Vetiver is a versatile plant that’s little known in the West but extremely important in other parts of the world. Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides or Chrysopogon zizanioides) is a dense, aromatic grass that also goes by the name khus grass in India, where every part of the plant is used.
Its dense, matted roots are woven into floor mats and baskets. It’s used to make screens, which are hung like curtains and sprinkled with water to keep the air cool and fresh during the heat of the summer. Its leaves are used for livestock feed. The pulp of the plant is used for making paper and straw board. It’s a safe and natural pesticide that repels termites and mosquitoes. It’s planted to prevent soil erosion. It can pull substantial amounts of heavy metals such as copper, zinc, cadmium, and lead from the ground to rejuvenate polluted soil and protect ground water. Additionally, it’s commonly used as a flavoring for Indian sherbet and soft drinks.
But vetiver is also a natural healing herb that is particularly well known for its effectiveness as both a nervine and calmative — giving it the capability of settling the nervous system and calming the mind.
Traditional Uses For Vetiver
Vetiver has been used since ancient times as a traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India. It is considered a medicinal aromatic plant in many other areas of the world, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and West Africa.
A paste made from the leaves is used to treat back and joint pain, sprains, fever, and scars. This paste is also used in medical emergencies like snake bites, scorpion stings, wounds, and burns. In addition, vetiver is a traditional treatment for headaches, bladder infections, malaria, arthritis, muscle aches, and gout.
Use Vetiver Essential Oil To Calm The Mind
The list of traditional uses above shows how versatile and effective a remedy vetiver is, but it is especially potent when used as an essential oil.
Essential oils are concentrated fragrant extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or flowers of medicinal plants. Vetiver essential oil is obtained through steam distillation of the plant’s roots and is particularly complex, containing over 150 known compounds. This unique chemical composition gives it a rich, earthy fragrance and significant therapeutic properties.
Vetiver essential oil, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties, is one of the most valuable and important raw materials in the perfume and cosmetics industry. It is a common ingredient in high-end toiletries including perfume, soap, and shampoo.
Like fine wine, vetiver’s fragrance gets better with age. And similarly, the characteristics of vetiver oil vary depending on the climate, soil conditions, and geography where it’s grown. The essential oil extracted from wild vetiver in northern India is considered the best in the world but is rarely available outside of India.
The Oil Of Tranquility
In Sri Lanka and India, vetiver essential oil is called “the oil of tranquility.” Ayurvedic medicine considers it a cooling oil that relaxes and calms the mind. It is traditionally used for alleviating stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, hysteria, trauma, and panic attacks. In ancient Chinese medicine, vetiver oil was also believed to calm and cool the body and mind and to stabilize emotions. For these reasons, it was sometimes used as a meditation aid.
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal, claims that the health benefits of vetiver essential oil can be attributed to its anti-inflammatory, nervine, and sedative properties. Vetiver is particularly good at relieving inflammation of the nervous system.
As a nervine, it maintains nerve health and heals the damage done to nerves from shock, fear, and stress. Thus, it is helpful for nervous and neurotic disorders of all kinds. As a calmative, it acts as a sedative that’s effective at reducing anxiety, anger, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, shock, fear, high levels of stress, and panic. Vetiver can cool hot flashes and tame the mood swings associated with menopause and PMS.
Treatment For ADHD And ADD
One of the promising findings about vetiver is as a treatment for ADHD and ADD. These attention disorders are common among both children and adults and are characterized by lack of focus and concentration, distractibility, impatience, and fidgety behavior. One oft-quoted study compared the effects of vetiver and two other essential oils on children with ADHD. Children ages 6-14 were administered one essential oil at a time for 30 days. They used an inhalation device at night and inhaled the essential oil roughly three times day as needed.
The other essential oils, cedarwood and lavender, yielded significant results with improvements of 83% and 53% respectively, but the children that received vetiver had a remarkable 100% improvement in performance. These results were determined by testing for ADHD symptoms and by measuring changes in brain wave patterns. According to the study’s author, Dr. Terry Friedman, the study participants experienced other subjective benefits that were not included in the study results.
Dr. Friedman added that, “In addition, I received several letters from parents of the ADHD children stating that their behavior at home had improved for the better. In several cases, they also stated that school educators informed them that their performance was observed to improve in the classroom. The report cards in some of the subjects had reflected this improvement as well.”
Another study found that inhalation of vetiver essential oil worked as well for relieving anxiety as the anti-anxiety prescription meditation Diazepam in lab rats. So far, no human studies have attempted to duplicate these results.
Lastly, vetiver can help protect the brain from oxidative damage caused by unattached oxygen molecules known as free radicals. Since the brain uses a disproportionately large amount of oxygen, it’s particularly susceptible to oxidative damage. Vetiver oil exhibits even stronger antioxidant activity than typical antioxidants like vitamin E. Antioxidants are critical for keeping brain cells healthy and preventing premature aging.
Vetiver is considered safe. Vetiver essential oil is non-toxic, non-irritating, and non-sensitizing. There are no known contraindications for mixing it with medications.
But there is one big exception. Do not use vetiver if you are pregnant since it could cause miscarriage. (In some societies, it has been used expressly for this purpose.) And since no studies have been done to test its safety on infants, it’s best to avoid vetiver while breastfeeding.
How To Use Vetiver Essential Oil
There are two main ways to use vetiver or any other essential oil — apply topically or inhale. Like most essential oils, vetiver is generally not taken internally or used on the skin full strength. It can be diluted in a carrier oil, such as almond, jojoba, or coconut oil, and then massaged into the skin.
You can also add a few drops of straight vetiver essential oil to a bath. According to a report published by Vetiver Network International, a traditional tranquility bath oil recipe is two drops of vetiver, two drops of lavender, and four drops of rose essential oils added to two teaspoons (10 ml) of sweet almond oil. Add this to your bath and soak in the tub for at least ten minutes.
There are several other ways to inhale vetiver — with diffusers or spritzers or simply by adding it to a pot of hot water and breathing in the vapors. You’ll find complete instructions for using essential oils at the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. If you are among those who do not love vetiver’s woodsy, masculine scent, then you can mask the smell with other relaxing essential oils. Vetiver blends well with chamomile, lavender, jasmine, rose, and vanilla.
Vetiver essential oil is unusually thick; don’t be surprised if your particular oil has a different consistency than other essential oils. In fact, if you have trouble getting it out of the bottle, that’s a good sign that you’ve got authentic, undiluted vetiver essential oil.