Vetiver essential oil is distilled from the washed, dried and chopped roots, rhizomes and rootlets of the tropical grass that goes by the Latin moniker of Vetiveria zizanioides. Although it is native to India, the grass is mainly grown and distilled for its thick and complex essential oil in Java, Sri Lanka, the Reunion Islands, Haiti and (of course) India.
Vetiver most happily creates its essence in humid to sub-humid tropical environments where it prefers to spread its roots in well-drained sandy soil but is widely adapted to most ecological environments (e.g., from wetlands and river banks to plains and sandy coasts). It is a perennial, clumping grass whose leaves may grow up to 150 cm. When allowed to flourish, the roots may grow up to 4 meters. The root configuration is finely structured and dense—culminating in thick mats that give vetiver remarkable drought tolerance and stability. This intricate root mass bestows vetiver the super power to stabilize and protect soil from eroding. Furthermore, the plant is a heavy-duty phytoremediation agent for soil reclamation as it processes nitrates, phosphates and heavy metals.
Although vetiver’s essential oil is heavily used in the cosmetics, aromatherapy and flavor and fragrance industries it behooves us to reflect upon vetiver’s valued place in human culture since antiquity. One oft cited example is how vetiver’s cooling roots have been used in India to make screens, mats, hand fans and baskets. The screens, hung like curtains through living quarters in hot weather, are sprinkled with water and a perfumed cooling effect is realized through the living space (Rao R.R., 2000). This cooling quality is only one of its many virtues. The plant is an effective insect repellent for home and agricultural use. It is still used as medicine against poisons, stings and bites. Infusions are made of the root to cool fevers, relieve digestive issues and urinary infections. Topical applications (e.g., root paste) are made to soothe burns and relive aches and pains (Burger P, 2017). The aforementioned medicinal uses are just a glimpse of the plant’s many virtures and there is a plethora of research on this beautiful ally!
Let’s get into names. We have the Tamil language to thank for the word “vetiver” as it references how the grass’s roots are collected and processed: “vetiver” means “hatcheted up” (Mojay, 1997) and is from the word “vetivern” (C. K. Atal, 1982). Vetiver goes by several names in the Latin binomial system: Vetiveria zizanioides (L.) Nash (synonym: Andropogon muricatus Retzius, Andropogon zizanoides Urban and Chrysopogon zizanioides Roberty). It also goes by an array of common names depending on the referential culture and geography: Khus-khus and Khus (indicating plants grown in India), Khas-khas, Akar wangi, Larasetu, Nara wastu and Kusu kusu among others (Holmes, 2016). To be even more nuanced, wild harvested vetiver from India is called Ruh Khus. The general consensus is the “highest quality” essential oil is obtained from plants grown in the Reunion Islands and India (preferably Ruh Khus in my opinion); though interestingly the plant is not native to the Reunion Islands and was brought there in the 18th century.
Just as vetiver’s roots stabilize and restore the earth, it may also be our ally in holding ground by offering us a firm mat to partake in restorative practices. Its oil is quieting and creates a supportive space to give voice to the grounding and feminine energy in all of us. It communicates earth-wisdom that may assist in condensing and manifesting scattered thoughts into tangible reality. Vetiver helps bring us back to the earth, reminding us where we really are and what we are made of.
Vetiver essential oil is notably indicated for assisting with the following body systems:
- Emotions/Nervous: relaxing, sedating, grounding, soothing anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, mild depression, burn-out
- Musculoskeletal: muscular tension, aches and pains, stress-related tension, arthritis
- Circulatory: tonifying (vasculature), enhancing circulation
- Immune: a prophylactic for general immune support
- Skin: inflammation, acne, eczema, itchy/scratchy skin, weak/lose/lax tissues, fungal infections
- Reproductive: menopause (e.g., hot flashes), PMS, postnatal depression, reduced sex drive
Chemistry Highlights: Vetiver essential oil is complex with over 150 components identified to-date. It is notably rich in myriad sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpene alcohols supported by ketones which greatly contribute to its special aroma (K.J. Thara Saraswathi, 2011).
Is Vetiveria zizanioides Oil Safe? Vetiver is shown to be non-toxic and non-irritating. Though essential oils from plants grown in certain geographies my contain isoeugenol, a known fragrance allergen.
Blending with Vetiveria zizanioides Essential Oil
(Note: the following description is of Ruh Khus which has a slightly “softer” profile than a vetiver from Haiti and even more so than an oil from Java.)
Imagine a thick, viscous drop of vetiver essential oil sitting round and fat on a scent strip. As it slowly seeps into the paper a sweet, earthy, woody and deep aroma permeates the air. Subtle notions of soft, wet earth are present with a warm, smoky hint that turns into cool and musty notes, bringing to mind an old and noble library in a comfortably cool stone house on a warm day. Vetiver brings forth rich and sumptuous images of lush textiles, carpets and leather. Although the aromas are deep and penetrating, the encounter is soft and not at all direct or abrupt. There is a faint touch of ozone and sea air as if a gentle rain passed on an early summer day where the soil is left cool, damp and smelling slightly sweet and floral. For me, the vetiver experience is like listening to the music of Erik Satie while looking at one of Whistler’s “nocturne” paintings.
Vetiveria zizanioides essential oil blends well with: Myrrh (Commiphora molmol), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), Black spruce (Picea mariana), Lemon (Citrus limon), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), Sandalwood (Santalum album), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), Jasmine (Jasminum officinale), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and Rose (Rosa damascena).
Creating Wellness Products with Vetiver
Beauty Oil: Support Skin Tone
1 ounce glass bottle with dispenser top of your preference
1 ounce of a nut/seed oil blend appropriate for your skin type
2 drops Vetiveria zizanioides
2 drops Rose (Rosa damascena)
8 drops Myrrh (Commiphora molmol)
How to use: Consider following this routine 3 to 5 times a week (1x/day) depending on your skins tolerance for the fixed oils of your choice.
- Cleanse your skin as you normally would.
- Immediately follow cleansing with a toner made of Rose (Rosa damascena) hydrosol.
- Dispense 1 to 3 drops of the face oil to your clean fingertips and massage into your skin (adjust to more or less drops to suit your needs).
Mist Yourself to Sleep: Classic Pillow Mists
2 ounce glass bottle with spray top
2 ounces of distilled water
Choose 1 of the synergies below to add to the spray bottle:
- A “Classic” blend I have used for years: calming, sedative and great for all ages
- 4 drops Vetiveria zizanioides
- 5 drops Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
- 30 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- This is less of a sedative blend and more of a mood-modulating and relaxing blend
- 2 drops Vetiveria zizanioides
- 4 drops Clary sage (Salvia sclarea)
- 4 drops Rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- 5 drops Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata Complete)
- 15 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
How to use: Shake before each use. Spray your bedding 2 to 3 times as you are preparing for sleep. Use nightly, at least 5 to 7 nights, to enjoy the spray’s effects. Avoid eyes and other mucus membranes should you like to enjoy this as a body or face mist.
Getting Grassy: Musculoskeletal Wellbeing Blend
This blend cheekily incorporates 3 of the grasses of aromatherapy (!) to offer a beautifully smelling and effective topical application for taking the edge-off of aches and pains. Add the below essential oils with a mix of penetrating fixed (e.g., sesame, hemp) and herbal infused oils (e.g., sunflower infused arnica) to a 2 ounce bottle with a top of your choice.
5 drops Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
8 drops Vetiveria zizanioides
10 drops Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
16 drops Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii)
20 drops Spike lavender (Lavandula spicata)
How to use: apply to sore spots as needed.
Thank you for spending time with Vetiveria zizanioides and me.
Burger P, L. A. (2017). Vetiver Essential Oil in Cosmetics: What Is New? Medicines (Basel), 4, 41. doi:10.3390/medicines4020041
C. K. Atal, B. M. (1982). Cultivation and Utilization of Aromatic Plants. Regional Research Laboratory, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.
Holmes, P. (2016). Aromatica A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. London: Singing Dragon.
K.J. Thara Saraswathi, N. J. (2011). Comparitive Study on Essential Oil in Natural and In vitro Regenerated Plants of Vetiveria zizanioides (Linn.) Nash. American-Eurasian J. Agric. & Environ. Sci., 458-463.
Mojay, G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
Rao R.R., S. M. (2000). Vetiveria zizanioides (Linn.) Nash–a multipurpose eco-friendly grass of India. Proceedings of the 3rd International Vetiver Conference, (pp. 439-442). Thailand.
Tisserand R, Y. R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety Second Edition. Edinburgh: Elsevier.