Open the Advanced Search

Holy Grass

Hierochloe odorata

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
For more information please download the BSBI Code of Conduct PDF document.


Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Sweet Vernal Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
150 centimetres tall
Grassland, marshes, meadows, riverbanks, riversides, saltmarshes, sea cliffs, swamps, waterside, wetland.

Brown, no petals
The flowers are arranged inside panicles with spreading branches. The rounded spikelets contains just two flowers each. Wind pollinated.
The leaves are bright green. The bases of the leaves are occasionally tinged purple.
Sometimes this plant is called Vanilla Grass or Sweet Grass. This is due to its sweet fragrance that it produces when crushed.
Other Names:
Bison Grass, Manna Grass, Mary's Grass, Northern Holy Grass, Seneca Grass, Sweet Grass, Vanilla Grass.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Hierochloe odorata, also known as sweetgrass, bison grass, or holy grass, is a species of grass in the genus Hierochloe. It is native to North America and can be found in wet meadows, marshlands, and along the banks of streams and rivers. It is a perennial grass that forms clumps of narrow, arching leaves and can grow up to 150 cm tall. The plant has sweet-smelling, vanilla-like aroma and produces small, inconspicuous flowers in the summer.

It is an important plant for many Native American cultures and has a deep spiritual significance. It is traditionally used as a smudge plant, braided into cords and in many other cultural ceremonies. It is also used in some traditional medicine. It is an ornamental plant with a fragrant aroma, often used in flower arrangements and garden landscaping.


Holy Grass, also known as Hierochloe odorata, is a perennial grass that is native to northern regions of the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. It is an herbaceous plant that can grow up to 1.5 meters tall, and its leaves are long and narrow with a distinctive sweet, vanilla-like scent when crushed. The plant has a long history of use in spiritual and medicinal practices, and is revered by many cultures as a sacred plant.

Holy Grass is a hardy plant that thrives in wetlands and damp meadows, and can grow in a wide range of soil types. It is typically found in cool climates, and can survive temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. The plant is also known for its resilience in the face of fire, as it can quickly regenerate from its root system after a fire has swept through an area.

One of the most distinctive features of Holy Grass is its scent. When the leaves are crushed, they release a strong, sweet aroma that is often compared to the scent of vanilla or coumarin. This scent is due to the presence of coumarin, a compound that is found in a variety of plants and has a sweet, hay-like scent. Coumarin is also used in the production of perfumes, and is sometimes used as a flavoring agent in foods.

Holy Grass has a long history of use in spiritual and medicinal practices. In many Native American cultures, the plant is believed to have protective properties, and is used in ceremonies to purify the body and the spirit. The plant is also used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, headaches, and fever.

In addition to its spiritual and medicinal uses, Holy Grass is also used in the production of a variety of products, including perfumes, soaps, and candles. The plant is also used in the production of a traditional Polish vodka called Zubrowka, which is flavored with a tincture made from the leaves of the plant. The use of Holy Grass in the production of Zubrowka is said to date back to the 16th century.

Despite its many uses, Holy Grass is not without its challenges. In some regions, the plant is considered invasive and has the potential to outcompete native plant species. Additionally, the high demand for the plant in the production of perfumes and other products has led to over-harvesting in some areas, which can have negative impacts on local ecosystems.

Holy Grass has been used in various ways throughout history and across different cultures. For example, in the Gaelic language, the plant is known as "bochan," and has been used in Scotland for centuries to make a fragrant, sweet-smelling oil that is used in perfumes and other products. In Norse mythology, the plant is associated with the goddess Freya, who was said to have ridden a chariot pulled by cats and adorned with Holy Grass.

In addition to its spiritual and medicinal uses, Holy Grass is also used in the culinary world. The plant is sometimes used as a flavoring agent in desserts, particularly in Scandinavian and Baltic cuisines. The leaves can be dried and used to flavor tea, and the fresh leaves can be used to add flavor to soups and stews. In Sweden, Holy Grass is used to flavor a traditional holiday bread called Vörtbröd.

While Holy Grass is a valuable resource, its widespread use has led to concerns about its conservation and sustainability. In some regions, the plant has been over-harvested, leading to a decline in its population. Additionally, the plant's ability to outcompete native plant species has led to concerns about its impact on local ecosystems.

To address these concerns, efforts are underway to promote sustainable harvesting practices and to protect Holy Grass populations in their natural habitats. For example, in Sweden, efforts are being made to cultivate the plant in a controlled environment to reduce the need for wild harvesting. Additionally, initiatives are being launched to protect wetland habitats, which are critical to the survival of Holy Grass and other important plant species.

In addition to its cultural and ecological importance, Holy Grass has also been the subject of scientific research for its potential health benefits. Studies have suggested that the plant may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, and may be useful in the treatment of certain health conditions.

For example, one study found that a compound found in Holy Grass called phytol has anti-inflammatory effects and may be useful in the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Another study suggested that the plant may have antimicrobial properties and may be useful in treating infections caused by bacteria and fungi.

While these studies are promising, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of Holy Grass and its active compounds. However, the plant's long history of use in traditional medicine suggests that it may have significant therapeutic value.

In conclusion, Holy Grass is a remarkable plant with a rich history of use in spiritual, medicinal, culinary, and ecological contexts. While its cultural importance and potential health benefits are widely recognized, it is important to use the plant in a responsible and sustainable way to protect its populations and the ecosystems in which it grows. By promoting conservation efforts and responsible harvesting practices, we can ensure that Holy Grass continues to be a valuable resource for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map