fans and screens, which give off a refreshing, clean scent when dampened.  “The roots are interwoven with flower matting, window coverings, etc., giving rooms a fragrance and deterring insects.  The oil is used in chypre (green, earthy) and oriental-type perfumes, soaps, toiletries, etc.  Growing the plant protects against soil erosion” essential aromatherapy, p. 170.     

Photo of plant, flower, and bundled rootlets.

Key Use: Depression and the immune system. Oil of Tranquility.

This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.

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References & Bibliography ~ If you want the references, please comment here with your e-mail address and I will send them to you.

Vetiver being harvested in China

Thank you for reading and your comments.