Health Benefits and Uses of Sweet Grass

Sweet Grass (Hierochloë odorata)Health Benefits of Sweet Grass / Respiratory Health: (Cold and Cough) / Women's Health: (Reproductive Health) / Improves Eyesight: (Eye Infections) / Supports Cardiovascular Health - Heart Health: (Contains Coumarin) / Psychological Benefits: (Stress, Anxiety and Depression, Spiritual Benefits)Uses of Sweet Grass (Traditional Uses of Sweet Grass, Culinary Uses of Sweet Grass, Other Uses of Sweet Grass, Uses of Sweet Grass Essential Oil)

Hierochloë odorata or Sweet Grass is considered by the indigenous people to be a sacred and spiritually healing plant. Sweet Grass is a perennial herb primarily grown in North America and northern Eurasia. Known for its beautiful aroma, it is used in flavoring various drinks, distilled beverages and perfumes as well as in the manufacturing of herbal medicines. Some of the other names in which this herb is known include Holy Grass, Vanilla Grass, Seneca Grass and Mary’s Grass.

Sweet Grass is a rhizomatous and purplish based perennial grass that reaches to the height of 6 to 15-50 cm. Sheaths are glabrous to minutely hairy. Ligule is blunt to pointed, 3-5 mm long and slightly torn with small fringe of hairs at the margin. The mature plants are glabrous. Blades are flat and offshoots are 3-5 mm broad and up to 25 cm long. An inflorescence is open pyramidal and about 5-10 cm long. Spikelets are three flowered and about 5-6 mm long. First two florets are male and terminal floret is bisexual. Glumes are broad, vary in size and equal or slightly exceed the florets. Lemma is unawned, pointed and strongly hairy. Anthers are 1.7 mm long.

As a wetland plant, it generally resides in riverbanks, moist meadows and places along the coast. The hardy aromatic perennial grass normally grows from Alaska to Newfoundland in rich and moist soil in the full sun. It is also known by other several common names such as sweet grass, sweet grass, and vanilla grass. The aroma of sweet grass derives from the high levels of coumarin found in it. The aromatic herb is used for the production of distilled beverages. It is used as a flavoring agent in alcohol especially vodka. It is grown in various parts of North America such as Nova Scotia, Southern Canada, Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, Colorado, Alaska, California, New Jersey and New Mexico. It is found in British Isles in Europe and also Switzerland and other parts of northern Eurasia.

The sweet fragrance of Sweet Grass plant comes from a chemical compound called Coumarin.
Native Indian people called this plant the “grass that never dies”. This was because the plant retains its spirit and fragrance even when it is cut. Native American people often used this plant for religious purposes such as making incense and calling spirits as well as to aid them while they are fasting. The plant can induce a soporific effect and have been used in meditation and shamanistic rituals with the belief that it has some mild psychotropic properties.
In Great Plains, the natives believed that Sweet grass is the first plant that covered Mother Earth. In Northern Europe, these grasses were spread in front of church doors on important Christian festivals due to the sweet aroma that they created.

Tea made of Sweet Grass leaves were used to bring relief from sore throats and coughs. The tea was also drunk to cure venereal diseases. Sweet Grass water was also used as an eyewash solution as well as in healing of problems like windburn and chapping. The herbs was mixed with seeds of Thalictrum occidentale to prepare a tea. Drinking this tea helped in clearing the congestions of nasal passages. A certain Sweet Grass infusion was used by the Karok people of northern California to treat women who suffered from miscarriage. Drinking this infusion also helped pregnant women in arresting fetal growth. Tea made from Sweet Grass was drunk by women after giving birth to prevent vaginal bleeding and for expelling the placenta. Coumarin content of this plant is useful in the reduction of high-protein edemas like lymphodema.

Respiratory Health:

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 Sweet Grass is used in the treatment of cold and fever. Sweet Grass tea has also been found to be effective in soothing sore throat and in relieving cough. Native Indians burn the Sweet Grass and inhale its smoke in order to get relief from cold and its associated symptoms such as nose congestions.

Women's Health:

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.

Improves Eyesight:

Eye Infections:

The native Indians used an infusion made from holy grass as an eye wash to get rid of eye infections.

Liver Health:

A 2013 study "Effect of sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) on the physico-chemical properties of liver cell membranes from rats intoxicated with ethanol" published in Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. by Izabela Dobrzyńska, Barbara Szachowicz-Petelska, Elżbieta Skrzydlewska, Zbigniew Figaszewski 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.

Supports Cardiovascular Health - Heart Health:

Contains Coumarin:

Coumarin is the compound that gives Sweet 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.

Psychological Benefits:

Stress, Anxiety and Depression:

Smudging with Sweet 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 Sweet 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.

Spiritual Benefits:

When Sweet 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 Sweetgrass will keep away the bad spirits or negative energy.

Antioxidant:

A 2002 study "Antioxidant activity of sweetgrass (Hierochloë odorata Wahlnb.) extract in lard and rapeseed oil emulsions" published in Nahrung by A Zainuddin, J Pokorný, R Venskutonis about the antioxidant activities of Sweetgrass (Hierochloë odorata) and Sage (Salvia officinalis) extracts were studied in emulsions of lard and rapeseed oil using soy lecithin as an emulsifier, and addition of cupric acetate as an oxidation catalyst. The antioxidant activity was about the same in the two substrates. The stability against autoxidation was substantially increased by both sweetgrass and sage extracts and their combination. The stability was particularly high, if citric acid and/or ascorbyl palmitate were added to plant extracts.

Eliminates Insects and Pests:

Aedes Aegypti Mosquitoes:

A 2016 study "Isolation and Identification of Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) Biting-Deterrent Compounds from the Native American Ethnobotanical Remedy Plant Hierochloë odorata (Sweetgrass)" published in Journal Agric Food Chem. by Charles L Cantrell, A Maxwell P Jones, Abbas Ali has documented use as an insect repellent by the Flatheads of Montana and Blackfoot of Alberta. Both the Flatheads of Montana and Blackfoot of Alberta would use braided plant material in a sachet in clothing or burn them from one end as incense, air/clothing freshener, and insect repellent. This study evaluated the insect-repellent properties of this plant using an in vitro mosquito Aedes aegypti feeding bioassay-directed approach to identify the compound(s) responsible for the observed activities. Evaluation of crude extracts produced from Hierochloë odorata revealed that the hydrodistillate had the highest level of mosquito biting deterrence. Fractionation of this extract, followed by re-evaluation for mosquito biting deterrence, produced many active fractions, which were evaluated by spectroscopic techniques and determined to contain phytol, coumarin, and 2-methoxy-4-vinylphenol. Phytol and coumarin were both determined to be responsible for the Ae. aegypti biting deterrency. Scientific evidence reported here validates its traditional use as a biting-insect deterrent.

Traditional Uses of Sweet Grass:

  • Tea prepared from leaves provides relief from coughs and sore throats. In addition, drink the tea for venereal diseases.
  • Use the Sweet Grass water as eyewash solution and also to heal problem such as chapping and windburn.
  • The stems can be soaked in water and used to treat windburn and chapping and as an eyewash.
  • Sweet Grass water was also used as an eyewash solution as well as in healing of problems like windburn and chapping.
  • A certain Sweet Grass infusion was used by the Karok people of northern California to treat women who suffered from miscarriage.
  • Mix the Sweet Grass with seeds of Thalictrum occidentale for preparing tea. Drink the tea to clear congestion of nasal passages.
  • After giving birth, women when drunk tea prepared from Sweet Grass helps to prevent vaginal bleeding and to expel placenta.
  • A certain Sweet Grass infusion was used by the Karok people of northern California to treat women who suffered from miscarriage. Drinking this infusion also helped pregnant women in arresting fetal growth.
  • Leaves tea is used for treating fevers, sore throats, coughs, veneral infections and chafing.
  • Soak the stems in water and use it for treating windburn, chapping and as eyewash.
  • Coumarin content of this plant is useful in the reduction of high-protein edemas like lymphodema.
  • Drinking this tea helped in clearing the congestions of nasal passages.
  • Inhale the smoke of burn leaves to treat colds.
  • A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of fevers, coughs, sore throats, chafing and venereal infections.
  • Tea made from Sweet Grass was drunk by women after giving birth to prevent vaginal bleeding and for expelling the placenta.
  • Drinking this infusion also helped pregnant women in arresting fetal growth.
  • Tea made of Sweet grass leaves were used to bring relief from sore throats and coughs. The tea was also drunk to cure venereal diseases.
  • Coumarin content of this plant is useful in the reduction of high-protein edemas like lymphodema.

Culinary Uses of Sweet Grass:

  • Seeds are cooked.
  • Leaves essential oil is used as a flavoring for foods in sweets and soft drinks.
  • Add the leaves to vodka as a flavoring.
  • In Russia, it was used to flavor tea. It is still used in flavored vodka, the most notable example being Polish Żubrówka.

Other Uses of Sweet Grass:

  • This plant is used in aromatherapy.
  • Due to the sweet fragrance of this plant, it is used as incense.
  • The plant is used to prepare hairwash.
  • It is also used for cosmetic purposes like hair and body decoration.
  • The leaves of this plant were used in making baskets.
  • Use it as insect repellant in clothes cupboard.
  • The plant is used in manufacturing perfumes.
  • The fragrant leaves of this plant are used to stuff mattresses and pillows by the Kiowa people.
  • The dried leaves are used as an incense, they were formerly also used as a strewing herb and have been used as a stuffing in pillows and mattresses.
  • Native Americans use the plant for religious purposes such as calling spirits and making incense and also to aid while fasting.
  • It was strewn before church doors on saints' days in northern Europe, presumably because of the sweet smell that arose when it was trodden on.
  • It was used in France to flavor candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes.
  • In Europe, the species Hierochloe alpina is frequently substituted or used interchangeably.
  • The plant is used to prepare hairwash.
  • It is also used for cosmetic purposes like hair and body decoration.
  • Due to the sweet fragrance of this plant, it is used as incense.
  • The plant encourages soporific effect which is used in meditation and shamanistic rituals having the belief that it possesses psychotropic properties.
  • The smoke of this plant is also used to aid meditation.
  • They have also been used as an insect repellent in the clothes cupboard where they impart a nice smell to the clothes.
  • The leaves are used to make aromatic baskets.
  • The wet leaves can be sewn together, dried until they are tight and then resin used over the stitches to make a waterproof container.
  • The leaves can be soaked in water to make a tonic hair wash.
  • The plant has a very aggressive root system and has been planted to stabilize banks.
  • This plant is used in aromatherapy
  • Native Indian people called this plant the “grass that never dies”. This was because the plant retains its spirit and fragrance even when it is cut.
  • Native American people often used this plant for religious purposes such as making incense and calling spirits as well as to aid them while they are fasting.
  • The plant can induce a soporific effect and have been used in meditation and shamanistic rituals with the belief that it has some mild psychotropic properties.
  • In Great Plains, the natives believed that Sweet grass is the first plant that covered Mother Earth.
  • In Northern Europe, these grasses were spread in front of church doors on important Christian festivals due to the sweet aroma that they created.

Uses of Sweet Grass Essential Oil:

  • An essential oil distilled from the leaves is used in perfumery where it acts as an excitant and fixative for other aromas.
  • Use it as a massage oil to feel relax and leave skin moisturized and sweetly fragranced.
  • It is used as a scent to create sense of calm, concentration, mindfulness, serenity and awareness of oneself.
  • It is used to treat minor wounds and scrapes in order to prevent infections.
  • Use the oil as a deodorizer for cars and rooms.
  • Use it topically with carrier oil to soothe or heal dry and chapped skin.
  • Add it to hair shampoos or conditioners to prevent scalp infections and dandruff.
  • Add few drops of essential oil in bath water for relaxation.

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