Friday, April 9, 2010

Love affair with Vetiver

Today I'm going to write about Vetiver. I've written about Vetiver before, it my regular magazine column on herbs and on my perfume website, but I thought it would be nice to look at it a bit more from a perfumers perspective.

It's an amazingly useful plant, as well as a delightful oil, used for it's deep roots and incredible hardiness in all kinds of envirmments to preserve our precious topsoil, as well as clean water...
But for those of you who want to hear more about it's use in Perfumes, here goes!
In case anyone hasn't noticed: I LOVE Vetiver!
Of all the various oils on my shelves, this deep musky oil is the one that has been tantilizing me the most for the past year. I've used various forms of vetiver in 3 of my perfumes so far and I'm working on another one at present...And the reason for this is that it is one of the perfect base notes in my mind.
Worker harvesting Vetiver Grass in India  
It has a deep, woody muskiness, that acts like a kind of cradle for other scents. It gives them depth and character, and gives a perfume a robust structure that holds everything else together.

It doesn't work with everything of course. Vetiver has a very rustic character. It's a bit like a hug from a huge, hairy mountain man, surrounding you in it's rooty pheromone laden depth, amking you feel safe, horny and happy while at the same time reminding you that it's a wild and dangerous world out there in the wilderness....Of the many yummy basenotes there are to work with, each with their own dark depth to them, Vetiver to me it is the bikey outlaw. It has a rawness totally unlike it's smoother cousin Patchouli. And a many layerdness that can't be followed by the straightlaced cedarwood.
But enough of the gushing, let's have a look at a few of the different types of Vetiver available to us perfumers:
They differ mainly in the area they are grown in, where differing soil and enviroment combine with alterations in species to give us quite different aroma characters. Then there is also differences in extraction methods too.
The oil we know as Vetiver is made from the root of the grass vetiveria zizanioides, usually by steam distillation, theough I have also seen it as an absolute, extracted with solvents.

I've got four distincly different types of Vetiver sitting on my workbench this morning.
Indonesian, Haitian, Javanese and Indian Rhus Khus. All of them have their own very distinct characteristics, not unlike the cultures of the countries they grow it the soil and the weather that influences the human culture too? And if so, can we use the infigenous perfumery plants as a guide to the nature of the people I wonder....hmmm....might look at that for a future blog.....

Indonesian Vetiver is the lightest of the four. It has a more woody quality to it, with a slight lead pencil and tobacco note that is very charming. To me this is the most contained of the Vetivers, and reminds me somewhat of cedarwood, particularly red cedar. It is light yellowy-brown in colour, and thick and slow to drip like all's the more gentile of the vetivers, and would lend itself more readily to floral bases than the others....This is the distinguished English Gentlemans Vetiver, refined and somewhat contained. It's depth lends strength to a perfume in a sopihisticated and understated way that reminds you of many of the classic mens Vetiver Colognes.

Haitian Vetiver is a far more lively thing. The sexy woody musk comes with a distinctly fruity overtone here, and you can almost sense a dance in it's step. It has a fresh touch, along with the slight graphiote pencil note, and a much deeper muskiness to it as well. This one plays happily with other fruit notes and gives you a warmer tone to the perfume in general. It is a deeper amber than the Indonesian version, and you get a real sense of Earthy Forest here, along with just a touch of fresh leaves in the background.

Vetiver Java is my greatest love. I have a precious stock of aged Javanese Vetiver which gives me goosebumps every time I open it. Now this one is the darkest brown of them all, thick, almost gluggy and SEXY to the max! Here to me is where Vetivers legendary appeal as an aphrodisiac truly comes into play!
When I smell Javanese Etiver, I see Orang Utans swinging through the forests (and if my georgraphy is mixed up here, please don't correct me!)
This Vetiver has the strongest of all animal funk to it. It's sexy, deep and musky, and has a true pheromone hit to it like a sweaty football player fresh off the field after a big win!
It also has lovely caramel and coffee overtones in it, making it a true gourmand base note. Now Geographically, Java is part of I do wonder if the vetiver I have is from a particular plantation, or whether it is merely extracted differently. It reminds me of the difference in Patchouli types. The traditional way to extract patchouli includes the use of copper vessels, and the resultant patchouli is dark brown and earthy....some years ago some clever person thought up a new extraction method under pressure useing nice clean steel aparatus, and the resultant patchouli oil, while delightfully clear and clean, lacked the deep earthy characteristics of it's more primitive relative. 

And then there's Rhus Khus. This Vetiver is the interesting foreign cousin in the clan. Made in India useing the aforementioned copper vessels, it has an interesting greeny colour instead of the more common browns, and a scent as different as it's colour. It has indeed green notes and the destinct animal funk of the java vetiver is replaced by an almost water like softness. The deep earthiness is still their, but it has an almost spiritual touch to it. Here, the leafy side that appeared in the Haitian Vetiver, is stronger and newer. It's almost as if the earthiness itself has been refined.

What they all have in common, is their capability to impart a sense of strength and security to the wearer. In traditional Indian Ayurdeda, Vetiver is used to treat depression and anxiety, and modern Aromatherapy uses it for the same things.
At the same time, it is a legendary aphrodesiac! But then, Strength and security are very attractive's the big strong males that tend to ooze sex appeal after all.....
they give strength to a perfume blend, depth and character, and a lovely anchor for citrus an fruity topnotes. As I mentioned in my blog on natural musks,  vetiver features in more mens perfumes than any other natural note.

In my own perfumes, I've used many different aspects of Vetiver.
But I'll write more about that in the next installment: "Love Affair with Vetiver -The Perfumes"

Have a look at for more about vetivers incredible contribution to soil conservation

And at Anya McCoy's blog about the role of soil micobes  in the creation of the distinctive Vetiver oil which is a really interesting read for those of you who want to know more!


  1. It's funny about all the vetiver variations... *MY* Indonesian Vetiver is the so very smoky wildman.... And comparatively, the Haitian is the gentleman in the bunch...

  2. Thanks for this! I have the Haitian vetiver you have pictured, and I love it. I am so curious about the others now.

  3. Its quiet interesting this vetiver good that you shared. Well,smell is one of our most powerful senses, evoking the most distant of memories so that we really need to find the best perfume that will fit on us.


  4. I must say my experience is totally different than yours. I find the Haitian varity to be refined and lighter, more floral, and amiable.
    The Indonesian is definately more smokey, sticky, and dirty. Which I like, especially in a rose composition. But I love the Hatian vetiver with a tonka bean and patchouli acord. really sexy.