Sweet Vernal Grass
Scientific Name(S): Anthoxanthum odoratum L., Family: Graminae
Common Name(S): Grass, spring grass, sweet vernal grass
Sweet vernal grass is a fragrant plant in the grass family that has flat leaves and narrow spike-like panicles of proterogynous flowers. It grows perennially in tufts, without stolons or basal scaly offshoots. The culms are slender, erect, and 2 to 10 dm high. Its spikelets are brownish-green, 8 to 10 mm long, and spread at the time of flowering. The grass is originally native to Eurasia and Africa, but is common in American fields, pastures, and waste places as far north as southern Ontario and as far south as Louisiana.
Sweet vernal grass is used as a flavoring and sometimes in the manufacture of brandy. Recent veterinary poisonings show reason to discourage its use in humans.
In cattle, hay made from sweet vernal grass has caused progressive weakness, stiff gait, breathing difficulties and hemorrhage followed by quick death. This reaction has been attributed to the dicoumarol content of the hay and makes human consumption dangerous.
Like many aromatic plants, sweet vernal grass has been used historically as a flavoring agent because of its vanilla-like aroma. In Russia and related countries, it was used in the manufacture of special brandy.
Except where veterinary poisoning has shown the presence of dicoumarol in its hay, very few chemical studies have been carried out directly on sweet vernal grass.
Historically, sweet vernal grass has beer used as a flavoring. However, recent veterinary experiences on its anticoagulant principle (dicoumarol) should discourage its use for this purpose. The FDA has banned coumarin for flavoring purposes.
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