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INCENSE GRASS

Sweet Grass, Russian Buffalo Grass, Vanilla Grass

Hierochloe adorata F. Poaceae

Description

Perennial with horizontal, creeping, shallow roots, soft leaf blades 40-50cm long, and fine stalks with clusters of insignificant pale green/white flowers.

Propagation is by seed or root division. When dividing up a clump, cut the leaves off 3-4cm above the soil (as the long leaves will wilt if left on). Plant in a well-drained position, with sun or part shade. In cold temperate climates the grass may go dormant in winter, and re-shoot when night temperatures warm up. In cold climates, straw mulch can be used to protect the dormant plant’s roots. Once established, the plant can spread quite quickly. It is best planted in a spot on its own, or kept growing in a large pot or styrofoam box that will give it room to spread, thicken up and provide lush foliage. Keep well watered, but not excessively, or the roots will rot. Plants respond to liquid fertiliser. Do not fertilise too heavily, or leaves can burn.

Uses

The fresh plant does not have a strong aroma, however, when the leaves are dried, braided and burned, they give off a delightful sweet vanilla fragrance. Incense grass has been used in traditional American Indian ceremonies for peace and healing. When distilled, incense grass yields an essential oil esteemed in France for flavouring soft drinks, candy and tobacco. In Poland it has been traditionally used to create a distinctively flavoured vodka, by adding several leaves to a bottle. The grass has also been called vanilla grass, as the dried leaves have a strong vanilla fragrance. But note: incense grass should not be confused with Vanilla Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) (see p 338).

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