Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The modest Vetiver

Bountiful Nature certainly holds the antidote to many anthropogenic and natural problems. One such is Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanioides), formerly known as Vetiveria zizanioides, a xerophytic and hydrophytic perennial clump grass of the Poaceae family with fast-growing tough root system and the ability to grow very tall with rigid stems and leaves. Since it is native to India, we tend to be quite familiar with its myriads of uses as listed below.

Vetiver roots’ aromatic and cooling properties
Vetiver’s roots are highly aromatic, with a pleasant, cool, refreshing, and earthy smell.
1. The roots are added to water in earthen pots in order to impart a distinctive flavour as well as a cooling effect.
2. The roots are kept in cupboards so that the clothes have a ‘fresh’ smell (similar to how we use sachets of lavender).
3. The fragrant essential oil from the roots is widely used in perfumery.
4. Mats and fans made of woven Vetiver roots are used to cool rooms during summer.
5. Other handicrafts made of Vetiver roots are popular due to the subtle aroma.

Medicinal property
Vetiver is often used in Ayurveda, the traditional (and viable) Indian system of medicine.
1. Water is purified by adding the roots.
2. Infusion of the roots can help in allaying fever, inflammation, and tummy problems.
3. It is effective in normalising, moisturising, and rejuvenating the skin. Apparently, it is also effective in removing acne and can be applied on irritated, wounded, and inflamed skin for speedier healing.
4. When applied regularly, the oil can prevent stretch marks (especially during pregnancy).
5. Due to its beneficial effects on the central nervous system, applying the oil also helps in psychological and emotional balance- i.e. helps in overcoming depression, stress, tension, anxiety, nervousness, and even insomnia.
6. When applied locally, it is effective in countering rheumatism, back pain, headaches, and sprains.
7. And apparently, the oil is also an aphrodisiac.

Vetiver roots’ decontaminating property
1. Vetiver decontaminates the polluted/contaminated soil.
2. As mentioned before, the roots have the property of purifying water. Being a hydrophyte, the plant can be used in treating wastewater.

For addressing environmental problems
Vetiver’s roots are unique- these grow very deep downwards and are thick with high tensile strength. As a result, it has the following uses:
1. For controlling erosion: Vetiver is very effective in preventing soil erosion when planted on the boundaries of agricultural lands, dikes, bunds, embankments, slopes, or on stream and river banks.
2. Runoffs are mostly blocked and spread in the surrounding areas. As a result, not only are the soil, sediments, and agricultural fertilisers trapped (thus enriching the land), but the soil moisture is also conserved (which the plants use during times of water scarcity).
3. Groundwater recharge- apparently, groundwater levels have increased in areas where vetiver is widely used.
4. Since Vetiver grows in clumps, weed invasion is prevented.

Vetiver requires minimal maintenance and has very sturdy characteristics. It is highly tolerant of adverse climatic conditions and variations (including droughts, floods, submergence, and extreme temperatures from -14ºC to +55ºC), pH (from 3.3 to 12.5), salinity, frosts, herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants. Its sturdy stems can withstand deep and heavy water flows. It is also noninvasive, propagating by small offsets instead of stolons or rhizomes. Should there be any fires or heavy grazing (or any other hazard), the new shoots easily develop from the underground crown. Interestingly, Vetiver is intolerant to shade which may result in a reduction of growth or even its elimination.

Vetiver is thus a low-cost effective solution to myriads of problems, including soil erosion which otherwise results in great expenses. For the farmers, this is a very beneficial tool which evidently results in increased crop yields, irrespective of adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, flooding risks are greatly reduced and runoffs of agricultural chemicals (into streams/rivers) are restricted. Even the rest of us are blessed by this modest grass!

Photo: by treesftf

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