Hierochloê odorata / Reukgras

Botanical Name: Hierochloe odorata, Anthoxanthum nitens.

Other Common Names: Holy grass, myskgräs, festgræs, reyrgresi, buffalo grass, vanilla grass, vanilla-scented grass, manna grass, Russian buffalo grass, seneca grass, zebrovka, zubrowski, duftendes mariengras, mariengras, hierochloé odorant, hierba de la virgen.

Habitat: This plant has a circumboreal distribution, meaning that the species is found in the northern areas of Europe, Asia, and North America.
It is usually found growing in nutrition rich and moist soil.

Description: Sweet grass is a perennial plant of the grass family (Poaceae). The stems of the grass are upright, hairless and hollow.
It can grow to about 60 cm or two feet in height. The plant blooms in May to June.
Plant Parts Used: The leaves.

Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of Sweet Grass

The leaves of the sweet grass are collected during the summer months and dried by natural or artificial means. The dried leaves are then used to form braids made for burning and used as incense.
The vanilla scented smoke is important in many sacred ceremonies, both among native North Americans and some indigenous groups in Europe.

The dried leaves are also used medicinally in herbal teas and essential oil can be distilled from the plant which is then used as a seasoning in foods and alcoholic beverages.
Sweet grass contains coumarin, which gives the plant its characteristic scent. Coumarin has blood-thinning properties and some research has shown that coumarin and related compounds can be effective in reducing high-protein edemas, especially lymphedema.
Coumarins are toxic substances that are known to be carcinogenic in larger doses.

In Europe, the herb has been used to flavor tobacco, sweets and alcoholic beverages like the Polish vodka Zubrowka.
It is especially among the native tribes of North American that there are traditions of using this herb not only for religious ceremonies but also to a certain extent for medicinal purposes.
The smoke of burning sweet grass was inhaled to treat colds and also used to keep insects at bay.

Herbal tea made from the leaves has been used to treat coughs, sore throat, fever, and venereal diseases.
The herb has also been used to stop uterine bleeding and to shed the afterbirth after childbirth.

Extracts or decoctions made from the herb were used for body and hair wash. It was used as a body-rub or woven into hair due to the agreeable smell of the plant.

This fragrant grass was also used as a filling in pillows and mattresses and the dried leaves were woven into fabrics to give them a good smell.
Additionally, the Native Americans used to weave baskets and mats from the long leaves. These baskets and mats would retain the special vanilla like scent for several years.

Sweet grass was and still is considered a sacred plant by many native tribes of North America and is traditionally used as incense in many sacred ceremonies, purification processes, healing rituals, peace ceremonies, and initiations.
It is said that the sweet-smelling smoke cleanses the spirit and brings sacred messages to the higher planes of existence. The Native Americans believed that “Wakan Tanka” (Great Spirit) understood messages better if delivered by smoke than those said with words.

Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2013 Mar;35(2):247-53. doi: 10.1016/j.etap.2012.12.014. Epub 2013 Jan 3.
Effect of sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) on the physico-chemical properties of liver cell membranes from rats intoxicated with ethanol.
Dobrzyńska I1, Szachowicz-Petelska B, Skrzydlewska E, Figaszewski Z.
Changes in the composition and physicochemical properties of liver cell membranes due to ethanol intoxication are due mainly to reactive oxygen species (ROS). The destructive action of free radicals can be neutralized by administration of antioxidants. The purpose of this study was to investigate the efficacy of sweet grass on the physicochemical and biochemical properties of the rat liver membrane altered by chronic ethanol intoxication. Qualitative and quantitative composition of phospholipids and proteins in the membrane were determined by HPLC. Ethanol increased phospholipid levels and altered the level of integral proteins as determined by decreased phenylalanine, cysteine and lysine. Ethanol significantly enhanced changes in the surface charge density of the liver cell membranes as determined by electrophoresis. Administration of sweet grass to rats intoxicated with ethanol significantly protects lipids and proteins against oxidative modifications. Therefore, sweet grass protects against some of the deleterious membrane changes associated with ethanol exposure.