Vetiver, also known as Chrysopogon zizanioides, is a dense, fast-growing grass native to India. For centuries, every part of this remarkable plant has been used by traditional communities for a wide variety of applications including roof thatching, baskets and mats, soil and water conservation, animal feed and traditional medicine. However, one of the most prized components of vetiver is it’s roots. Vetiver roots are thick, long and have a rich, earthy aroma reminiscent of balsam and cinnamon. These versatile roots have been used since antiquity for their medicinal properties, essential oils and as a natural fixative in cosmetics and perfumery.
Characteristics of Vetiver Roots
Appearance and Structure
Unlike common grass species, vetiver forms massive root systems that grow downward instead of outward. Mature vetiver plants have sturdy stems and narrow leaves, but their most distinguishing feature is the vetiver roots. These roots can grow 3-4 meters deep in the first year alone. As the roots grow down, they form a dense network of thin, fibrous subsidiary roots surrounding a main axial root. The surface root system stabilizes the plant while the deep roots access moisture and nutrients.
Vetiver roots are straight and rigid with a smooth, brown exterior. When split open lengthwise, the white interior reveals alternating bands of spongy and fibrous tissue which create a lattice-like pattern unique to vetiver. The roots have a wood-like appearance and quality. Dried vetiver roots are very hard and difficult to break.
The most prized vetiver roots for distillation and perfumery emanate a rich, sweet, earthy, woody aroma often described as balsam, cinnamon, smoke and honey-like. The fragrance is distinctive and tends to improve with age like fine wine. The older the vetiver root, the deeper, richer and more complex the smell. The roots distilled for their essential oil contain the highest quantity of terpenic compounds and sesquiterpene alcohols that give vetiver oil it’s unique odor.
In addition to fragrant compounds, vetiver roots contain an array of other substances that are biologically active in humans including alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, tannins, polyphenols, glycosides and vitamins A, C & E. Many traditional and modern applications of vetiver roots derive from these compounds. For example, the polyphenols are known for their antioxidant activity which produces free radical scavenging benefits in humans. Compounds like glycosides can stimulate the immune system while others contribute to analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal or cooling effects that soothe and heal.
Traditional and Modern Uses
Cooling and Perfume
For millennia, vetiver roots have been prized in India for their fragrant oils as well as their legendary ability to cool the body in hot weather. During summer heat waves, iced vetiver root water continues to provide a soothing, refreshing pick-me-up. Vetiver compounds khusimol and khusimone produce a cooling sensation when ingested, which offers relief from pitta imbalances in Ayurvedic medicine.
The traditional use of vetiver roots soaked in water to cool people inspired the invention of an early form of refrigerator in India prior to the arrival of electric cooling technology. People created a type of “refrigerator” called a mitti cool almirah that was essentially a clay-lined cabinet filled with vetiver roots and water pads. The evaporation from the root water pads cooled perishable foods stored nearby in a completely natural way.
In hot tropical climates around the world, vetiver grass woven panels and curtains drenched in water continue to cool indoor spaces. The evaporating moisture also provides a clean, refreshing fragrance thanks to the vetiverol compounds. In luxury homes and hotels, decorative bundles of dried vetiver roots lend natural aroma to rooms. Vetiver roots are also used to make potpourri, herbal pillows, aroma sticks and closet sachets.
The same compounds that provide fragrance and cooling effects have made vetiver roots a popular fixative in premium perfumes. The heavy, rich, earthy base notes not only anchor volatile compounds in a perfume composition, they also prolong the life of a fragrance. Vetiver oil from the roots is considered one of the finest fixatives and base notes used in modern perfumery and fragrances today.
Water Conservation & Soil Health
The fast-growing, deeply penetrating root system of vetiver grass has been used for centuries in Asia and Africa to control soil erosion. Vetiver roots form natural barriers that stabilize soils on mountain slopes, river banks, farm contour lines and road cuts by preventing movement of earth once rainfall starts washing it downhill. As an added conservation benefit, the thick hedge of grass slows and spreads the flow of precipitation, enabling more water to permeate the soil below rather than simply run off the surface. This prevents loss of topsoil during monsoons and lessens the impacts of drought during dry periods.
When vetiver roots decompose, they add significant organic matter to the soil which retains moisture and nutrients. Farmers interplant several rows of vetiver grass closely together to create hedgerows along contour lines. Through a technique called “vetiver mulching”, they prune the hedges each season allowing the cut grass to decompose and enrich the soil with abundant organic material. The hedgerow contour lines combat erosion while the mulch builds soil fertility to increase crop yields.
Livestock and wild herbivores consume vetiver grass as forage material. Although the leaves may decline in nutritional value as the plant ages, the rich nutrient and biomass content found in vetiver roots, with their high density of vascular bundles, sustains animals well.
Traditional herbalists dry and grind the roots into a meal for farm animals and cattle to improve health and weight. Modern research confirms vetiver supplementation increases growth rate in livestock. Other studies show incorporating vetiver root meal in feed blocks the growth of internal parasites like roundworms in sheep and goats. By regulating parasite loads and enhancing immunity, vetiver keeps livestock healthy for better production.
For thousands of years, traditional weavers have fashioned mats, baskets, screening, hats and sandals from the flexible, resilient fibers obtained from vetiver roots and leaves. The strength and durability of finished vetiver goods is enhanced by compounds like silica absorbed from the soil. Artisans weave beautiful patterns into mats and screening to create home décor. These days, due to shrinking habitat, wild sources only provide material for specialty crafts. Most woven vetiver goods now utilize fibers obtained from vetiver cultivated specifically as raw material for handicrafts. The industry provides a valuable source of income for marginal communities.
Some of the most iconic traditional uses of vetiver roots can be seen atop village homes and buildings across tropical regions of the world. Vetiver grass provides an inexpensive, durable thatched roof ideal for hot climates. Preferred grass stems with strong, non-lodging roots are harvested at the peak of maturity for the best quality thatch. To assemble a roof, the stems get tied into neat bundles then laid in overlapping rows progressing from bottom up to create a neatly groomed surface that repels rainwater almost like tiles. As the thick root crowns resist pests and mold, properly maintained vetiver thatch can last 10-15 years or longer depending on regional conditions.
Once stripped of roots and soil, the clean thatch is lightweight and excellent insulation which keeps interiors cool and comfortable. For homeowners lacking modern building supplies, vetiver grass continues to shield families from the elements much like it did for their ancestors.
Traditional Medicine & Wellness
All parts of vetiver find their way into the medicine bags of traditional healers, however, the roots possess the most valued therapeutic compounds. Indigenous medical systems around the world such as Indian Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese and South African Herbal Medicine utilize vetiver roots to soothe, cool inflammation, detoxify organs like the liver, boost immunity and enhance wellness in remedies for skin, nervous disorders, pain relief, snakebite, fever, urogenital problems and much more.
Contemporary research provides insight on biochemical activities that supports historical applications. For example, the anti-inflammatory effects reduce swelling from sprains or arthritis pain. Antioxidant action protects body tissues and cells from free radical damage. Alterative compounds decongest the circulatory channels and glandular organs to improve many functions. Evidence confirms traditional use for rheumatism, headaches, boils and general debility along with antifungal action against common culprits like Candida.
To purify the blood and enhance immunity against infections, traditional healers recommend drinking water soaked with fresh vetiver roots. The alterative action cleanses while strengthening resistance to pathogens internally and externally for healthier skin and faster wound healing. Lactating mothers consume vetiver root preparations to enrich breastmilk with protective compounds for both digestive and immune benefits in infants.
From snake handlers using the “snake root” as an antidote for bites to midwives prescribing the boiled decoction for postpartum recovery tonics, traditional communities rely on the safe supportive remedies vetiver roots provide. Even modern herbal supplements frequently include vetiver ingredients like the rejuvenating Ayurvedic formula Chyawanprash containing amla berry, sesame oil, honey and vetiver.
Cosmetics & Skin Care
In addition to the natural integrity of vetiver root oil actively stabilizing cosmetics to prolong freshness, compounds in the roots provide therapeutic skin benefits. The antioxidant activity of polyphenols protects skin from free radical damage and environmental pollutants to prevent premature aging. Traditional communities recognized the alterative blood purifying effects clear dull complexions and aid problematic skin. When combined with vetiver’s cooling energy and antimicrobial action against common microbes, skin complaints resolve.
Tribal women grind the roots to paste and mix with herbs or turmeric for problem skin or to enhance natural beauty. Ayurvedic healers prepare special facial oils for scars and blemishes containing vetiver roots steeped in sesame oil. Compounds repair and tone skin tissue while locking moisture in place for healthy flexibility that improves appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well.
Beyond direct use on the skin, the fragrance alone uplifts mood which indirectly benefits appearance. As vetiver relieves anxiety and restlessness to calm the mind, it settles the nervous system by reducing hyperactivity of the sympathetic nerves. This not only smooths facial tension in the skin for a more relaxed appearance it also curbs lifestyle habits that exacerbate skin problems like smoking. When stress no longer triggers unhealthy habits or reactions due to vetiver’s soothing effects, complexion often clears up on it’s own.
From traditional village life to high-end spas, vetiver roots continue demonstrating their timeless ability to enhance wellbeing and appearance for beautiful, healthy skin that glows from within.
The Healing Properties of Vetiver Roots
Vetiver, also known as Chrysopogon zizanioides, is a tall, fragrant grass native to India. For centuries, all parts of the vetiver plant, including the roots, have been used in Ayurvedic and other traditional medicine systems to treat a wide variety of ailments. Modern research has verified many of vetiver’s traditional health applications and uncovered new potential benefits.
Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Benefits
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infections, injuries and toxins. While acute inflammation is an essential part of the healing process, chronic inflammation can contribute to modern diseases like heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Vetiver root extracts have been shown in laboratory studies to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can help relieve chronic inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory properties of vetiver root come from it’s high levels of active compounds like essential oils, flavonoids, terpenoids and phenolic acids. These compounds are able to inhibit pro-inflammatory signaling pathways in the body, dampening the overactive immune response. This helps relieve painful conditions caused by inflammation such as arthritis and musculoskeletal pain.
In addition to being anti-inflammatory, vetiver roots are a rich source of antioxidants. Vetiver essential oil extracted from the roots contains antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants combat oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing free radicals, unstable molecules which can damage healthy cells, cause them to age prematurely and contribute to disease. By fighting oxidation and free radical damage, the antioxidants in vetiver support the immune system, slow the aging process and protect against chronic diseases like cancer.
Immune System Support
Vetiver root extracts provide broad support for the immune system in a few key ways. First, they stimulate immune cells like lymphocytes, macrophages and neutrophils which defend against infection. This has been shown to boost immune response in animal studies and could help humans better resist pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
Additionally, immune signaling molecules called immunomodulators are thought to regulate immune response. Certain immunomodulators are found in vetiver root, particularly the compound khusimol. By enhancing immune cell activity and shaping immune response, vetiver helps keep the immune system vigilant against harm while preventing overactivation that can lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune issues.
Some research suggests vetiver’s antioxidants also bolster immunity. Oxidative stress and free radical damage suppress immune response, but by neutralizing these rogue molecules, vetiver may allow immune cells to function at their highest capacity. More human studies are needed, but vetiver root shows promise for enhancing immune defense and regulation based on the current evidence.
The liver filters toxins and produces proteins essential to life. When overburdened, liver cells become inflamed and can even die off. Thankfully, vetiver root protects the liver from damage in a comprehensive way.
First, vetiver root extracts have been found to increase levels of glutathione in liver tissue. This antioxidant compound traps free radicals and reactive chemicals before they can harm liver cells. Other antioxidants from vetiver neutralize additional toxins by accepting their extra electrons.
Furthermore, vetiver roots appear to promote liver cell regeneration. The exact mechanisms require more study, but compounds in vetiver likely inhibit pathways leading to cell death while activating genes involved in cell survival and replication. With support for both protection and regeneration, vetiver root could keep liver function resilient even in the face of ongoing challenges.
Finally, by reducing inflammation, vetiver addresses another central mechanism underlying most chronic liver issues. Kupffer cells in the liver drive inflammatory immune response, worsening problems like viral hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver fibrosis. Anti-inflammatory agents from vetiver roots calm this inflammatory process and alleviate damage induced by Kupffer cell activity. For those with liver disease, vetiver root supplements could help manage inflammation while also assisting tissue repair.
Gut Flora Balance
From digestion to hormone regulation, a healthy balance of gut microbes critically impacts many aspects of health. Imbalances in gut bacteria can arise from factors like diet, medication use and toxins, leading to inflammation in gastrointestinal and systemic tissues. Bioactive compounds from vetiver appear to act as prebiotics that favor the growth of beneficial bacteria over potentially harmful species.
Specifically, vetiver root extracts seem to boost populations of bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium while suppressing gram negative bacteria like Pseudomonas, Shigella and Escherichia. Beneficial species aid digestion, synthesize helpful vitamins and anti-inflammatory compounds, crowd out pathogens and strengthen gut barrier integrity. Meanwhile, certain gram negative bacteria can trigger inflammation or cause illness when overgrown. By selectively promoting helpful bacteria through prebiotic mechanisms that remain poorly understood, vetiver roots help recreate intestinal equilibrium.
This restoration of microbial balance calms inflammatory disorders affecting the gut such as colitis, stabilizes intestinal permeability to keep toxins out of the bloodstream and enhances digestive enzyme and vitamin production. Through it’s prebiotic and anti-inflammatory action in the gut, vetiver root relieves gastrointestinal issues and improves whole-body wellbeing.
In areas where traditional medicine is widely practiced, vetiver is used to treat wounds, infections and sepsis. Laboratory research now confirms vetiver extracts act as broad antimicrobial agents against bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites via multiple modes of action.
For one, compounds in vetiver alter microbial cell membranes, preventing vital transport of nutrients and waste. Vetiver may also inhibit microbial enzymes necessary for survival and reproduction. Certain viruses are unable to take hold in host cells due to vetiver interfering with pathways essential for viral binding, entry, replication, assembly or release from infected cells.
These widespread antimicrobial effects likely result from synergistic action among vetiver compounds like polyphenols, alkaloids, steroids and terpenoids which individually demonstrate antimicrobial activity. Different bioactive chemicals may target non-overlapping microbial pathways, making it difficult for pathogens to develop resistance.
By directly attacking microbial virulence factors without leading to resistance, vetiver root supplements could soon be used in place of traditional antibiotics for drug-resistant infections. When applied topically, vetiver oils and pastes treat wound infections – reducing bacterial density and enhancing new tissue formation. Ongoing investigations continue to identify novel microbes inhibited by compounds in the vetiver plant.
A growing body of research suggests extracts of vetiver root may help manage type 2 diabetes. This is thought to occur through a few complementary mechanisms: slowing carbohydrate absorption, enhancing insulin sensitivity, protecting insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas from oxidative damage and facilitating sugar transport into cells.
For example, studies demonstrate consuming vetiver root extracts with high-carb meals blunts the typical blood sugar spike afterward – indicating vetiver slows digestion and absorption of sugars from the gut. This gives cells more time to take in glucose from the bloodstream and may curb post-meal fatigue.
Certain compounds in vetiver also mimic insulin’s role in escorting sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells like muscle and fat tissue for energy production and storage. Increasing insulin sensitivity through this pathway means cells require less insulin to manage a given amount of circulating glucose – taking stress off struggling pancreas cells.
Additionally, vetiver alleviates oxidative stress that can damage insulin-secreting beta cells. Vetiver oil counteracts reactive oxygen species and protects beta cells and their DNA from harmful oxidation. By relieving oxidative damage and making cells more responsive to existing insulin, vetiver extracts could delay progression of type 2 diabetes. Human trials are still needed to develop clinical guidelines.
Safety & Contraindications
When using any herbal remedy, proper guidance is advised from a trained practitioner. Though vetiver roots demonstrate an outstanding safety record through millennia of traditional use around the world, precautions apply for certain individuals. Due to vetiver’s cooling energies, those with excess coldness conditions like chills, fatigue and impaired immunity should use caution.
Vetiver roots may slow blood clotting which could interfere with blood thinners or anticoagulant medications. Stop use prior to any major surgery for up to 2 weeks. Though no toxicity or overdose side effects are known, very high doses act as a sedative which could exaggerate effects of CNS depressants. Anyone pregnant, nursing or administering vetiver remedies to children should consult their pediatrician or doctor beforehand. Always adhere to the guidance of your physician in case of contraindicated health disorders.
Compounds like essential oils, flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids and terpenoids found naturally in vetiver roots exert complementary therapeutic effects: they reduce inflammation, neutralize damaging free radicals, fight pathogens, balance gut flora, enhance insulin sensitivity and protect cells from injury.
Yes, modern research has confirmed many traditional medicinal uses of vetiver roots. Cell studies and animal studies support vetiver’s anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, liver-protecting and other properties. More human trials are still needed for clinical applications.
Vetiver is available as powders, tinctures, oils, extracts, dried roots, pastes and supplements to promote health. Talk to your health practitioner to find a properly prepared vetiver product best suited to your needs. Always purchase high-quality vetiver from a reputable source.
There is no established daily dosage for vetiver supplements. Preparations and doses have varied greatly between studies. Work with an integrative medicine doctor experienced in using vetiver therapeutically to determine what’s right for your treatment plan.
Vetiver is generally very safe, without common side effects. Due to lack of safety research, veterinary products should be avoided in pregnant/nursing women and children. As with any supplement, consult your doctor before starting vetiver. Monitor for any gastrointestinal upset or allergic reactions.
Traditional practices have relied on vetiver roots for extended periods without safety issues. However, the long-term effects of modern supplemental doses require further investigation through rigorous human trials to definitively establish vetiver’s safety with chronic use.
From traditional villages to the laboratories of modern science, vetiver continues demonstrating profound gifts for humanity. All parts of vetiver plant provide shelter, clothing, nourishing food and herbal remedies, however the remarkable roots anchor the plant in purpose and benefits. Like the community elders vetiver roots resemble in stature and qualities, they offer stability and guidance rooted in ancient wisdom that enriches life.