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The making of perfumes is an art that has endured throughout history. The majority of the world's fragrances rely on essential oils extracted from the leaves, roots or fruits of plants. Vetiveria zizanioides is a grassy plant that has a fragrant essential oil in its roots. Vetiver perfumes blend this oil with additional scents to create a longer-lasting fragrance.
The vetiver plant is native to India and the Bengal region, where its practical purpose was preventing erosion. The fast-growing grass has traveled to the Caribbean and other semi-tropical regions of the Americas, including the state of Louisiana. The French, renowned for making perfume, also encouraged the cultivation of vetiver in Haiti, La Reunion and Java. These countries are among the largest vetiver plant producers in the world as of 2011.
The vetiver plant has large rhizomes that make up its root system. This is the only part of the plant that contains the essential oils used to make vetiver perfumes. Vetiver's natural aroma is similar to the citronella oil commonly used in insect repellent products. It also has woody, earthy tones and a sweet undertone that resembles the fabled myrrh.
In India, people used the extracted oil for scenting clothing and linen. In its earliest forms, the vetiver perfumes created in India featured the single note or aroma of the plant's essential oil. Modern perfumery techniques combine fragrant oils to produce fragrances. The perfume's scent has three parts: the top note, the middle note and the base note. Vetiver perfumes most often employ vetiver oil as a base note or as a fixative, which helps the multiple notes of a fragrance last longer.
A few fragrance companies have used vetiver oil as their prominent middle note, marketing these vetiver perfumes as masculine scents. One popular vetiver perfume for men has lemon as its top note and combines tobacco and vetiver in its middle note. Women’s vetiver perfumes that have vetiver oil as a prominent note may have top notes of hazelnut, musk or citrus to soften the vetiver scent.
Vetiver perfumes that include the plant's name in the brand are often among the world's leading and most expensive brands. Demand for vetiver oil also keeps the price high, because the majority of the world's perfumes contain this oil. Perfume-making countries import vetiver oil from producing countries to make vetiver perfumes. The importation of the oil makes the market price higher than that of essential oils extracted from plants that have a greater cultivation range.