Vetiver has been prized as an ingredient in fine fragrances since its introduction into the French perfume world in the early 1800s — but what does vetiver smell like that makes it so highly sought after?
Luckily, you don’t need to go hunting down a bottle of vetiver oil in your local apothecary to get an idea. In this article, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about vetiver, including what exactly vetiver is, what it’s made from, and what it smells like. By the end of this read, you’ll have a better idea of why vetiver is such a desirable, intriguing, and complex scent.
What Is Vetiver?
Vetiver, or chrysopogon zizanioides, is a highly aromatic, perennial flowering grass. It’s closely related to other fragrant grasses like Sorghum, lemongrass, palmarosa, and citronella.
This herbaceous plant has long, shiny leaves that grow in clumps over 5 feet high with expansive roots that extend up to 10 feet deep in the ground. The entire plant smells wonderful, but the thick, resinous essential oil used in cologne and perfume comes from the roots.
Vetiver grows wild in hot, humid climates and moist soil. Humans have been cultivating vetiver for a slew of purposes in India and Indonesia for thousands of years. And now it is also grown in places like China, Kenya, Brazil, and Haiti.
The plant isn’t just cherished as a cologne ingredient, either. In the last 200 years, farmers across the world have fallen in love with this incredibly versatile vetiver plant for its ability to improve soil quality and biodiversity in their fields.
Today over 100 countries use the Vetiver System developed by the Vetiver International Network. They use vetiver plants to conserve soil & water, deter insects, purify water, and even fight pollution and detoxify soil. Some farmers affectionately call it the “wonder plant.”
What Does Vetiver Smell Like?
There are three different kinds of vetiver root used in perfumery, and each has somewhat different scent notes.
Bourbon vetiver is the highest quality and considered the best smelling version by perfumers and scent addicts alike:
Slight rosy facet
Haitian vetiver is the most available and commonly used version in recent years:
A little smoky
Lastly, the robust Javanese vetiver brings these aromas in spades:
With over 100 identified chemical compounds in its makeup, vetiver is considered one of the most complex scents in perfumery. So, if you want one easy answer to the question of what vetiver smells like, you’re out of luck.
But folks who want a flexible scent that can work equally well for any occasion will love it. From a 9-5 desk job, to a fancy dinner party, to battling ninjas and rescuing damsels — vetiver can be your go-to solution for boosting confidence and badassery.
The resinous base has a persistent and long lasting quality, making it a great fixative for lighter scents. Even better, it will age and mature with time on your skin and time in the bottle, making it a long lasting scent that really delivers a great bang for your buck.
Vetiver’s top notes are super green and can vary from medicinal or herbal to straight up piney. Then at the bottom you’ll find a zing of bitter and sweet citrus peel. All in all, vetiver isn’t just a smell — it’s a journey!
This complexity and richness of aromas means vetiver can be used in a huge variety of colognes, to totally different and dazzling effects.
Here are just a few of the amazingly varied smells you can get from vetiver:
Clean, moist earth
Warm, dry grass
It’s safe to say though that vetiver colognes doesn’t smell like aquatic colognes.
Is Vetiver A Masculine Scent?
Yes, most perfumers consider vetiver to be a very masculine scent. The vibrant, woody vetiver has historically been used almost exclusively in men’s fragrances.
What we love about vetiver is that it’s clean and complex without being too overpowering — think macho, outdoorsy, warm, and enticing. When wearing a vetiver cologne you’ll constantly have women asking “what smells so good?”.
Let’s get real here: Women take notice of men who take care of themselves. From your daily hygiene to skin care and fragrances, every effort you put into bettering yourself will inevitably end up attracting women’s attention. Hence why guys like to wear cologne to work as well.
This is where vetiver colognes come in. Vetiver has a pronounced ruggedness and romance — it’s practically charisma in a bottle. There’s no magic potion that will always secure your next date, but you can bet that the fine and complex aromas of vetiver will catch the attention of that cute barista next time you run into her off the clock.
And all that mysterious, manly appeal is why so many modern men’s fragrance companies use vetiver in their most popular colognes. Tom Ford, Christian Dior, Hermes, and Roja Dove all love vetiver for classy and complex blends that will make you stand out in a crowd.
Does Vetiver Smell Like Patchouli?
Vetiver can smell like patchouli, but it really depends on which kind of vetiver you’re talking about. The two classic colognes definitely have some scent notes in common — for example, both are in the woods and mosses group and make great base notes in perfume blends.
Patchouli is dark, sweet, and just a bit woody and earthy. The essential oil is made from the leaves of the sweet smelling, bushy plant.
Bourbon vetiver is probably the most similar to patchouli with its earthy, spicy, and slightly sweet smell. But Haitian and Javanese vetiver have less in common as they trend towards clean & green or dusty & smoky respectively.
Overall, vetiver is a more complex and resinous scent than patchouli. Though similar in some ways, the oils from vetiver root have more pungent, earthy, and green tones. The two are often combined to great effect in perfume blends.
What Is Vetiver Made From?
When you see ‘vetiver’ in a cologne blend, they specifically mean vetiver essential oil. This rare, fragrant oil is distilled from the vetiver plant’s dense, twisted roots.
Traditionally, vetiver oil is extracted by steam distillation. Before steaming, the roots are removed and cleaned, shade dried, and then soaked in water. Dry steam is then passed through the root, and the condensation is collected.
Once the oils are separated from the condensed water you are left with vetiver essential oil. The final product is a thick, resinous oil of varying color from amber, golden-brown, olive, or even slightly turquoise.
Extracting vetiver oil takes a lot of time and energy. The plants themselves have to grow for at least a year before their roots can be harvested, and distillation can take over a day per batch to make.
What’s more, the amount of vetiver oil you can get from one batch varies from country to country. It can take over 300 lbs of dried roots to get just 2 pounds of essential oil. So, it’s no wonder that vetiver oil is expensive and so precious to perfumers.
Does Vetiver Make You Sleepy?
Smelling vetiver, or cologne with vetiver, will not make you sleepy. That isn’t to say, however, that the essential oil doesn’t have some sedative qualities. For example, herbalists and massage therapists speak highly of vetiver oil’s earthy, grounding, and relaxing effects.
And according to the Journal of Medicinal Plant Studies, vetiver has historically been used as a gentle sedative for treating things like restlessness, nervousness, and emotional upset.
So, alone or mixed in cologne, vetiver may help you relax enough to wind down for bed. But just smelling some vetiver won’t knock you out.
What Are The Best Vetiver Colognes?
If we had to choose just one vetiver cologne, it would be Tom Ford Grey Vetiver. With its zesty top notes, spicy heart, and vetiver & amber base notes this cologne has a timeless quality that makes it great for all seasons and occasions.