Hierochloe odorata (L.) P.Beauv.
Hierochloe odorata or Anthoxanthum nitens, also known as sweet grass, buffalo grass, bison grass, holy grass (UK), manna grass, Mary’s grass, seneca grass, sweetgrass, or vanilla grass, is an aromatic herb which grows in northern Eurasia and in North America. It is used in herbal medicine and in the production of distilled beverages (e.g., Żubrówka, Wisent). It owes its distinctive sweet scent to the presence of coumarin.
Very hardy perennial. Native to North America as well as Europe. Grows to about 60 cm (24 in) in height, leaves grow 60 cm (24 in) long by late summer. Bases of leaves, just below soil surface are broad and white, without hairs, underside of leaves are shiny, without hairs.
The name Hierochloe odorata is from the Greek, literally "holy fragrant grass". Some authors include Hierochloe in Anthoxanthum; in this case this species is given the epithet nitens to avoid confusion with a different species, Anthoxanthum odoratum, sweet vernal grass.
Easiest by cutting out plugs from established plants. Grown in sun or partial shade, they do not like drought.
* Northern America: southern Canada, northern Great Plains/Rocky Mountains and Northwest of U.S., and New England
The plant is harvested by cutting grass in early to late summer at the desired length. Hierochloe odorata harvested after the first frost has little or no scent and is less desirable for basketry. Basketweavers sun-dry cut sweet grass until it is dry and brittle. The brittle form of sweet grass must be soaked in warm water until it becomes pliable. The pliable grass is typically braided into thick threads and then redried for use.
Native American traditions
Sweet grass was, and is, very widely used by North American indigenous peoples. As a sacred plant, it is used in peace and healing rituals. Leaves are dried and made into braids and burned as vanilla-scented incense; long leaves of sterile shoots are used by Native Americans in making baskets.
* Natives of the Great Plains believe it was the first plant to cover Mother Earth.
Sweetgrass has a mellow, almost soporific effect, and for many is a useful aid to entering a meditative state. Coumarin, although not known to possess psychotropic effects, is common to a number of herbs used ritually which have strong anecdotal evidence for at least mild psychotropic properties.
1. ^ a b c Hope, Tom, & Gray, Alan, Grasses of the British Isles: BSBI Handbook No. 13, Botanical Society of the British Isles, 2009, p 311. ISBN 978-0-901158-420.
Guédon, Marie-Françoise. Sacred Smudging in North America, Walkabout Press 2000.
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