USEs & BENEFITS
A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
– Walt Whitman
Of course, not all grass is the same. When I was a boy growing up, I used to love going to the park and laying in the grass while sky-gazing. The smell of the grass was so earthy and calming. Although most grass has an earthy smell, some kinds have that and more!
Chrysopogon zizanioidies, commonly known as vetiver, is one of those types of grass. "What is that?" you might ask. Well, it's a perennial bunchgrass that is closely related to Sorghum, but shares many characteristics with other fragrant grasses such as lemongrass, citronella and palmarosa. However, it has a unique, mild, earthy, and musky scent which invokes a feeling of calmness.
It could very well be known as a SuperGrass due to its ability to grow in some of the harshest conditions on the planet and survive natural and man-made catastrophes.
As James Russell Lowell once said, "In creating, the only hard thing is to begin: a grass' blade is no easier to make than an oak."
In the oldest books of the Hindus, the Bhagavad Gita, lord Krishna speaks with the tongue of vetiver, "I am the fragrance of the soil." So let's find out more about this amazing grass.
Vetiver has a long history in its native land of India. As a matter of fact, the name comes from a Tamil word meaning 'root that is dug up'. The zizanioidies part of the scientific name, which means 'by the river', was added by Carl Linnaeus the famous Swedish botanist. Vetiver's native habitat is in low, damp areas like bogs and swamps. However, it's now found in many different habitats and used in many different ways.
Vetiver grows to 150 cm high and forms clumps just as wide. The hollow stems can reach up to 3 meters in ideal conditions. The stems are tall and the leaves are long, thin and rigid. The flowers are brownish-purple. It also has another characteristic that you won't find in other grasses, its roots grow downward to about 2-4 meters in depth.
It is a gregarious bunch grass and grows in clusters. Shoots growing from the underground crown make the plant frost and wildfire resistant. It can also survive heavy grazing. The leaves can grow up to 300 cm long. The plant stems are erect and stiff and can survive deep water flow. In fact, it can survive under clear water for up to two months. Even when the grass is buried by soil disposition, new roots can grow out of buried nodes. Hence, the SuperGrass title!
The finely structured and strong root system can grow 3-4 meters deep in the first year. This makes the plant highly drought-resistant and helpful in the protection against erosion.
Most species of vetiver do not produce fertile seeds and because it propagates itself by small offsets, these types are non-invasive and can be easily controlled by cultivation of the soil at the boundary of the hedge.
The Where, When and How of Vetiver
As we mentioned, vetiver is native to India (where it is called garara, khas, and khus-khus), but other major producers are Haiti, Indonesia, Reunion Island, China, Brazil, Java and Japan. Besides those producing countries there are about 65 other countries that grow vetiver for one or more of its many uses locally.
Vetiver cultivation and use dates back at least to the 12th century. It was used in the Ayurveda—one of the oldest holistic medicine systems in the world.
The oil is obtained by distilling only the roots of the plant and not the blades. For that reason, vetiver oil is bronze colored. Many vetiver oils do appear green, however, due to their being distilled in copper vessels.
Once it and its oil's medicinal properties were known, it spread to many other cultures across the globe. Among those properties are its uplifting, soothing, healing and calming attributes. Hence it is often called the 'oil of tranquility' in the Indian subcontinent.
The ancient Chinese believed vetiver's essential oil had calming powers that cooled the system, energized the brain, stabilized emotions, invigorated dry skin and pacified hurtful thoughts and anger. It was even recommended for patients suffering from Yin deficiency which often caused a dissociative state of depression.
Although the oil is probably the most well-known product of this versatile plant, it's by no means the only benefit it gives to the world.
Did you ever think you could 'water' your blinds?! In its native country of India, the fragrant roots of vetiver are intertwined with the window blinds as a kind of air freshener. When the scent dissipates, water is sprayed on the blinds to bring scent out once again!
Although the plant is not well-known in Africa, it can be found from Cairo to Cape Town. There's also, at least, one native species that's a counterpart to the Asian plant. It was thought to be introduced for its oil but in some countries it was and is still used to protect coffee and tea plantations from soil erosion. And you can find it on Mt. Kilimanjaro!
Besides Haiti, it's found in other Caribbean countries like St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. It was brought into these countries from India many years ago and is still popular today due to its many uses in everyday life. Vetiver is commonly used to make mats and handcrafts. The dried roots are sometimes used as insect repellent.
Long ago, it was used as thatch to roof houses.
Tourist brochures in Barbados actually feature unique souvenirs made from vetiver. These include clothes hangers covered in the roots and bound in ribbons. They make your wardrobe smell very nice for a long time. They are also soft and thick which is perfect for hanging clothes on. It's also used to make rugs, wall to wall coverings and even lampshades.
In South American countries like Argentina and Brazil, the essential oil is produced for the domestic market in perfumes. The other parts of the plant are utilized as well. The fragrant roots are used to make baskets and mats that are hung in doorways and windows to perfume the air. They are frequently sprayed with water, like the curtains in India, so that the scent remains fresh and the air is kept at a comfortable temperature. The leaves, which have no scent, make good hats and straw canes are used to cover cabanas and barns.
Several native species of it grow in the north of Australia. In 1907, the plant was introduced to Fiji and today is common in most parts of the islands. Some people drink a tea made by boiling vetiver roots in water.
Perhaps you never thought an exotic plant like this could be found in the United States!
Well, think again. They've been using it for about 150 years in Louisiana! Believe it or not, they depended on it to keep moths out of closets during the summers. It was said that it would stay effective for two years. They also produced small amounts of essential oil.
Alas this plant, so well-known to the Southerners, has largely been forgotten since the last century.
List of Uses
Please note that this section is for information purposes only. The benefits/effect listed below are not necessarily clinically proven, they are mainly the reported experiences of users and practitioners of folk and traditional healing/medical systems. This information is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a suitably qualified health-care practitioner for medical advice.
Some health benefits provided by vetiver essential oil are discussed below:
* Treatment of nervous disorders and circulation problems.
* Helps cure insomnia and helps one have a sound sleep.
* Useful for trauma and other emotional problems.
* Treatment of muscle and joint pain.
* Used to get rid of lice and other insects.
* Helps prevent the skin from drying and cracking.
* It has strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which helps
* Alleviate inflammation the circulatory and nervous systems.
* Used for gastro-intestinal problems.
* Treatment of colic.
* Reduces blood sugar in cases of diabetes.
* Used to treat obstinate vomiting.
* Helps treat fever and dysuria.
* Increases lactation.
* Treatment of high blood pressure.
* Helps treat constipation.
* Adds strength and vigor to the body.
* And for those in need... enhances libido!
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
* To flavor beverages and food.
* Used in cosmetics and perfumes.
* Used as an air-freshener.
* Used in aromatherapy with other oils.
* Used to make souvenirs.
* Used to roof cabanas.
* Used to make hangers.
* Used to make rugs and wall coverings.
* Used to make baskets and lampshades.
* Used as an insect repellent.
The Unselfish Vetiver Plant
Vetiver has some unusual qualities that make it a very good friend to other plants, the soil, farmers and nature in general. Here are some examples of how it provides these benefits:
Prevents Erosion: When it's planted along the contour of sloping land, it forms narrow, dense hedges. The deep roots hold the hedge steadfast which slows down the run-off of water helping it soak into the soil rather than washing off the slope.
This tough foliage blocks the passage of soil and as a result it builds up a soil terrace.
Due to its deep roots, even after a brush fire the plant holds strong to the soil helping to prevent mud slides.
Rehabilitation of Saline and Acid Sulphate Soils: It has a high tolerance to salt and acid sulphate effected soil. When planted in this type of soil, it can effectively absorb plant-available sodium and metals that contribute to soil salinity and acidity.
Crop Protection and Pest Repellent: It attracts the stem borer bug which lays its eggs there but the larvae cannot move to the leaves so it falls off and dies. Its extract can also be used to repel termites.
Fodder: It's more palatable young leaves are nutritious enough to provide feed for animals during times of scarcity.
Health Benefits of Vetiver Essential Oil
Vetiver's essential oil composition is known to be intricate and rich with over 100 sesquiterpene compounds and their derivatives. These can be found in high quantities in other essential oils like lemon, patchouli and cedarwood and are known to produce fresh, warm yet cooling, woody, earthy and balsamic notes that can encourage feelings of confidence and tranquility. Vetiver's sedative properties have made it ideal for dealing with feelings of nervousness, anger, panic, and restlessness. It is also said to uplift moods and help boost the immune system.
Vetiver's hydrating effect makes it very useful as a cosmetic that can condition and nourish the skin. It can also protect the skin from the elements and as a result reduce the appearance of wrinkles, giving one a youthful, glow.
The essential oil is used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory that can relieve aches and pains in joints. Additionally, it can have anti-septic properties that facilitate the healing of wounds by eliminating and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.
As you can see this more than just another grass. Go ahead and experience this SuperGrass in its purest and most exquisite form Zaza.