As the weather begins to change (albeit virtually imperceptibly courtesy of this being California) with the seasons, I begin going through my stash of herbs, teas, and other forms of preserved growing things to see what needs to be replaced, what should be used up, and what needs to be let go. More often than not, what needs replenishing is my stash of what is pretty much my most kick-ass go-to herb ever– vetiver.
Vetiver is a type of perennial grass, also known as khus in its native India. It pretty much looks like a tall, wide clump of… well, grass. It can grow to be about 4’x4′, comprised of long, thin green blades and purpleish flowers. Its most unusual characteristic is its root system– unlike other grasses, which develop comparatively shallow root systems with a wider spread, vetiver’s roots grow downward rather than outward. The result is a long, dense root system that can reach several meters in length. The roots are also the source of vetiver’s characteristic scent; the leaves themselves have very little odor at all.
While it may seem like a rather plain and unassuming plant, it hides an abundance of properties both magickal and mundane.
The essential oil, obtained by steam distillation, has a woody, earthy, lemony, spicy, herbaceous scent that almost defies description. It’s a scent that’s always resonated with me– vetiver is one of the reasons I’ve been known to forego women’s perfume for men’s scents on occasion– and one many aromatherapy devotees find grounding or soothing. This has helped it make its way into oil blends for meditation and de-stressing.
The fragrance of the roots is far from the only reason to grow vetiver, however. Since the plant has a very dense root system, it is excellent at controlling erosion. These long, dense roots act like a mesh to hold soil in place. Vetiver is also extraordinarily tough and adaptive– it’s even been nicknamed “the plant that never dies.” Since these plants can have a pretty decent-sized spread, they are also good at retaining soil moisture. The plant can even help reduce water pollution and improve water quality (pdf), especially in areas where waterways are subjected to agricultural runoff and livestock effluent. Continue reading →