This time, the diary of our curious nomad tells the tale of her exciting expedition to the loose volcanic soils of the Garut area in West Java, Indonesia. Here, she discovers the Javanese vetiver, also known as akar wangi or “fragrant root”. This particular Javanese vetiver is rich, smoky, earthy, woody and sweet.

But, did you know that two other kinds of vetiver are used in perfumery?
There is the Bourbon vetiver from Réunion island, which has earthy, rooty, spicy, leathery, and hazelnut aspects, as well as a slightly rosy nature. Another vetiver is from Haiti and has, a smoky, woody and somewhat “green” type of scent.

Discover our nomad’s journey in Garut.


"We are delving into the heart of Java, towards Garut, to discover vetiver. The plant sprouts through soft volcanic ground: ‘the one which grows here is reserved for perfumery and there are two types of Javanese vetivers’. The workers outline: ‘one is used for craft, the other is for essential oil.’ I cannot wait to see the plantation for a material that I personally treasure. Its scent resembles the region where it is found: lightly smoked, thanks to the volcanoes surrounding it, and notes of gourmand that you may find in peanuts and satay sauce. We arrive at the peak of the rainy season and the ground is completely soaked. We had to walk in the mud to reach the fields."

"One of the workers sitting opposite me is proudly saying that this tall herbaceous grass was 1.5 to 2 meters tall, topped with long, straight and shiny leaves, whose thick, twisted roots can grow vertically 3 meters deep. He also adds that the roots or rhizomes contain a resin, similar to that of myrrh, which is processed to provide the essential oil of vetiver."

"My vetiver training is not over yet as they carry on talking about the ‘excavation’ harvest where the soil must be turned over to extract the roots, which are then distilled to reveal the fragrance. I am fascinated by all the weathered face that surround me that work relentlessly during this manual labour-intensive process; my eyes cannot not stop looking at their calloused hands that show the hours they have spent working the plantation."

The distiller invites us to watch the extraction of oil; three loads will be needed in order to fill the huge vat. ‘This cycle will end at 8pm, if you are not in a hurry you can stay to see the oil,’ he explains. The monsoon reasserts itself and a tropical storm is unleashed. We have plunged into darkness. We decide to stay and watch the vat opening. At night, in dead silence, the distillery workers unscrew the nuts and bolts one at a time and get the root out. At the distillation plant, the air is filled with the strong, woody, powerful steam emanating from the vat where the essential oil condenses. A truly magical mixture of earth, lava and nutty gourmand notes envelope my hair and clothes… The scent resembles the region where it is found – warm, rich, wet, volcanic and earthy. I feel attracted to the fragrance like a magnet, drawn towards the small hut where the essential oil condenses. I am also impressed with the distillation process of vetiver oil done from cleaned and washed rootlets which are dried, cut and chopped, then again soaked in water prior to distillation.