Vetiver is most closely related to Sorghum but shares many morphological characteristics with other fragrant grasses, such as lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), citronella (Cymbopogon nardus, C. winterianus), and palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii).
Vetiver can grow up to 5 ft. high and form clumps as wide. The stems are tall and the leaves are long, thin, and rather rigid. The flowers are brownish-purple. Unlike most grasses, which form horizontally spreading, mat-like root systems, vetiver's roots grow downward, 7-13 ft. in depth.
The vetiver bunch grass has a gregarious habit and grows in tufts. Shoots growing from the underground crown make the plant frost and wildfire resistant, and allow it to survive heavy grazing pressure. They can persist deep water flow. Under clear water, the plant can survive up to two months.
The root system of vetiver is finely structured and very strong. It can grow 10-13 ft. deep within the first year. Because of all these characteristics, the vetiver plant is highly drought-tolerant and can help to protect soil against sheet erosion.
The plant helps to stabilize soil and protects it against erosion, but it can also protect fields against pests and weeds. Vetiver has favorable qualities for animal feed.
The oil is amber brown and rather thick. Its odor is described as deep, sweet, woody, smoky, earthy, amber, and balsam. The best quality oil is obtained from 18- to 24-month-old roots. The roots are dug up, cleaned, and then dried. Before the distillation, the roots are chopped and soaked in water. The distillation process can take up to 24 hours. After the distillate separates into the essential oil and hydrosol, the oil is skimmed off and allowed to age for a few months to allow some undesirable notes forming during the distillation to dissipate. Like patchouli and sandalwood essential oils, the odor of vetiver develops and improves with aging.
The characteristics of the oil can vary significantly depending on where the grass is grown and the climate and soil conditions. The oil distilled in Haiti and Réunion has a more floral quality and is considered of higher quality than the oil from Java, which has a smokier scent. In the north of India, oil is distilled from wild-growing vetiver. This oil is known as khus or khas, and in India is considered superior to the oil obtained from the cultivated variety. It is rarely found in commerce outside of India, as most of it is consumed within the country.
Old Tamil literature mentions the use of vetiver for medical purposes.
Vetiver oil has been used in an effort to track where mosquitoes live during dry seasons in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mosquitoes were tagged with strings soaked in vetiver oil then released. Dogs trained to track the scent, not native to Africa, found the marked mosquitoes in such places as holes in trees and in old termite mounds.
Almost the whole vetiver plant is used for various applications. The roots have been particularly used since ancient times. From the roots, oil is extracted and used for cosmetics, aromatherapy, herbal skincare and ayurvedic soap. Due to its fibrous properties, the plant can also be used for handicrafts, ropes and more.
Vetiver essential oil is extensively utilized in perfumery, including the creation of perfumes for the body, room fresheners and coolers, as well as soaps, cosmetics, and oils. It is also a flavoring agent in beverages, sorbets and other foodstuffs.5
Its aromatic effect on the mind is grounding, calming and balancing, while its other notable actions are antiseptic, antispasmodic, immune-stimulating, warming and sedative to the nervous system, and stimulating to the circulatory system, to name a few.6
Vetiver oil's calming and soothing properties are said to dispel anger, hysteria and irritability, and reduce neurotic behavior.7 This in turn reduces stress and tension. These revitalizing qualities make it helpful with physical and mental exhaustion, and for addressing issues ranging from general aches and pains to insomnia and anxious feelings.
Vetiver oil is commonly used by people who are facing difficult cognitive tasks, as it can help to improve focus and memory retention; this can help children and adults who struggle to focus or complete tasks without distractions.
How to Use – Dilute 4-5 drops of vetiver oil within a teaspoon of carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, and then apply that to the base of the neck or behind the ears; both the aromatic compounds and the absorbed oils can help calm the nerves and increase focus.
One specific area that vetiver oil can potentially address is ADHD, in large part because it is a calming essential oil.12,13 A 2001 study conducted by Dr. Terry Friedman found that the oil's aroma improved the performance of children with ADD and ADHD by 100 percent.
To harness these benefits, vetiver oil can be administered in different ways. It can be applied topically (recommended diluted with a carrier oil), directly inhaled, diffused or used as a supplement. The oil blends well with the essential oils of benzoin, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender and ylang-ylang.
Easy Aromatherapy Recipes provides several essential oil recipe blends for specific health concerns. Here are three you can try:
- Injury blend — Blend four drops vetiver, three drops lavender and two drops bergamot in 1 oz. carrier oil. Massage into affected area.
- TMJ blend — Blend four drops helichrysum, three drops white fir and two drops vetiver in 1 oz. carrier oil. Massage into jaw muscles morning and night.
- Arthritis blend — Blend four drops frankincense, three drops marjoram and two drops each rosemary and vetiver in 1 oz. carrier oil. Massage into affected area.
Here is an eHow blend15 you can also try:
- 4 drops Vetiver essential oil
- 4 drops Clary Sage essential oil
- 4 drops Ylang Ylang essential oil
- 5 drops Lavender essential oil
- 1/2 cup carrier oil
Combine oils well and store in an airtight container
You may use this as an all-purpose massage oil, which can be massaged at your temples to calm an anxious mind. Massage it on your neck or shoulder to ease tension. This recipe also works in a standard massage for creating a more uplifting experience. Use it externally only and consult your doctor if you are pregnant or have any health condition.
How Does Vetiver Oil Work?
Since essential oils are extremely potent, WebMD advises vetiver oil to be diluted with a carrier oil, such as Apricot Kernel Oil. Start with one drop to 1 to 3 teaspoons of carrier oil. With caution, increase the essential oil as needed.
Vetiver oil works in vapor therapy16 — it can address nervous complaints, dispel anger and irritability, and relieve insomnia this way. It can also be blended in a massage oil or diluted in the bath. This way it can assist with mental and physical exhaustion, nervous complaints, rheumatism and arthritic pain and skin healing.
Vetiver essential oil also works in a cream or lotion, moisturizing and nourishing skin. It especially benefits dry, irritated and dehydrated skin, and helps reduce wrinkles and stretch marks.
Vetiver essential oil is deemed non-irritating, non-sensitizing and non-toxic, and therefore generally safe. But it should NOT be used by pregnant women, and always use extreme caution and consult a doctor before using it on children. Prior to widespread use, always test for skin sensitivity by doing a patch test.
Side Effects of Vetiver Oil
WebMD says that that the possible side effects of vetiver oil are not known. However, it adds that it is unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to take vetiver, as it might cause a miscarriage. Some women take it to start their periods or to cause an abortion.
It is generally NOT recommended to be taken internally.
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