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What Does Vetiver Smell Like?

Vetiver is a word that shows up almost everywhere in perfume, but do you really know what vetiver smells like? This tropical grass is as common in citrus scents as it is in woody ones and can be a bit hard to pin down.

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Read on to learn more about vetiver’s uses, why it’s such a fragrance heavy-hitter, and, most importantly, the answer to the question of what does vetiver smell like?

What Is Vetiver?

Vetiver, or Chrysopogon zizanioides, is a perennial grass native to India, but found all over the world in warm weather climates. Haiti, Indonesia, and the French Pacific island of Réunion are all big producers and there are also farms in the southern US.

Vetiver Grass

The plant, which is sometimes called khus, grows in tufts, similar to cattails. It often reaches heights of five feet with root systems that go up to 13 feet deep. Unsurprisingly, these tropical plants don’t mind a little moisture and can even survive up to 2 months under clear water.

It’s closest cousin in the plant world is sorghum, but it also shares a lot of physical similarities with lemongrass and citronella. These tough, long-rooted plants can help prevent erosion and are even capable of cleaning fuel-contaminated soil.

Fernweh Editions Fern & Petals Candle

The essential oil so sought after by perfumists is found in the roots of the plant. The extraction process involves drying roots, cleaning them, and then boiling them for up to 24 hours. 

The main component in the essential oil is called vetivone, though the oil also contains benzoic acid, furfurol, and over a hundred other components. The oil is also less volatile than many other essential oils, which means it breaks down into other compounds at a slower pace. So, the oil smells like vetiver for a pretty long time. 

What Does Vetiver Smell Like?

It’s a member of the woody perfume family, but the scent isn’t just a straightforward wood. Vetiver’s grassy, slightly green tinge comes out in Haitian varieties, while the smoky, richer notes come out in Indonesian oil.

All these notes mean vetiver an incredibly versatile smell. It’s woody, smoky, grassy, a bit spicy, a bit like amber, and sweet all at once. It’s a lighter smell than patchouli, but is just as home in a wide range of scents.

Patchouli leaves

Like patchouli, though, the scent isn’t for everyone and can come off as moldy or mildewy to some noses. It’s worth it, though, to try out vetiver in a few of its guises. We tend to prefer a smoky vetiver smell to a green one, but you may feel differently.

The Use of Vetiver in Perfumery

Vetiver is one of the most popular ingredients in perfumery.

Vetiver roots

In addition to its versatile smell, it has great sillage.

A few of our favorite scents featuring this grass are:

  • Sisley Eau de Campagne EDT – if you’re looking for the green side of vetiver, look no further! Tomato leaf may be the top note here, but it’s supported by a vetiver backbone along with bergamot and geranium.
  • Byredo Black Saffron – this is the ultimate femme/homme fatale niche fragrance. Sweet vetiver is paired with tobacco, leather, and floral notes to create an intoxicating unisex scent.
  • Coco Chanel Mademoiselle – the playful marketing campaign with Keira Knightley captures this Oriental fragrance well. It’s playful, feminine, and sweet without being cloying. Vetiver and tonka bean make up the base notes of this fragrance and are topped with light cirtrus and floral notes.
  • Dunhill Icon EDP – this masculine fragrance is clean, crisp, and sophisticated. Vetiver takes on a soapy, freshly-washed guise as it’s paired with lavender, black pepper, and a hint of oakmoss.

Other Uses and Benefits of Vetiver

Vetiver is almost as versatile a crop as it is a scent! The same oils that make it smell irresistible to humans help it to repel insects and pests and resist weeds.

Once dry, the grass can become animal feed, be woven into rope, or used in evaporative coolers. 

Some people find vetiver to be a soothing aromatherapy smell. The scent is said to promote relaxation, calm nerves, and deepen sleep. You can find vetiver essential oils online or at many holistic retailers.

woman applying vetiver essential oil

In Chinese traditional medicine, vetiver is considered to be yin and have a cold, wet energy. It’s used to relieve fevers, inflammation, or other conditions believed to be caused by excessive heat or yang.

Final Thoughts

Vetiver is a truly a perfumery superstar. It’s a plant that can grow almost anywhere in the tropics, an oil with excellent sillage, and a scent that’s as at home with smoky woods as it is with light citrus.

Even if you’re a true perfume nerd, this adaptable and Protean scent can keep surprising you. Check it out for yourself.


Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.