Common Name: Vetiver, Khus Khus, Monto Grass.
Latin Name: Chrysopogon zizanioides.
Origin: India and Sri Lanka.
Description (what it looks like): A dense, tropical, clumping perennial grass with erect and stiff stems, up to 3m tall. Leaf blades average 12mm wide. It has a vigorous, massive, dense, deep and penetrating root network, reaching vertically 2-5m deep; typically found growing on riverbanks. These roots bind the soil and reinforce the soil structure against erosion. The roots do not spread much beyond the footprint of the crown.
Uses (function): Vetiver grass has been used worldwide for soil erosion control, stabilisation of slopes and banks, wastewater and sewage treatment, treatment of contaminated water and land agriculture improvement. Excellent plant to mark boundary lines. Slows down movement of water through soil. Traps sediment. Non-invasive. Plant on the contour as an anti-erosion and moisture retention measure. Fragrant oil is extracted from the roots and used in the perfume industry. Roots can be woven into mats, fans and fragrant screens, while the tops of the grass can be used for thatch, mulch, handicraft, fodder and animal bedding. Can withstand burning, slashing and moderate tractor traffic. It is quite resistant to fire when green and resists infestation from most pests, diseases and nematodes. Sequesters significant quantities of atmospheric carbon. Chop and drop mulch. Folk medicine. Oil can deter termites.
Nutritional value: Related to Lemon Grass, Vetiver oil has medicinal properties. The aromatic root yields a volatile and valuable oil used in perfumery, cosmetics and soap. The oil is valued in aromatherapy and the root is used as a fixative in potpourri and crafts. An infusion of the rootlets is a cooling tonic tea. The roots and their oil are used as a remedy for nervous conditions, circulation problems and rheumatism. The grass dried and made into cigarettes is a Traditional African treatment for headaches; only a small amount required. Vetiver soothes nerves and builds Chi energy. The oil from the root is also a moth, flea and cockroach repellent. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use it because it may lead to miscarriage.
Growing details (propagation, seed etc): Propagated by root divisions or 'slips' planted in wet soil to a depth of 2-3cm. Space 15cm apart to ensure a close hedge during its first year. Water every second day until established. Trim tops of young plants to stimulate growth. Vetiver is non-invasive, has no runners or rhizomes and only spreads by division. Decide carefully where to plant it as it can be very hard to dig up.
Best time to grow: Spring or summer, once soil has warmed up.
Soil: Adaptable to a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. It can be established on very acid, sodic, alkaline or saline soils, however requires good drainage. Tolerates very high levels of aluminium, manganese and a range of heavy metals in the soil.
Sun: Full sun. Sensitive to high levels of shade; inhibits growth.
Water: Grows in areas with an annual rainfall greater than 450-500mm. Due to its extensive and deep root system, it is very tolerant to drought, however thrives when kept moist.
How to eat it: The roots are used as a flavouring for foods, known usually as khus syrup (made by adding khus essence to sugar, water and citric acid). Khus essence is a dark green thick syrup made from the roots. It has a woody taste. The syrup is used to flavor milkshakes and yogurt drinks like lassi, but can be used in ice creams, mixed beverages such as Shirley Temples and as a dessert topping.
- The Incredible Edibles - A Tropical Superfoods Guide by Tonielle Christensen.
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