Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vetyver/Ushira-You never know what you'll find out about herbs!

The label reads "This handmade natural bath scrub is made from the roots of pure Vetyver (Ramacham/Khus). Its medicinal properties refresh and rejuvenate the skin. Also an effective anti-septic." It smells delightfully clean and makes a lovely scrub, like a loufa.

Botanical name: Vetiveria zizanoides, Chrysopogon zizanioides
Commonly known as vetiver (derived from Tamil) is a perennial grass of the Poaceae family, native to India. In Western and Northern India, it is called khus or khus-khus (Hindi-Urdu:ख़सख़स/خسخس), leading to the earlier English names cuscus, cuss cuss, kuss-kuss grass, etc. 

Other names: Sevyah, Sugandhimula, Shitamulaka, Viranamula, Khas, Ganrar, Panni, Vettiver, Viranam Vetiver, Khus 

Botany: Ushira is a densely tufted perennial grass growing up to two meters and forms clumps as wide. It has tall stems and long, thin, rigid leaves;  the flowers are brownish purple. Unlike most grasses, which grow horizontally, spreading mat-like roots, vetiver's roots grow downward, 2–4 meters deep.  It has a branching rhizome and spongy aromatic roots. The smaller rootlets are cut to give a higher percentage of essential oil. The leaves are narrow, linear, erect and acute, with compressed sheaths. Ushira is found throughout India, Southeast Asia and China, in wetlands and plains up to 1200 meters in elevation, and is cultivated in other tropical and subtropical regions including Australia, Africa and South America, and in climates resembling the Mediterranean, such as Spain, Italy and southern California. The Sanskrit name Ushira  comes from the root word Ushi, which refers to an ancient people ,who lived in Northern India. Today Ushira is found either as a fertile, wild variety that originates from Northern India, or a mostly infertile, domesticated variety that is propagated by rhizome in southern India. 

Soil Restoration

Besides its medicinal use, Ushira roots are widely used for erosion control, soil conservation, reclaiming saline and acid sulfate soils, mine rehabilitation, and trapping industrial chemicals used in farming. Several characteristics of vetiver make it an excellent erosion control in warmer climates. Unlike most grasses, vetiver does not form a horizontal mat of roots; the roots grow downward, 2–4 meters. This makes vetiver an excellent stabilizing hedge for stream banks, terraces, and rice paddies. The close-growing stems also block the runoff of groundwater. Because vetiver propagates itself by small offshoots instead of underground stolons, it is noninvasive and can easily be controlled by cultivation of the soil at the boundary of the hedge. The  Vetiver System is a technology of soil conservation and water quality management based on the application of the vetiver plant.

Fuel cleaning

A recent study done in the Volcanic Institute in Israel by Dr. Nativ Dudai found out that vetiver is capable of growing in fuel-contaminated ground. The study also found that it can clean the ground, so that ultimately, the soil is almost fuel-free.


Constituents: The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation. It is dark brown, olive or amber, with a deep smoky, earthy-woody odor and a sweet persistent undertone. 

Perfumery and aromatherapy

Vetiver is mainly cultivated for the fragrant essential oil distilled from its roots. Worldwide production is estimated at about 250 tons per year. It is an extremely thick, dark brown, opaque oil, often used as a fixative in perfumery. It is used in 90% of all Western perfumes.

Vetiver essential oil can be used with animals (NOT cats).
The properties of the essential oil:

centering, grounding and can be used in calming blends
circulatory tonic
strengthens the immune system

 In perfumery, the older French spelling, vetyver, is often used.


Home Use

In the Indian Subcontinent, khus (vetiver roots) are often used to replace the straw or wood shaving pads in evaporative coolers. When the cool water runs for months over the cheap wood shavings in evaporative cooler padding, they tend to accumulate algae, bacteria and other microorganisms. This will cause the cooler to emit a fishy/seaweed odor into the house. Vetiver root padding counteracts this smell. A cheaper alternative is to add vetiver cooler perfume or even pure khus attar into the cooler's water tank. Another advantage of using vetiver roots in evaporative water cooler pads is that they are not as flammable, while (dry) wood shavings will catch fire at the slightest (electric) spark.

Mats made by weaving vetiver roots and binding them together with ropes/cords are used in India to cool rooms in a house during summer. The mats are usually hung in a doorway and kept moist by spraying them with water periodically; they cool the passing air and provide a cool and refreshing aroma. In the hot summer months in India, sometimes a muslin sachet of vetiver roots is tossed into the earthen pot that keeps the household's drinking water cool. Like a bouquet garni, the bundle gives its distinctive flavor and aroma to the water. Khus scented syrups are also sold.

Medicinal use
Vetiver has been used in the traditional medicine in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and West Africa. Ancient Tamil literature mentions the use of vetiver for medical purposes.

Ushira has been traditionally used in India as fragrant herb with cooling properties, referenced in its name, Sugandhimula, or ‘fragrant root,’ and Shitamulaka or ‘cooling root.’ The Tamil name ‘Vettiver’ refers to the highly dissected rooting structure. Although the medicinal properties of the wild and cultivated cultivars are essentially the same, the wild-sourced essential oil is slightly different and is usually more valued, thus is more expensive and more difficult to obtain commercially. The distinctly smoky, woody and earthy aroma of Vetivert, or Khus oil, has traditionally been valued in perfumery, on its own or as a fixative to balance the high and low notes of various perfume blends. Due to its earthy and woody scent, Khus oil combines especially well with oils such as Patchouli, Cinnamon, Sandalwood, and Ylang, and can be used in aromatherapy to treat Vata disorders including anxiety, depression, and seizures. The essential oil can also be applied topically over the head to relieve migraines and headaches, and in carrier oil in the treatment of joint inflammation, rheumatism and sprains. The aerial portions of Ushira are traditionally used to weave baskets and mats in India, which are hung over windows and sprinkled with water in the hot weather, causing it to release some of its volatile constituents, so serving as air-conditioning. 

In medicine, Ushira is pleasant and aromatic with a cooling energy, and is used in conditions of heat, including burning sensations, fever, inflammation and irritability. In the digestive tract, Ushira is applied in the treatment of vomiting, bilious dyspepsia, gastric and duodenal ulceration, diarrhea and dysentery, all associated with irritability and inflammation. Used as a powder and prepared as a cold infusion with Parpata (Fumaria indica-fumitory), Shunthi (Zingiber officinalis-ginger) and Udichya (Coleus vettiveroides), Ushira is used in the treatment of Pittaja fever, burning sensations, vomiting and thirst. Used as a paste with Chandana, Balaka (Coleus vettiveroides), Shunthi (Zingiber officinalis) and Vasaka, Ushira is applied with honey and rice water in the treatment of vomiting. To address poor digestion and lack of appetite, ama, and diarrhea associated with severe pain and hemorrhage, Ushradi churna is used, made up of equal parts Ushira, Balaka (Coleus vettiveroides), Musta, Dhanyaka (Coriandrum sativum), Shunthi, Lajjalu (Mimosa pudica), Dhataki (Woodfordia fruticosa), Lodhra (Symplocos racemosa) and Bilva. In severe thirst caused by a reduction of Pitta (fire), Ushira is made into a cold infusion with Ghambari fruit (Gmelina arborea), Chandana, Padmaka (Prunus cerasoides), Draksha (Vitis vinifera), Madhuka (Glycyrrhiza glabra-licorice) and powdered sugar. 

Combined with equal parts Durva (Cynodon dactylon), Kumudam stamens (Nymphaea spp.), Manjishta, Evavaluka (Prunus avium), Chandana, Musta, Raktachandana (Pterocarpus santilinus) and Padmaka (Prunus cerasoides), Ushira is decocted in ghee (clarified butter) prepared from goat’s milk, rice water and goat’s milk until only the ghee remains. This formula treats vomiting of blood and nosebleeds when taken internally, and can also be applied topically in passive hemorrhage. For burning sensations throughout the body, a cool bath is prepared with the powders of Ushira, Balaka (Coleus vettiveroides), Padmaka (Prunus cerasoides) and Chandana. Ushira is also used topically as a churna (blend), rubbed into the skin to remove foul odours, and is a treatment of chicken pox when combined with herbs such as Madhuka (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Triphala, Daruharidra (Berberis aristata) and Nilotpala (Nymphaea stellata).

For treating epilepsy, Ushira can be used as a powder and an incense combined with other Indian herbs to prevent seizure. It is used in a decoction with Nimba, Amalaki and Haritaki to treat Pittaja prameha, a disease with symptoms of polyuria with a deep colored urine that has a foul smell, pain in the bladder and genitalia, burning sensations, gastric reflux and diarrhea. Ushirasava, a fermented beverage that contains many ingredients, including Ushira, is used to treat innate hemorrhage, skin diseases, diabetes, intestinal parasites and edema Ushira is also an important ingredient in Yogarajaguggulu.

Yogaraja Guggulu is a purifying and rejuvenating formula, used traditionally to treat inflammatory conditions, such as osteoporosis, bone density, and arthritis, especially rheumatism and gout.

In the ancient Ayurvedic texts of India, the gummy exudate from boswellia is combined with other gum resins and referred to collectively as guggulu.

Key Ingredients:
Guggulu, Red plumbago, Long pepper, Picrorhiza, Black cumin, Embelia, Ajowan, Cumin, Himalayan cedar, Pepper, Cardamom, Costus, Greater galangal, Coriander, Indian gooseberry, Beleric myrobalan, Chebulic myrobalan, Puncturevine, Nutgrass, Ginger, Black pepper and Vetiver

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Singing Nettles Herbal Clinic by Amanda Dainow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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