Hierochloe odorata, known by several other common names such as sweet grass, holy grass, bison grass, vanilla grass etc is a sweet scented herb that is used mainly in making herbal medicines. The unique aroma of holy grass comes from the high levels of coumarin present in it. Native to North America and northern parts of Eurasia, this aromatic herb is also used in the production of distilled beverages. It has been used in tobacco products and also as a flavoring agent in alcohol, especially vodka. Sweet grass is highly valued for its sweet fragrance and is used for healing, spiritual cleansing and ritual purposes.
Medicinal benefits of Hierochloe odorata / holy grass/ bison grass
Hierochloe odorata or sweet grass is considered by the indigenous people to be a sacred and spiritually healing plant. Some of the medicinal effects of this herb are listed below:
Holy grass is used for treating cold and cough
One of the health benefits associated with this herb is that it is beneficial in treating the common cold and flu. Herbal tea made out of holy grass is used in the treatment of cold and fever. Holy grass tea has also been found to be effective in soothing sore throat and in relieving cough. Native Indians burn the holy grass and inhale its smoke in order to get relief from cold and its associated symptoms such as nose congestions.
Holy grass for female reproductive health
The tribal people of North America used holy grass to stop bleeding in the uterus and to expel the placenta after childbirth. An infusion prepared from this herb is believed to help women who suffered a miscarriage.
Holy grass for eye infections
The native Indians used an infusion made from holy grass as an eye wash to get rid of eye infections.
Holy grass contains coumarin
Coumarin is the compound that gives holy grass its characteristic sweet aroma. This compound is known to have blood thinning effects and hence is used to treat certain types of edema and swelling.
Other uses of Hierochloe odorata
When holy grass is burned, it gives out a sweet aroma. The native Indians believe that this fragrance is beneficial to not only us humans but also the spirits. Due to this belief this herb is dried, made into bundles and then burned at the beginning of ceremonies in order to invite the good spirits and to invoke their protection and purification. It is also believed that the fragrance of holy grass will keep away the bad spirits or negative energy.
Smudging with holy grass is done to clear negative energy. A small bundle of this herb is lit and then moved around and over an individual’s body to clear his or her negative energy and to purify the thoughts, emotions and body as a whole. Smudging can be considered as a form of aromatherapy that helps in relaxing your mind and in reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
The leaves of the holy grass are usually collected during the summer season. They are dried by either natural or artificial processes and then used as incense and also to make braids for burning. Some indigenous groups in Europe and the native North Americans consider the vanilla scent of holy grass smoke as a very important factor in many sacred ceremonies.
The presence of coumarin gives holy grass a bitter taste. But in spite of the bitterness, in some places this herb is used in vodka as a flavoring agent. Extracts obtained from this plant are also used in giving flavor to tobacco, candy and soft drinks. The decoctions or extracts made from holy grass are used for hair and body wash. Because of its sweet and pleasant aroma, people use it as a body-rub or they weave it into their hair.
Native Americans use holy grass for weaving baskets and other handicraft works. The long leaves when dried become strong and flexible so that they can be used for making handicraft items which often attracts tourists. These baskets and handicraft items will retain the wonderful vanilla smell for several years. Hierochloe odorata contains aromatic essential oils which are largely used in making perfumes. When the leaves are dried, the scent becomes more strong and evident and hence the native people use these leaves to impart fragrance to clothing and pillows. This aromatic herb is used as a filling in mattresses and pillows and the dried leaves are sometimes woven into clothes to give them a good fragrance.Holy grass is also used as a soil stabilizer as it helps in preventing soil erosion.
Holy grass has been and is still considered a sacred herb by the various native tribes of North America. It is valued for its use as incense in purification processes, healing rituals, sacred ceremonies, and initiations. It is believed that the fragrance of the holy grass smoke helps in cleansing the spirit also is capable of delivering sacred messages to the world of spirits.