The Giving Grass

Vetiver, Chrysopogon zizanioides (reclassified from Vetiveria zizanioides), is the grass that keeps on giving. The first time I smelled the essential oil distilled from its roots, I pulled back, overwhelmed by its deep, earthy aroma. However, as I learned more about this incredible plant, I came to appreciate its smell. Now, I love its woody root aroma as much as I love how much this grass has to offer to the health of our planet.

Vetiver is a perennial tufted grass, in the same family as Lemongrass, native to India and Sri Lanka. It can grow in a variety of ecosystems such as tropic savannah, beach dunes, and water, tolerating a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Its leaves of grass fold vertically to reduce moisture loss during drought and open during wet conditions to release excess moisture. Buds for new growth are buried beneath the soil’s surface, so when a fire burns away the green grass, it regenerates new leaves. The grass can grow over nine feet tall, forming thick hedges with strong shoots that catch sediment and gravel that fall downhill. Vetiver’s roots are strong and dense, growing vertically down into the soil reaching over 20 feet. These deep roots access moisture and nutrients not available to shorter roots, providing greater resilience during drought. 8

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The strength of its roots has earned vetiver nicknames such as “living steel” and “soil nails.” When planted as a hedgerow, the roots of mature plants are equivalent to a 4 inch steel plate that is 12 to 15 feet deep in the soil. Instead of using steel plates, vetiver is a living and natural way to reduce erosion.1 It has been planted to rehabilitate slopes after landslides and provide land stabilization for railroad tracks.7 On the South Pacific Island of Vanuatu, a row of vetiver planted in 1912 to control coastal erosion has survived over 100 years.8 These strong roots can also absorb wave energy from earthquakes, reducing the impact on homes and infrastructure when planted nearby.1

Vetiver is also used to remove contaminants from soil and water. In a study of water contaminated with tetracycline antibiotic, vetiver filtered out the antibiotic, reducing the risk of anti-biotic resistant bacteria.6 Another study illustrated vetiver’s ability to remove heavy metal contaminants, such as lead, copper, and zinc, from soil, restoring the land.2 Vetiver roots also absorb higher levels of nitrates, phosphates, and other chemicals used in fertilizers than other plants can. Planted where golf courses meet the seashore, vetiver filters runoff with high levels of fertilizer that contribute to algal blooms, negatively impacting sea life. In Biloxi, MS, BM Waste Management uses vetiver to clean leachate, or “trash juice,” instead of trucking it elsewhere to be cleaned. For landfills that aren’t lined appropriately, vetiver can be planted to reduce leachate seepage into groundwater and ocean.1 Since vetiver roots store the contaminants, the shoots are still safe for livestock to graze. However, researchers analyzed the essential oil from vetiver roots that had filtered heavy metals and didn’t find any contaminants.2

Vetiver is used in many other ways to enhance home and life. In Zimbabwe, the grass is used to make thatched roofs. In Thailand, floor tiles, countertops, wall panels, and construction blocks are derived from vetiver. There is a house in Thailand constructed almost entirely of these vetiver products. In India, fans, mats, and blinds woven from vetiver roots are sprinkled with water on hot days to provide cooling effects and pleasant aroma. In Senegal, roots are put into drinking water to eliminate pathogens and add a pleasant taste. In the Dominican Republic, vetiver is used as biofuel in small regional power plants.4

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In aromatherapy, vetiver root essential oil offers profound support. In a research study of essential oils and acne causing bacteria, vetiver essential oil provided some of the best antimicrobial activity against the bacteria.3 In a study examining stress behavior, rats that inhaled vetiver essential oil showed significant reduction in anxiety when completing a maze.5 I find vetiver very beneficial in these ways, adding the essential oil to my homemade facial cleanser and using its calming properties in blends such as Earth Dreams.

The energetic and vibrational support vetiver offers echoes its morphology and the way it benefits the environment. Based on my connection and experience with vetiver essential oil, I find that it invites us to fully inhabit our bodies while it gently opens our hearts. It invites us to grow roots into the Earth and within ourselves, connecting us with the nourishment, strength, stability, and resilience that is innately our own. From this resourced place, we understand that, although our past may have shaped who we are today, it does not define our future. Connected with the Earth, rooted within ourselves, no matter what weather occurs around us and whatever blows our way, we are able weather the storm. Vetiver invites us to reconnect with ourselves and the Earth so we can move forward with confidence.

Vetiver has earned its new nickname, “the giving grass.” I am in awe and so grateful for this incredible plant and the profound healing it offers.

References

1. Cloutier, Jill (Host) and Jason Fox. “The Many Uses of Vetiver.” Sustainable World Radio: Ecology & Permaculture Podcasts, 31 Oct 2015. https://www.sustainableworldradio.com/the-many-uses-of-vetiver/.

2. Danh, L T et al. “Economic incentive for applying vetiver grass to remediate lead, copper and zinc contaminating soils.” International Journal of Phytoremediation, vol. 12, no. 1, 47-60. Jan 2011. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21598767.

3. Orchard, A et al. “The in vitro antimicrobial evaluation of commercially essential oils and their combinations against acne.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science. March 2018. PubMed, doi: 10.1111/ics.12456.

4. “Other Uses of Vetiver Grass.” The Vetiver Network International. Dec 19, 2017. http://www.vetiver.org/TVN_VS_GAL_PUB/VS_Other_uses_o.pdf.

5. Saiyudthong, S et al. “Anxiety-like behavior and c-fos expression in rats that inhaled vetiver essential oil.” National Product Research, vol. 29, no. 22, 2141-44. 2015. PubMed, doi: 10.1080/14786419.2014.992342.

6. Sangupta, A, et al. “Tetracycline uptake and metabolism by vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides L. Nash). Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, vol. 23, no. 24, 24880-9. Dec 2016. PubMed, doi: 10.1007/s11356-016-7688-8.

7. “Vetiver Systems for Land Rehabilitation.” The Vetiver Network International. Slideshow. Dec 2017. http://www.vetiver.org/TVN_VS_GAL_PUB/VS_Land_rehab1_o.pdf.

8. “Vetiver- The Plant.” The Vetiver Network International. Slideshow. Dec 2017. http://www.vetiver.org/TVN_VS_GAL_PUB/VS_Vetiver_the_Plant_o.pdf.