Vetiver: Miraculous grass smells fantastic, provides environmental benefits

April 5, 2010

Vetiver: it’s present in nearly 90% of western perfumes[wiki] and its aroma is a complex weave of (I’m smelling some right now) smoke, earth, wood, secrets, calm, nuance, sap. It has almost no edges to its smell; it’s a viscous, amber syrup in its distilled form. You feel like you could almost put it on pancakes.

The grass, which is native to India (“vetiver” is derived from a Tamil word) and related to lemongrass, seems like a plant calibrated to the current needs of our world. It’s grown widely in Haiti, India and Indonesia for the perfume markets of the world, but its other talents are heralded by such organizations as The Vetiver Network International. Vetiver forms the basis of the eponymous “Vetiver System”, a rather utopian-seeming interplay of the plant’s characteristics with its environment.

Vetiver provides excellent erosion control, is easy to grow, doesn’t seem to mind toxins like heavy metals or blooms of weird algae or phosphorus, and, by dint of its method of propagation, is non-invasive and easy to control.

Its aromatic essential oil is distilled from its roots, which grow 2-4 feet nearly straight down (hence its erosion-protection properties). The oil from roots 18 to 24 months old is most prized.

Like other complex and wonderful smells in the world, vetiver oil is made up of something like 100 or more components. One of its more prominent is Terpinen-4-ol, a terpene that it shares with tea tree oil (another of my favorites) and nutmeg. Just try not to think about the fact that the word “terpene” comes from “turpentine”, and your days will be worry-free (no, but seriously, most terpenes do not smell like turpentine; terpenes have wide variety, and, in fact, are the prime characteristic of myriad essential oils).

While the antiseptic effects of tea tree oil have been widely tested and documented, recently some research has shown that Terpinen-4-ol may also have anti-inflammatory qualities, including the possible suppression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Ah, TNF, the bane of my personal existence. TNF is a primary antagonist in Crohn’s Disease. The drugs I take work by inhibiting TNF. So, while I doubt I’ll be seeing any Terpinen-based Crohn’s Disease remedies anytime soon, I do find the whole thing intriguing.

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