When I was a little girl, summer would mean fun - non-stop games with cousins and friends, riding bicycle in the sweltering heat, pulling out molten tar from the bottom of your slippers, cooking egg on the pavement, juicy mangoes and the smell of Vettiver. Grandmother used to hang up curtains made of dried vettiver, and pour water over it, so that as the hot wind blew through the porous curtain, they would instantly cool down before entering the house, and carry with them the musky fragrance of the grass. And mom would put vettiver in an earthen pot of water, the latter would keep the water at the most comforting chillness (due to evaporation through the micro-pores) and the grass would give it the special flavor that can only be experienced.
Over the years, it seemed that vettiver had disappeared. Perhaps not. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal talks of research by Prof. Gregg Handerson of Louisiana State University, that reports that this ancient tropical grass - Vetiveria zizanioidescan, recently rechristened Crysopogon zizanioides can combat two evils - termites and flooding.
A more detailed lit-search reveals that this is not as novel as it seems. In the east, especially in its original home, India, and in other South East Asian countries, vettiver has been used in an variety of bioengineering applications including water conservation, slope stabilization, pollution control, waste water treatment, and mitigation and prevention of storm damage. The massive roots of the grass grow vertically downwards to 4 meters and have been reported to have an average tensile strength of 75 Mpa and improve the shear strength of soil by between 30 and 40%.
Apart from bioengineering, agricultural uses of Vettiver have been reported all over the world. In New Zealand, Greenfield has reported that fungal attacks on the vetiver-mulched plants virtually disappeared .
Vettiver has been traditionally used as a fixative in perfumes. The essential oil derived from Vettiver contains more than a hundred aromatic compounds including benzoic acid, furfurol, vetivene, vetivenyl vetivenate, terpinen-4-ol, 5-epiprezizane, Khusimene, α-muurolene, Khusimone, Calacorene, β-humulene, α-longipinene, γ-selinene δ-selinene, δ-cadinene, valencene, Calarene,-gurjunene α-amorphene, Epizizanal, 3-epizizanol, Khusimol, Iso-khusimol, Valerenol, β-vetivone and α-vetivone.
Vetiver has a high content of hemicellulose, and this makes it a promising raw material for pulp and paper. In India, studies at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, revealed that pulps for making strawboards can be made from vetiver by digestion with lime.
Athough there have not been any systematic double-blind tests done on the medicinal aspects of vettiver, this grass has traditionally been used in tribal and ancient medicine to dissolve gallstones, reduce fever, and heal stomach discomfort.
It is mentioned in the article in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is very skeptical about introducing this grass into the US, despite the established advantages in other parts of the world. It seems that
Government officials are still wincing from the consequences of importing virulent kudzu -- known as "the vine that ate the South" -- to control erosion in the 1930s.
The saving grace, however, is that
[...] vetiver recently made [it to] a short list of 10 plants the Army Corps was considering for plantings along the New Orleans levees.
That said, I personally believe that there is one single point in the article that would make me (and the dude perhaps) run to the nearest village and bring home a truckload of vettiver:
In Guatemala, a villager confided to U.S. aid worker Jim Smyle that his wife brewed the roots in a tea to soothe her hormone-rattled nerves.
. Greenfield, J.C. 2002. Vetiver Mulch. In: Discussion Board, , 23 Mar. 02.
Comments @ nOnoscience