Uses and Economic Importance of Vetiver

For centuries vetiver has been used in India both as an aromatic plant and for medicinal purposes, and as a plant used for soil conservation. The scented roots are used directly in the making of mats, baskets, fans, bags, curtains, etc., or indirectly by extraction for the distillation of the essential oil. From India the vetiver spread throughout the Tropics. One particular impetus for the spreading of the plant proved to be the Colonial Period, during which it spread both as an aromatic plant and as a hedge plant. After the Second World War and the subsequent end of colonialism, vetiver declined in importance in many countries.

Erosion control

Recently, many projects have been launched with the aim of increasing the use of vetiver in erosion control. Given its morphological, physiological, and ecological characteristics, as discussed in the previous chapters, it is particularly suited to the formation of hedges with a deep root system. In these countries vetiver is used to slow the run-off of the torrential rains (monsoons) and to slow and stop topsoil erosion, but only in the last decade have such farming practices been seriously considered to the point of study and a clearer definition of both the botanical and agronomic characteristics of the plant, and the technical aspects concerning its planting and cultivation. In this way not only can large enterprises with construction projects on a vast scale make use of vetiver as a plant to control soil erosion, but also, and most importantly,

Figure 3.1 Vetiver essential oil. The oil is characterized by its yellow colour, the exact tone of which depends on the roots used, ranging from greenish to reddish. [This figure is also reproduced in the colour section].

individual farmers who, with their own business, have to fight the process of erosion which reduces the fertility of the plots and removes soil and nutrients.

Production of essential oil

In the East, the roots of vetiver have been known for centuries for their scent which is light and pleasant. Vetiver's essential oil, both in its raw form and in other derivative forms, is an important component in luxury perfumes, and therefore in the industry concerned, owing to the delicacy of the aroma and to the amber-scented tones.

Once uprooted the root can immediately be submitted to the distillation process after having been dried naturally, cleaned and cut up.

Vetiver's essential oil is in the form of a viscous liquid which tends to thicken over time. The oil is characterized by its yellow colour, the exact tint of which depends on the roots used, ranging from greenish to reddish (Figure 3.1).

If the original material is taken from young plants the scent has an earthy tone and the colour of the oil is basic green. This is not the case in older plants which are at least two years old.

The yield by distillation carried out starting with the dried roots, varies from 0.5% to 2% in weight, according to the area of origin of the material and the productivity of the distillation equipment.

The best and most sought-after oils are from Giava and from Bourbon (or RĂ©union); there are however other types of oil, for instance that from Haiti which is in constant productive and commercial development and oils from Brasil, India, and Africa.

Table 3.1 The annual market allotment of vetiver oil.

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