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Vetiveria: The Genus Vetiveria, edited by Massimo Maffei
Vetiveria: The Genus Vetiveria

Vetiveria: The Genus Vetiveria, edited by Massimo Maffei. Taylor & Francis: New York; 2002. 191 pp., hardcover, includes index, photos, tables, references. $96.00 ISBN 0-415-27586-5.

This is my second review of a useful book in the ongoing Taylor & Francis series, Medicinal and Aromatic Plants: Industrial Profiles. Perhaps it is my personal bias, but I did not feel this book was as tightly edited as the volume I previously reviewed (Artemisia in HerbalGram 57). However, all in all, it is a useful volume.

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides (L.) Nash ex Small, Poaceae) is one of those rare plants that is both economically and ecologically important. The essential oil from the roots, consisting of a complex mixture of sesquiterpene hydrocarbons and alcohols, has been used since ancient times in perfumery and medicine. It also is a natural barrier against erosion and soil conservation.

Maffei’s introductory chapter notes that vetiver’s fame resides more in its aroma than its pharmacology. He adds a few folkloric items that seem to be absent in Chapter 5, Ethnopharmacology and Pharmacological Properties. Maffei also gives a half page of colloquial names, including approximately 30 Sanskrit names alone.

In Chapter 2, contributing authors Bertea and Camusso cover the anatomy, biochemistry and physiology. Zarotti, in Chapter 3, covers collection, harvesting, processing, alternative uses, and production of the essential oil. The updated U.S. Department of Agriculture phytochemical database (online at <>) suggests a much wider range of essential oil content than Zarotti (USDA database 0.2—3.3 percent, compared to Zarotti’s 0.5—2 percent).

Akhilka and Rani in Chapter 4, Chemical Constituents and Essential Oil Biogenesis in Vetiveria zizanoides, lamentably give no quantitative data, but they are generous with structural diagrams (more than 75) and essential chemical details, well referenced. I have added those that were new to the USDA phytochemical database, and will make the updated list of more than 100 phytochemicals available to HerbalGram readers who so request, along with a summary of reported indications and activities reported for vetiver.

Chia’s Chapter 5, Ethnopharmacology and Pharmacological Properties of Vetiveria zizanoides – Including Pharmacologic and Pharmacokinetic Properties, is admittedly "a short communication" on the "personal Cameroonian experience of Dr. Nwaimbi Simon Chia who collected a certain amount of data."

"[R]oots...have been shown to take care of a variety of unrelated health hazards. Amongst such uses are antibiotherapy, antimalarial treatment, anti-inflammatory effects, and the treatment of stomatological and dietetic problems."

I suspect that the following quote derived from a study of one patient: "Roots ... have a hypoglycemic action. On consumption of two divided doses daily of one teaspoonful (3.9 g) in boiled 50 ml fresh water, the release of insulin from the pancreas was triggered and consequently reduced the Blood Sugar Level of a known insulin-dependent diabetic. The drop in the Blood Sugar Level was very remarkable (14.1 mg/ dl)."

Chia seems rather confident: "Two grams of the ground powder of the roots ... when chewed will relieve toothache in less than fifteen minutes. This treatment can be repeated as often as four times a day."

In Chapter 6, Vetiver Grass Technology, Truong discusses the morphology, physiology, ecology, and weed potential, and how the plant can be used in erosion control; soil conservation and stabilization; reclaiming saline and acid sulfate soils, mine rehabilitation, trapping agrochemicals and nutrients, etc. In Chapter 7, Biotechnology, Mucciarelli and Leupin stress cell and tissue culture methods, underscoring the importance of preserving and investigating the gene pool to find useful traits that might be improved or engineered.

In Chapter 8 (Economic Importance, Market Trends and Industrial Needs, and Environmental Importance), Pease suggests that creating a "vetiver hedge" can cost less than US$30 per hectare compared to more than $500 for conventional engineered terraces. But in the same chapter Pease cites costs of US$11.55 equivalent per linear meter. He even offers some medicinal information: sleep inducer, nerve tranquilizer, and diaphoretic; and mentions its insect repellent qualities, especially against fleas and moths. He further mentions its use as a leaf tea, curry seasoning, meat spice, and pleasant aroma, as well as adding roots to drinking water or insect repellant sachets. Vietmeyer, in the final chapter, Beyond the Vetiveria Hedge – Organizing Vetiver’s Next Steps to Global Acceptance, notes that controlling soil erosion is, by far, the best understood and farthest advanced property. "This coarse grass with its roots like chicken mesh projecting several metres into the soil probably can strengthen earthen structures such as small dams and dikes." It holds soil. It converts greenhouse gases into useful solids.

If vetiver could be of use to you, this book would be of use to you. Unfortunately, the peoples of the Third World who need it most can afford it least.

– James A. (Jim) Duke, Botanist

Green Farmacy Garden

Fulton, MD