Herbs & Plants

Anthoxanthum odoratum

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Botanical Name: Anthoxanthum odoratum
A. odoratum

Common Names: Sweet vernal grass, Holy grass, Vanilla grass or Buffalo grass

Habitat : Anthoxanthum odoratum grass found wild in acidic grasslands in Eurasia.  It is also grown as a lawn grass and a house plant, due to its sweet scent, and can also be found on unimproved pastures and meadows. Odoratum is Latin for “smell as well”. It does not grow well in very dry or waterlogged soil

Anthoxanthum odoratum  is a perennial  grass plant. It can grow up to 100 cm.  The stems are 25–40 centimetres (9.8–15.7 in) tall, with short but broad green leaves 3–5 millimetres (0.12–0.20 in) wide, which are slightly hairy. It flowers from April until June, i.e. quite early in the season, with flower spikes of 4–6 centimetres (1.6–2.4 in) long and crowded spikelets of 6–10 millimetres (0.24–0.39 in), oblong shaped, which can be quite dark when young. The lower lemmas have projecting awns.


The ligules are quite long, up to 5mm, blunt, with hairy fringes around the side.

The scent is particularly strong when dried, and is due to coumarin, a glycoside, and benzoic acid – it smells like fresh hay with a hint of vanilla. The seed head is bright yellow in colour.
The Sweet-scented Vernal Grass – with yellow anthers, not purple, as so many other grasses – gives its characteristic odour to newly-mown meadow hay, and has a pleasant aroma of Woodruff. It is, however, specially provocative of hay fever and hay asthma. The flowers contain Coumarin, the same substance that is present in the Melilot flowers, and the volatile pollen impregnates the atmosphere in early summer, causing much distress to hay-fever subjects. The sweet perfume is due chiefly to benzoic acid.

It is grown by scattering seed on tilled ground in the spring through fall, germinating in 4 to 5 days. It prefers sandy loam and acidic conditions (a low pH).
Succeeds in most soils. Dislikes shade. This is one of the earliest grasses to flower in the year, it produces a lot of pollen and is a major irritant to people who suffer from hay fever. The dried plant releases a strong and persistent fragrance with a refreshing pungent smell that is difficult to describe but is somewhat like newly-mown hay.

Seed – sow April in situ, only just covering the seed. The seed usually germinates in 2 – 3 weeks. Division in spring. Very easy, it can be done successfully at almost any time of the year, though it is best to pot up the divisions in a cold frame if you are doing it outside the growing season.

Edible Uses:
Seed. The seed is very small and its use would be fiddly. A tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves. A sweet pleasant fragrance. Some caution is advised, see notes at top of the page.

Parts uses in medicine: The flower.
Medicinal Uses:

The whole plant, and especially the flowering stems, is anticoagulant, antispasmodic and stimulant.   It is normally only applied externally, where it is used in the treatment of rheumatic pain, chilblains, nervous insomnia etc. It is said that a tincture made from this grass with spirit of wine is an effective and immediate cure for hay fever.

A medicinal tincture is made from this grass with spirit of wine, and it said that if poured into the open hand and sniffed well into the nose, almost immediate relief is afforded during an attack of hay fever. It is recommended that 3 or 4 drops of the tincture be at the same time taken as a dose with water, repeated if required, at intervals of twenty to thirty minutes.
Other Uses:
Basketry; Pot-pourri; Strewing.

The aromatic leaves and dried flowers are used as a strewing herb, they are also woven into baskets and used in pot-pourri. The plant contains coumarin – this is used medicinally and also in rat poisons where it prevents the blood from co-aggulating and thus means that the slightest cut can kill the rat.
Known Hazards : The plant contains coumarins, this is what gives it the scent of newly mown hay. When used internally, especially from dried plants, it can act to prevent the blood from co-aggulating.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.