Elegant Handmade Holiday Gift : Sel de Vetiver Bath Salts

One evening as I was preparing my cologne bath after a long day I accidentally poured a decant of The Different Company Sel de Vétiver instead of 4711 into the water. The explosion of scent–green woods, licorice and grapefruit–was so exhilarating and relaxing that I immediately felt refreshed. Since then, vetiver scented baths have become my favorite way to wind down.

Vetiver is a tropical grass that has intensely aromatic roots. In India, where vetiver roots are woven into screens, it is known as “oil of tranquillity” for its relaxing, calming properties. A bath is one of the best anti-stress rituals, but when it’s accompanied by a  scent, the effect is even stronger. Using Sel de Vétiver for a bath is not cost efficient, so I’ve experimented with vetiver essential oil and discovered that it produces a much more potent result. Vetiver has such incredible complexity that it can be diluted in an unscented carrier oil or alcohol and used as perfume. It’s the smell of a late fall garden and a winter beach rolled into one–driftwood, crushed hazelnut shells and damp leaves.

Every year as I prepare my holiday presents, I try to include some handmade gifts for close friends and family. The holiday season is thoroughly commercialized, and I find that people appreciate the thought that goes into a handmade present. Bath salts are easy to prepare, and you can vary the presentation and scents to your liking. Even plain sea salt mixed with lavender blossoms or rose petals makes for a beautiful gift and a great bath experience.

Essential oils are derived from plants by steam distillation, or in the case of citrus, expression. Essences called absolutes are produced by solvent extraction, and this method is frequently used on delicate flowers like jasmine and tuberose that can’t withstand the heat of steam. Vetiver can be treated in various ways, but in all cases, the perfume of vetiver essence is concentrated and rich, which is why you should exercise caution when dosing it. “Less is more” is a motto to follow.

I predict that if you make these bath salts for a gift, you will be tempted to make a batch for yourself. So feel free to double or triple my suggested quantities.

Sel de Vétiver Bath Salts

The amount of vetiver oil you add depends on the quality of oil you have. Some varieties are milder than others. Add oil drop by drop and stop when the mixture has a rich scent. Lavender flowers are optional; they added an aromatic top note to vetiver and look beautiful in the blend.

You can experiment with other essential oils. My favorites are lavender, rosemary, sage and–the most luxurious of oils, rose.  Whenever you use essential oils in a beauty preparation, remember that they should never be applied on skin undiluted. Store them away from light and sources of heat.

Alternatively, add 1/2 cup of almond oil to the salt mixture and turn it into a luxurious scrub.

1 cup coarse sea salt
4-10 drops vetiver essential oil
1 Tablespoon dried lavender flowers (optional)

Wash the jar with baking soda, rinse well and bake for 20 minutes at 250F/120C.

Place salt in a large bowl, add vetiver essential oil one drop at a time and mix well with a wooden spoon before each addition. Add lavender flowers, if using, mix again and pack into clean lidded jar. The salts can be used right away, but the perfume will be more rounded and richer if the mixture is left to macerate for 3 days to a week.

Store in cool, dark place. Use 2-3 Tablespoons in your bath.

Where to find essential oils: Enfleurage in New York is my favorite place for high-quality essential oils. In Europe, try Aroma-Zone.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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55 Comments

  • ChrisinNY: Thanks for the gift suggestion.

    Question re the recipe- does the salt have a drying effect on the skin when you soak in it? I am beginning to have dryness issues and would not want to exacerbate that. November 29, 2012 at 8:37am Reply

    • Victoria: If you use such a small amount (2-3 T), it really shouldn’t. I find that it exfoliates the skin. But if salt baths are best used 1-2x a month, and even if you soak in plain water, you should apply some moisturizing lotion after the bath. I use almond oil. November 29, 2012 at 10:43am Reply

      • ChrisinNY: That makes sense. Thanks so much. November 29, 2012 at 11:00am Reply

  • Barbara: I love the idea of scenting my own salts. I use Epsom salts though because I often strain my muscles and they help relaxing. Would it be ok to use vetiver oil with Epsom salts? November 29, 2012 at 8:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, certainly! It would work well. November 29, 2012 at 10:45am Reply

  • Nikki: I love vetyver, it is my favorite and really calms me down. I use Guerlain’s vetyver, but I much prefer essential oils. I buy mine exclusively at Wisdom of the Earth, close to Sedona. Their website is http://www.wote.com
    I think. They offer vetyver from Haiti.

    Would really enjoy those vetyver screens from India, have to see where they are sold.

    Thank you for the recipe, will try a bath like that tonight. November 29, 2012 at 9:13am Reply

    • Victoria: The screens are splashed with water on a hot day, which creates a cooling scent. A natural AC! November 29, 2012 at 10:46am Reply

  • Cynthia: The photos are beautiful! I make costume jewelry, and I always notice ribbons. May I ask you where did you get yours? November 29, 2012 at 9:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I love jewelry with ribbons. These ones are from a dance supply store. I buy this peach-pink colored ribbon in bulk for my pointe shoes. I like to use it for wrapping gifts, because it’s quite sturdy. November 29, 2012 at 10:52am Reply

      • Daisy: I love the color! November 29, 2012 at 11:07am Reply

        • Victoria: I noticed today that both OPI and Essie have ballet slipper inspired nail polishes. Some are predictable pinks, but others are very interesting pale greys. Since I bake so much, I don’t polish my nails often, but I was really tempted by these. November 29, 2012 at 11:14am Reply

          • Daisy: There was this Chanel polish called Sahara Beige. It was just the most perfect pinky, milky, creamy beige with very classy and discreet sparkles. I wore it so much that the women at the pedicure place I go to started teasing me.

            Sigh. When you find a good color, it’s like finding perfection. November 29, 2012 at 11:19am Reply

            • Victoria: Chanel now has a great color called simply Beige. It’s a creamy, cafe au lait beige, with a delicate purple sparkle. Not sure if it’s at all similar to the one you’re pining for. November 29, 2012 at 2:54pm Reply

              • Daisy: Thanks for the info! Sahara beige was a little darker, bigger sparkles. But they look close enough to warrant a visit to the Chanel counter for sure. Thanks for this! November 29, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Nikki: Just bought vetyver bath mats! That will be fun! There are also vetyver plants to be planted to reduce rainwater runoff which is important here in the desert. Thanks, V, now I am really getting into vetyver! November 29, 2012 at 9:32am Reply

    • Victoria: You are nothing if not determined, Nikki–a trait to be admired. :) I love how you found it all. If you try growing vetiver, I would love to hear more about it. November 29, 2012 at 10:54am Reply

  • solanace: Thank’s for the beautiful gift recipe, V! Will love to try that. November 29, 2012 at 10:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Something different for a change! ;) I usually give handmade edible gifts, but these were so well-received last year that I’m making them again. November 29, 2012 at 10:55am Reply

  • Daisy: That sounds wonderful. Making my own bath salts is on my list of things to do, as is making my own body scrub with coconut oil. November 29, 2012 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely give it a try, especially the scrub. It’s so easy, and after you make your own, you will not want to spend money on the premade ones. November 29, 2012 at 11:15am Reply

  • Kate: Lovely idea! But when the bath is draining how does one keep the lavender flowers from clogging the drain? November 29, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a small of amount of them ends up in the bath water (you are using 1 T for the whole recipe, and then only a small portion of the mixture for the bath) that it’s not an issue. They also tend to float at the sides, and when the water drains, the flowers just end up in the edges of the tub. It’s easy enough to remove this tiny quantity. November 29, 2012 at 2:56pm Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: I have never done this!!!! And I am very exited to do this!!! thank you! What a brilliant idea! November 29, 2012 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you have fun with it. It’s also so easy to change scents. November 29, 2012 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Shiloh: This is fabulous! I make my own oils and bath salts for friends and family, but I use Epsom Salt for it’s amazing healing properties. It softens the skin and takes aches and pains out of the body like nobody’s business! Thanks for the great posts and wonderful blog. November 29, 2012 at 12:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it! Barbara’s comment above about using Epsom salt reminded me that I should get some. They really are a perfect cure for sore muscles or when you’re exhausted. November 29, 2012 at 2:59pm Reply

  • Dain: Thank you for sharing this. It is a great idea. =) November 29, 2012 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: Hope that you can try it. It’s fairly easy to put together, and of course, you can use other oils that you have on hand. Or just mix sea salt and lavender blossoms. That’s an excellent bath by itself. November 29, 2012 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Ann-Sofie: Great recipe, many thanks Victoria! I will do a scrub. I love essentials oils, and have used them in skincare for years. I blend essential oil of rosemary, lavendar, francinsence and labdanum with avocado oil and rose seed oil and use it as facecream (not close to the eye area, though). It is amazing, truly. Moisturize like nothing else and actually keep wrinkles away. I think it is because of the vitamin E in avocado oil and vitamin A in rose seed oil. And of course the essential oils! for example, the rosemary is promoting the circulation. I never use olive oil – it just stays on the skin like an oily layer. Oh, and coconut oil for the hair! Makes wonders on dry, listless hair! And is easy to wash away. Let the oil sit in yout hair a couple of hours, then schampoo twice and – tadaaa!

    PS Essential oils is great insectices as well – very effective (truly VERY effective) and so much nicer than the poisonous things normally used. Lemongrass as an all-bug repellant, cloves against ants, cinnamon against spiders (ugh! spiiiiders). And virginian cedarwood is super effective against silver fish and those little ones that look like silver fish but eat wool and cotton (a.k.a your lovely wardrobe and fine carpets) instead of keeping to the yummy diet of silver fishes that delight in paper and dust. November 29, 2012 at 3:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: It sounds like our cupboards contain many of the similar ingredients! I swear by Virginian cedarwood oil, which I sprinkle in my closet. Not only does it have a great scent, it’s effective against anything that might harm the clothes.

      I noticed the same thing about olive oil, which is why I don’t like to use it in anything other than cooking. It’s very hard to remove! Coconut oil is I always keep on hand, and you’re right, it’s so easy to rinse it out of the hair. November 30, 2012 at 3:51am Reply

  • Andy: Ooh, can’t wait to try this recipe for myself. My best friend is absolutely addicted to taking indulgent baths, so I think I’ll make these for him for Christmas this year. The only change I might make for him would be to substitute in my signature fragrance blend that I like to add to my baths, because I don’t think he’ll like vetiver. I recently gave him your tip to add a splash of cologne to a bath, and he loves it! November 29, 2012 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: I bet that your friend will enjoy it, and yes, salts are a great recipient for all sorts of scents. What is your signature fragrance blend? November 30, 2012 at 3:46am Reply

      • Andy: My blend contains a mix of benzoin, vetiver, black pepper, cedar, grapefruit, orange, a touch of galbanum, and hedione (which makes up about 25% of the formula). No single note stands out very strongly, it’s just very soft and hazy, even kind of powdery. It diffuses softly but nicely, and is probably the only blend I’ve ever created that I’m very happy with. If I had my notebook with me I’d give the exact amounts. November 30, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

        • Victoria: I love the sound of this. I can just imagine that contrast between the spicy-woody notes and the fresh citrus on top. Now, this is going to make a truly indulgent bath. November 30, 2012 at 4:29pm Reply

  • Bela: How do lavender flowers behave in a bath full of water? Aren’t they a pain to remove? *she says, always practical* November 29, 2012 at 6:29pm Reply

    • annemariec: I thought of that too, although as Victoria says above, there is not too much to remove. In any case, I plan to use a strainer over the plug hole. I use one in the kitchen all the time. I’ll buy a clean one for the bath! November 30, 2012 at 3:26am Reply

      • Victoria: There is not much to remove from these quantities. I counted yesterday–7 lavender blossoms ended up in my bath. Another way to deal with them is to wrap the salts you want to dissolve in a piece of cheesecloth. Salts will melt in the water, and the blossoms will be easy to remove. This is what I do when I take a honey-oatmeal bath. November 30, 2012 at 3:36am Reply

  • Amer: Great post Victoria and thank you for the idea. What is the effect of sea-salt in a bath? I have used it as a scrub. Do you use this in combination with soap or shower gel or just straight salt-water?
    I recently tried the new Malone, bay and blackberry and I remembered a tip you gave me some time ago about bay oil smelling like mango. The opening of this is pure mango. I wonder if I could make bay vetiver salt.I think with some citrus in there and some dried rose petals it would result in salty mango! November 29, 2012 at 6:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: It softens the skin and promotes a mild exfoliation. If you use a wash cloth afterwards, you will notice how much easier it will be to polish the skin. You can certainly use salt to exfoliate, but that’s a different effect.

      You can certainly try vetiver and bay. They blend really well together, and you will have a vibrant top note from the grapefruit accents in vetiver and the aromatic facets in bay oil. November 30, 2012 at 3:44am Reply

  • Austenfan: Luckily you didn’t bath in your last drops of Iris Gris or some such.
    This sounds good and easy. I have never tried any of this but I think I will.
    Salt is actually good for your skin. People with bad eczema were often sent to the Dead Sea to help treat their skin. November 29, 2012 at 6:48pm Reply

    • Bela: They still are, but the Dead Sea doesn’t just contain a lot of salt, it contains masses of beneficial minerals. You can’t reproduce the effects of the Dead Sea by just adding salt to your bath water.

      I’ve been there, btw: it’s quite extraordinary. It looks oily and you just float on it. November 29, 2012 at 8:17pm Reply

      • Victoria: Sounds amazing! I’ve always wanted to go. November 30, 2012 at 3:36am Reply

        • Daisy: I had a friend who went and he said that anyone who goes should get a pair of those neoprene swimming shoes with the rubber bottom because the heavy mineral deposits on the bottom of the sea are pretty jagged.

          Bela, did you find that to be the case? Are you allowed swim shoes. November 30, 2012 at 3:57pm Reply

      • Austenfan: A friend of mine went there years ago. She was amazed by the fact that you just don’t sink in the water. November 30, 2012 at 4:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve heard that too. Even the effect from regular sea salt can be impressive.

      Luckily, I don’t keep rare decants in the bathroom! Just a couple that I use for my bath and a couple that I wear frequently. :) November 30, 2012 at 3:38am Reply

      • Austenfan: It is actually probably caused by the high saline content alone. Very high concentrations of Sodium chloride act on the skin of people with eczema/psoriasis altering the concentration of certain peptides involved in the disease. This also increases the skin’s photo sensitivity. UV light is known to slow down inflammatory processes in the skin, especially the ones due to our immune system. November 30, 2012 at 4:08pm Reply

  • annemariec: I’m looking forward to this and have just picked up some vetiver oil from an Australian supplier. I’ll give the epsom salts a go; that sounds lovely.

    OT: that supplier also had dried lemon verbena leaves so I got a small amount to see what they are like. Sounds crazy but I have not been able to locate lemon verbena in our local plant nurseries this summer, and I really want to dry some to experiment with scenting my linen. I have so many organza bags from the perfume decanters, just begging for a new use! November 30, 2012 at 3:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Dried verbena is excellent in tea too, either by itself or mixed with black tea. Incidentally, I bought some the other day. Sachets with lemon verbena sound fantastic. You can also add rose petals, because those two marry really well (rose has a natural citrusy note). November 30, 2012 at 3:53am Reply

  • Undina: Wow… I’m so impressed. It seems like a simple idea but it excites me. Probably it’s holidays in the air. Thank you, Victoria.

    I just have one question (sorry if it’s a stupid one): why do you need to bake a jar? December 1, 2012 at 2:02am Reply

    • Victoria: To sterilize it. It’s just a safety precaution that’s not absolutely essential, but when I share recipes on the blog, I err on the side of caution. In reality, salt should inhibit all bacterial growth. December 3, 2012 at 3:34pm Reply

  • Christi Commander: I absolutely love this idea and have already ordered the vetiver oil from Enfleurage. A question — we have beautiful native beach rosemary that grows here that I think would be so nice to incorporate in place of the lavender. Our native rosemary is not as sharp and much more subtle than traditional rosemary. Could you recommend an essential oil to pair with the it? December 3, 2012 at 3:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can add rosemary leaves to the salt. In fact, the first time I made it, rosemary is what I used. Vetiver and rosemary make for a great pairing. Another variation would be citrus, like bergamot, orange, mandarin. Please let me know how it turns out. December 3, 2012 at 3:32pm Reply

  • Domestic Goblin: I love the idea of a cologne bath! Perhaps I will “accidently” pour in the remainder of my 4711 and see what happens… October 5, 2013 at 1:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: Try it, by accident or on purpose! :) It makes for such a refreshing bath. October 5, 2013 at 6:03pm Reply

  • Ferris: What a great idea. I will try this in my next bath. Thx V! November 16, 2013 at 3:24pm Reply

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