Vetiver - the plant that never dies

Chrysopogan zizanoides (formerly Vetiveria zizanoides)

Common Names: KhusKhus, Vetivert, Akar Wangi

During an herbal adventure in Morocco, I was introduced to the fascinating plant known as "Vetiver". At a Women's Cooperative we visited, they were busy experimenting with the planting of vetiver on the hillsides to help prevent erosion of the soil. They were pleased with the results they had experienced so far with this tough, tenacious plant, and hoped to continue to enjoy positive effects.

Vetiver is a dense, clumping perennial grass with thick aromatic roots. It is related to lemongrass, citronella and palmarosa, and is one of the very oldest plants on earth. Vetiver is extremely adaptive and can grow in all soil types. The preferred type of vetiver is sterile, and so is non-invasive or crop encroaching. This tropical plant, hardy probably only to Zone 7 or 8, has many uses - agricutural, medicinal and decorative.

Criss Juillard, who runs a vetiver farm in Morocco, gave an engaging introduction to this seemingly inocuous grass to our group of herbalists. Extensive research has been conducted on the effectiveness of vetiver to reduce soil loss, conserve moisture, protect crops, and even in pollution control. It helps trap top soil, and is one of only a handful of plants that can grow uphill, making it invaluable as a steep bank stabilizer. In Madagascar, hedgerows of vetiver filter sediment, allowing natural terraces to be stabilized behind it. Vetiver improves soil texture and retains soil moisture prior to reforestation efforts - critical in arid or marginal areas. It has been used for wind erosion in China, and in many areas around the world to stabilize irrigation canals, riverbanks, ponds and even sea dykes against storm and flood damage. This amazing plant can even reduce the flow of heavy metals into water and reduce contamination - nitrates by 94% and phosphates by 90%. In Vietnam, floating rafts of vetiver help clean piggery effluent ponds. Is it any wonder then, that the King of Thailand has given vetiver an exalted status in his country? In Mali, it is known as "the plant that never dies" , which seems to be an exaggerated claim. But vetiver can tolerate long periods of drought or flooding, can withstand overgrazing and trampling by cattle, and can even resist fire and earthquake. Its massive root structure can extend from 3 to 9 feet in its first year of growth alone. Certainly, this is a plant to be respected and studied.

Vetiver roots are the most used part of the plant, though the chopped leaves make a good mulch. The essential oil of vetiver - a resinous oil that is deep, earthy and exotic - has been used since the time of Babylonia, and is used extensively today in the perfume industry. It is often used in haute couture perfumes; it is the bottom note in fragrances such as Coco, Miss Dior, and Opium. Vetiver takes a long time to evaporate from the skin - known as "persistence" in perfume. It is an excellent fixative in potpourris, etc. and the oil improves with age. In Aromatherapy, it was traditionally used for someone going into shock, as it is said to center and ground, as well as calm and restore. Vetiver is also anti-nematode, antibacterial and antifungal. Rats and insects do not like it, and so it is used as a repellent to keep away bugs in strawberry plantations and mice out of grain.

Additional uses for vetiver have been developed throughout time - some practical, some more whimsical. Many Asian artisans craft handbags, wall hangings, placemats, lampshades and fans out of the woven roots of vetiver. Some households use woven blinds of vetiver to cool and perfume their homes. The blinds are dipped or sprayed with water, and as the water evaporates, the temperature in the room cools and is scented with a fresh and cleansing odor. Others burn vetiver to protect the home, create harmony or to overcome black magic. Others, still, use vetiver for love spells, to break hexes or to attract money. Placing a root of vetiver in the cash drawer supposedly increases business and prevents thievery. A tea made from vetiver works wonders for hangovers, or is useful for cramps. In india, it was placed on funeral pyres as a symbol of reincarnation, perhaps as an ackowledgement of this plant's ability to transcend its environment and appear indestructible. Vetiver is a plant that seems to persist no matter what gets thrown at it, earning its name of the plant that never dies.

Resources

"Vetiver - A Miracle Herb" Jean Cozart, The Herbarist 1995

www.vetiver.org