Vetiver essential oil is extracted from the roots of a grass known as Vetiveria zizanoides which belongs to the same botanical family as lemongrass, citronella and palmarosa. This plant has been appreciated for its diverse range of useful applications since records began, and in some countries such as India its role as a perfume may even precede that of the ubiquitous rose. Although its aroma is not to everyone’s taste, vetiver essential oil has been growing in popularity since aromatherapy re-emerged in the 1980′s.
Vetiveria zizanoides is a dense, erect, clumping perennial grass that grows throughout tropical regions. When growing in the wild, the straight-stemmed, robust leaves easily reach a height of 2 or 3 metres (6ft 6ins – 9ft 9ins) and the plant readily adapts to a wide range of soil and climatic conditions.
In northern India wild vetiver bears purplish or grey-green spikelets which usually grow in pairs, but in southern India and most other countries the non-flowering type is cultivated for the essential oil. Unusually, this plant has a root structure that penetrates down vertically rather than spreading horizontally like most grasses.
Originally native to India, vetiver is now cultivated for the extraction of essential oil in Angola, Argentina, Brazil, China, Haiti, Japan, Java and the island of Réunion. Very little oil is exported from India due to the high demand within the country where it is used extensively for incense, soaps and toiletries etc.
Since ancient times in India, the versatile qualities of vetiver roots have been employed in a diverse range of household applications, and this practice is still expanding today. Dried roots are woven into sandals, mats, screens, window blinds, hand fans and ornamental baskets, plus aromatic sachets are used to fragrance bed linen and clothing garments.
Vetiver has been used since time immemorial in Ayurvedic medicine where it is considered to be antitoxic, astringent, bitter and cooling, and was used for bilious fevers and sweats, blood diseases, foul breath, headaches, infections, urinary ulcers, an antidote to poisoning as well as to strengthen the central nervous system and overcome depression, insomnia, anxiety and stress.
According to ancient inscriptions, infused vetiver was used as a perfume by royalty, and the essential oil is still included in an estimated 30% of high-quality modern perfumes to create oriental notes and to act as a fixative.
Harvesting and extraction
Prior to harvesting, the aerial parts of the plant are cut off and collected or sometimes burned back, and then the roots can be lifted either mechanically, or manually using a type of long-handled spade to pry the fibrous roots from the ground. The earth is removed from the roots and they are left to dry for a few days before being washed and cut up, and then distilled on site or transported to the distillery.
Extraction of vetiver essential oil is by steam or water distillation and yields a golden brown to dark brown viscous oil with a rich, sweet, woody-earthy aroma with peppery overtones. The fragrance of vetiver oil is complex and varies tremendously according to the climate and soil it is grown in, the age of the roots, plus the expertise and method used to extract the oil. The essential oil produced in Réunion is known as vetiver Bourbon and is considered the very finest but commands a higher price.
Uses in aromatherapy
In India vetiver essential oil is known as the ‘Oil of Tranquillity’ due to its relaxing, calming properties on the mind, but it is also strengthening, nurturing and revitalizing to the body. It strengthens connective tissue, restores balance to hormonal and emotional conditions, and regenerates both mind and body.
Some of these attributes make it a great essential oil to use in skincare, but its powerful aroma can easily dominate a blend if you add too much, so use it judiciously. If you still find the aroma of this oil too strong in your blends, use equal proportions of sandalwood with it to create a softer, warmer base note and a highly beneficial, moisturising action.
Essential oil of vetiver also helps to balance overactive sebaceous glands which makes it perfect for drying very oily skin and acne, plus it encourages the production of sebum for dry and mature skin. It also has an impressive healing and rejuvenating action that can be put to good use with wounds, irritated skin, wrinkles and stretch marks. Used in massage it brings relief to arthritis, rheumatism and muscular aches and pains.
Vetiver essential oil is excellent for long term, deep-seated anxiety, depression and stress related conditions. It brings stability and strength to those who feel damaged by life’s circumstances and adversities, acting as a ‘grounding’ agent to the weary soul. This oil has the ability to focus the mind and elicit concentration where endurance is required. Personally, I would be totally lost without it!
Vetiver essential oil blends well with benzoin, bergamot, clary sage, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, lemongrass, lemon, linaloe wood, neroli, palmarosa, patchouli, rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2008. Written by Geoff Lyth
Did you know?
Vetiver can tolerate high temperatures, and because it has a deep root system it ensures its survival even in times of drought.
If the plant is to be used for the extraction of essential oil however, it prefers a hot and humid climate with plenty of sunshine and a minimum annual rainfall of 1500 millimetres.
The slow-growing, complex root network shows great diversity in its structure and has high tensile strength.
Typically, this network consists of a stout central root base (rhizome) with secondary spongy roots, and rootlets with hundreds of tiny shoots that mesh together making it a valuable natural barrier against soil erosion.
The essential oil is located in the rhizome and roots, and little oil is to be found in the leaves.
Essential oil testing
When it comes to essential oils, purity means everything.
And because they are the very heart and lifeblood of all Quinessence aromatherapy products, we move heaven and earth in order to bring you the very best.
Discover more about how we source and test all of our essential oils so that you can always rely on getting the very finest essential oils that Nature has to offer.
Vetiver Essential Oil Profile
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