Vetiveria zizanoides syn Andropogon muricatus
Family: Gramineae (Poaceae)
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
The common name vetiver originates from the Tamil ‘vetiverr’, meaning ‘hatcheted up’ – a description of the way in which the roots are collected. In Java vetiver is called ‘akar wangi’ or ‘fragrant root’. It is also called ‘Ushira’ in Sanskrit and ‘Khus’ in Hindi. In India it is called khas khas’, meaning aromatic root.
Other member of the grass family include Citronella, West Indian Lemongrass, Palmarosa, Lemongrass and all the edible cereal grains.
HISTORY OF VETIVER
Native to Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia, it is cultivated in Madagascar, the Reunion and Comoro Islands, West Africa, Malaysia, Java, Japan, China, Haiti and South America. It grows well in hot humid conditions.
Vetiver roots have been used for centuries throughout the Far East for the weaving of fragrant baskets, mats, fans and curtain-like tats. When sprinkled with water, the woven roots help cool the house as well as impart a pleasant fragrance.
Cotton and other fabrics were frequently doused with vetiver essential oil as a moth repellent. Vetiver fans are used by women throughout the East to repel the large amounts of insects that thrive in a hot moist climate.
Vetiver root is considered a symbol of vitality. It is used for thatching roves, making mud bricks and weaving ropes.
The vetiver plant is a tall, densely tufted, scented perennial grass that grows two metres high. The leaves are long, narrow and fragrant. The flowers are brownish purple. The roots vary between white/yellow to red and grow in a thick spongy mass and grow downward 2-3 metres in depth. These are dug up with hatchets or mechanical excavators then washed, dried and sliced before being steam distilled for the oil. The thinner roots are used for weaving. The plant is frost, fire and drought resistant. It is excellent to prevent soil erosion due to the length of the roots and can be used as an effective mulch. It prefers sandy loam soils and a slightly sloping landscape although mature plants will thrive under waterlogged conditions.
The essential oil is brown amber in colour and very thick. It has a sweet, warm, rooty/woody or smoky fragrance representative of the Earth element. Some people describe it as smelling like a damp forest floor. The best quality oil is obtained from 18- to 24-month-old roots. The yield from the roots is 1.5-2% and the resulting oil needs to be aged for several months before use. Like a good red wine and many essential oils, its fragrance improves with age.
The energetic principle of the oil is cool and moist.
Perfumers use vetiver as a tenacious and rich base note. It is also used as a fixative for Fougere, Oriental and Chypre perfumes especially men’s fragrances eg Dior Eau Sauvage, Guerlain Vetiver, Zizan by Ormonde Jayne and Vetiver by L'Occitane.
Because of its potency use at a maximum of one drop per 25ml carrier oil. The il is non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitising.
The chemical constituents
include: sesquiterpenols incl vetiverol (60%); ketones including vetivone (7-27%), esters including vetiverol acetate; sesquiterpenes including vetivene; acids including vetivenic acid; numerous trace elements.
The oil blends well with jasmine, frankincense, grapefruit, cardamom, geranium, lemon, patchouli, lavender, rose, sandalwood and ylang-ylang.
Anti-rheumatic, calmative, anti-depressive, antispasmodic, digestive stimulant, immune tonic, pancreatic stimulant, general tonic, vermifuge, nervine, sedative, antiseptic.
In Ayurvedic medicine vetiver has been used for centuries as remedy for thirst, heatstroke, fevers, headache, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema.
It is useful for irritability, anger, hysteria, neurotic behaviour as well as physical and emotional burnout and exhaustion. Use when your client is stress and tense to ground and centre them. Micheline Arcier refers to it as the oil of tranquillity and as a protection against oversensitivity.
It is a classic oil for PMS caused by oestrogen or progesterone deficiency which tends to cause feelings of unworthiness and loss of purpose. During the menopause, both these hormones tend to need a boost, which would indicate vetiver as an oil to keep in stock.
Patricia Davis suggests applying a drop to the solar plexus to prevent one becoming a ‘psychic sponge’. Apply in an anti-clockwise direction very gently before situations in which you feel you need protection.
Vetiver is nourishing and moisturising for dry dehydrated or irritated skin and has cicatrising and vulnerary properties making it useful in pregnancy to prevent and reduce stretch marks, reduce wrinkles and as a tonic for slack or tired-looking skin.
Vetiver is a calming sedative oil for the nervous system so assists in reducing stress and tension. Use for situations of depression or insomnia. Vetiver acts as a boost to the immune system, so is one of nature’s tonics over winter and in addition it increases circulation. This makes it a helpful ingredient when making a blend for an elderly person over the winter months, as it will [provide warming and pain relieving properties.
Vetiver blends well with exotic oils such as jasmine and patchouli and can be used for its aphrodisiac properties in a romantic blend.
In Oriental medicine
In Chinese medicine, vetiver as seen as energetically being cool and moist, making it a yin oil. It is associated with the Earth and Water Elements.
Vetiver regulates the Qi, restores the yin, relaxes the nerve, calms the Shen, uplifts the Spirit: so useful for nervous tension, restlessness, insomnia, nervous debility, over-thinking, worry, anxiety, depression.
Vetiver clears Damp-Heat, circulates the Qi and Blood, alleviates Bi (Painful Obstruction), benefits the sinews: muscular stiffness/aching/fatigue, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. As it cools the Blood, clears Damp-Heat and benefits the skin: use vetiver in blends for dry undernourished skin conditions and dermatitis.
Use vetiver when one needs to tonify the Spleen-Qi, restores the yin and promotes digestion and absorption. Think of it in conditions of lethargy, poor appetite, mal-absorption and weight loss. As vetiver tonifies the Qi and yin of the Kidneys it will assist those with chronic lethargy, nervous debility and menopausal problems. A truly wonderful nourishing oil.
Vetiver will both cool and nourish the body. Its yin nature will help an overheated hyperactive mind and assist in nurturing self-identity. It embodies the calm, reassuring strength of Mother Earth and her deep sense of belonging. When we are mentally exhausted from overwork, or out of touch with our body and all its needs, vetiver sedates yet restores us, grounding us back to Mother Earth.
Vetiver is an ideal oil to use for perfectionists constantly striving for high ideals, who in the process have lost touch with the ability to rest in order to recharge and replenish. People who are never still enough to let perfection be. Vetiver will assist in uplifting us by paradoxically allowing us to travel down to our roots, where we will instinctively feel connected and rejoice in feeling essentially real and replenished.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
- Add to a bath blend with mandarin and frankincense for those who have insomnia due to over thinking, over working or excessive worrying. Add a drop to the vaporiser an hour before bed to assist falling asleep.
- It would be useful along with ylang-ylang, mandarin, sandalwood, geranium and lavender for a blend for those in their menopause. It could be added to the bath, a body cream or facial tonic.
- As a skincare ingredient for dry skin, it is superb along with calendula, macadamia, evening primrose, sea buckthorne and pomegranate.
- Suffering from heavy legs, lethargy or abdominal bloating? Then create a tonic for boosting circulation with vetiver, cardamom and frankincense in a base of hazelnut to boost the immune system and strengthen the arteries and veins. Apply to the legs and torso after a bath in the evening.
- If you are a therapist, counsellor or somebody dealing with negative situations, apply a drop to your solar plexus in an anti-clockwise direction before meeting with the difficult situations. Perhaps make your own oil of protection with jojoba oil and keep this in your desk or bag.
ITHMA Course Notes
The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia
Aromatherapy by Micheline Arcier
A-Z of Aromatherapy by Patricia Davis
Natural Healing for Women by Susan Curtis and Romy Fraser