Greetings everyone! Today, I’m going to cover another piece of our recent Lucky 13 podcast: Van Van oil. This is one of the most common hoodoo oils around, and actually shows up in other places fairly often, too. Because it is made from grasses found in Southeast Asia, it has a long history in medicine and magic from those areas. Some of the grasses used in Van Van are also grown in West Africa, which is likely one route through which Southern conjure practices adopted this formula.
The basic ingredients in a Van Van blend are oils from:
- Vetiver (also called “khus” grass in some places)
- Palmarosa & Gingergrass (the same plant, but the oil pressing process is different)
Most of these are not easily available in bulk herb form, with the exceptions of lemongrass (which you can find at almost any Asian market) and vetiver (which can often be found in herb or metaphysical shops). All of the oils except gingergrass are readily available from any aromatherapy or herbal extract dealer. Gingergrass oil, which can be hard to find, is often left out of homemade Van Van recipes, or something else might be substituted for it.
The proportions heavily favor lemongrass in the recipes I’ve seen, almost to the point of exclusivity. There are some who solely use lemongrass oil and add dried botanicals to it in order to round out the recipe. Generally speaking, a home blender would use:
- 5-10 parts lemongrass oil
- 3-5 parts citronella oil
- 2-3 parts vetiver root or oil
- 1 part palmarosa
- 1 part gingergrass
All of these would be carefully blended in a sterile jar, then topped with a carrier oil (sweet almond or jojoba would be excellent). The proportions above are merely suggestions, and you would do well to contact a trained herbalist before blending these on your own. In reality, you might be able to use just the first three oils and have some pretty solid Van Van oil, so don’t spend loads of money tracking down rare herbal ingredients unless you really feel compelled to do so.
Additions to the recipe vary by practitioner and region. For example, in New Orleans, one might find lemon verbena added to the mix. In fact, this may be how the formula got its name. According to Cat Yronwode, Creole rootworkers would sometimes use lemon verbena in their blends in order to supplement the strong lemon-musk scent of the oil. Verbena—a related herb—was often called vervain, and that was given a pidgin phoneme of “van van.” The name does NOT have anything to do with vanilla, which is not found in any traditional recipes for this formula. Judika Illes, whom we’ve referenced several times before, suggests adding another wild Asian grass—patchouli—to the blend, but I’ve never done this myself (I’m not a fan of patchouli, personally). Other additions might include pyrite chips or “lucky” things like four leaf clover charms (which can also be anointed with Van Van and carried for luck).
So just what is Van Van oil for and how does it work? Well, it’s considered a sort of ultimate luck formula, having sway over money, prosperity, gambling, love, and anything else that might need a little luck. It’s often used to anoint talismans—like the rabbit’s foot—or mojo hands made for gambling or love. As for how it works, lemongrass (and all citrus grasses) has a powerful “cut and clear” effect…think of how many lemon-scented cleaning agents there are. They just make things seem cleaner (lemon also has some antibacterial/antimicrobial properties, and is a potent preservative in small doses—sliced apples are often treated with a lemon juice extract to keep them from browning). Citronella does something similar (think of how citronella candles, torches, and oils repel nasty insects like mosquitoes). These grasses cut and clear any negative influences, warding off bad luck. Palmarosa and gingergrass (which come from the same plant, in reality, Cymbopogon martine) are muskier, and so have a slight sexual connotation. If you think of something being clean, bright, and sexy, it’s not hard to imagine lucky in the mix, too (think James Bond in a casino). Vetiver is the muskiest of all, with strong earthy tones. Earth has connections to abundance and prosperity (think of fertile black soil planted with seeds which grow into crops), plus there is a strong sexual current again. Sex + money + nothing standing in your way? Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty lucky.
A few quick notes:
Magico-botanical notes come primarily from Cat Yronwode’s book, Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!