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.
While some wild varieties can be invasive, the types used for erosion control, pollution remediation, and essential oils are sterile. They must be propagated by dividing clumps of the grass, so controlling them and confining them to a single area is as easy as cultivating borders around the edge of the clump once it reaches the desired size.
Lastly, when vetiver is harvested, the leaves can be mulched or composted and returned to the soil.
Vetiver is associated with the element earth, the planet Earth, and the astrological sign Capricorn. It is also considered a Mercury scent. In my own practice, I’ve fallen back on it many a time as a kind of “all-purpose” oil. I love working with it, and there are few things it seems like it can’t do. In witchcraft, it’s often associated with love, protection, and prosperity. It’s also one of the ingredients of van van oil used in hoodoo for a multitude of things, including purification, banishing evil, turning around ill luck, and attracting good luck in multiple areas. That’s a hell of a list for one oil to have.
I’ve even added it as an extra ingredient in some incense or oil blends to give them a bit more oomph. It’s especially helpful for oil blends, I’ve found, and I wholeheartedly encourage experimenting with it.
Sometimes, it’s possible to luck out and find lampshades, blinds, fans, or even magickal tools that are made from or incorporate vetiver root. Vetiver brooms make excellent ways to ritually clear a space (on top of making everything smell amazing).
If you’re looking for a tough ornamental grass for a difficult part of your property, plantings to help control erosion near ponds or other bodies of water, an exotic scent for personal care items, a grounding aromatherapy oil, or a pretty much all-purpose candle dressing oil or ritual herb, vetiver’s got you.