Vetiver is native to Southern India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but today is widely cultivated around the world in such places as Reunion Island, Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, the Comoro Islands, West Africa and Polynesia. The oil is mainly produced in Java, Haiti and Reunion Island. It is described as smelling warm and dry with earthy, woody, leather, balsamic and smoky notes.
Vetiver is a grass that grows along riverbanks and the fragrance comes from the roots of the grass. There are two kinds of vetiver, the wild that is native to north India and grows in the river valleys (called khus), and a domesticated variety of vetiver that is grown worldwide and is the most familiar one for production of vetiver essential oils. French traders introduced vetiver to the Bourbon Islands and later French settlers brought the grass to Louisiana where it has been used as an ingredient in perfumes since 1843.
It has been used historically to scent water for ritual washing at the entrance to holy buildings and Hindu temples usually have a vetiver plant or two. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to cool both the overheated body and emotions. It grounds and balances all chakras. In folk magic it provides safety and increases financial resources. In India vetiver (khus) is referred to as the oil of tranquility and is a common ingredient of incense powders.
To be used in fragrance, the vetiver roots are prepared with steam distillation. They are gathered, cleaned, chopped and dried then soaked again in water just before distillation. As the steam passes over the roots, tiny droplets of oil are released and concentrated into an essential oil. Chemists have found that it is one of the most difficult fragrance compounds to duplicate and have not yet successfully done so. It is a component of many perfumes for both men and women – used as a fixative for volatile compounds. It has been noted that it is an ingredient in nearly 1/3 of Western fragrances.