Gardening Herbs

The Vodka With the Grass Blade Inside

Ill.: CEDC International &, montage:

If you’re into fine liqueurs, check this one out: Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka (pronounce the name zoo-BROV-ka), a Polish vodka. It’s a flavored rye vodka, not colorless like most vodkas, but with a faint golden tinge, and offering notes of sweet woodruff, vanilla, coconut and almonds. It’s said to be one of the finest vodkas in the world and is usually served chilled on its own or mixed with apple juice.

And you’ll instantly recognize it by the blade of grass in each bottle.

The grass is said to be bison grass (Hierochloe odorata), żubrówka in colloquial Polish, but you might recognize it under the more common names sweet grass, vanilla grass or holy grass. If it’s called bison grass in Poland, that’s because it’s said to grow in fields where the wisent (European bison, Bison bonasus) feeds. The grass is indeed sourced from the Białowieża Forest in Poland, home to some 800 wisents, and is hand-picked and dried under natural conditions.

Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) growing in a field.
Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata). Photo:

However, sweet grass is found growing wild all over the Northern Hemisphere and no bisons need to be present. It is, among others, the sacred grass of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States where it is used in smudging ceremonies.

It’s the bison grass that gives the vodka its unique flavor. It contains coumarin, an aromatic organic chemical compound, used as a flavoring agent. 

Not Available in the USA

True Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka is not available in the United States, although the Polish manufacturer now markets a substitute product under the same name for the American market.

This vodka contains a natural product? We can’t have that! Ill.: CEDC International &, montage:

That’s because coumarin has medicinal uses (it’s used as a blood thinner) and can be toxic in large doses. As a result, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) classifies coumarin as a “substance generally prohibited from direct addition or use as human food,” in spite of the fact that it is found in many fruits, including strawberries, cherries, apricots and black currants, none of which are currently banned.

Also, the quantity of coumarin found in bison grass vodka is too small to have any harmful effect, although the alcohol (which, curiously, is not banned, even though it too is toxic in large doses) it contains can have harmful effects if consumed in important quantities, as many of us know first-hand. 

But rules are rules, so the Żubrówka vodka company spent millions on producing an equivalent vodka using different legally accepted herbs and launched the new product in the American market in 2011. It still includes a blade of bison grass in the bottle … although it has been specially treated to render it coumarin-free.

True bison grass vodka, with unadulterated bison grass, is, however, available in some 80 other countries worldwide.

Make Sure You Get the Real Deal

Do note that the manufacturer, CEDC International, also produces classic white vodkas under the Żubrówka name, but without added bison grass and in fact, is one of the largest vodka manufacturers in the world.

All Żubrówka vodkas show a bison on the label (it’s their emblem), but only bison grass vodka will actually have a blade of grass in the bottle. 

NB. No bisons were harmed in the writing of this article.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

6 comments on “The Vodka With the Grass Blade Inside

  1. Sarah Bernhardt

    i am new to your blog. how can i research other topics you have posted. i wrote to you about a topic and have not had a response.

  2. Thank you for pointing out how hypocritical the FDA is. It’s really amazing how decisions like these are made by them.
    And I loved how you nicely pointed out how time and quantity can make a difference as to the toxicity of certain things. Right-O! ❤️🦋🌀

  3. One more reason to not consume alcohol . . . as if I needed another.

  4. dlarmstrong

    I tried Zubrovka when I was living in the USSR. Only had a single shot and it knocked me flat on my back. The hangover the next day was indescribably agonizing! NEVER. AGAIN.

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