Sweet Grass – Hierochloe odorata

Sweetgrass by Prof Otto Wilhelm Thome
Sweetgrass by Prof Otto Wilhelm Thome

…With sage, sweetgrass, and cedar,
Native people will honor their Wolf cousins
They know of your strong medicine
and the gifts a Great Spirit has given you…

By 3 Hawks


When you come upon Sweetgrass growing in the wild you do not have to see it, you smell it! And oh what a scent! The first time I actually smelled it growing, was at a Pow Wow in Maine. It occurred in September, Labor Day weekend to be exact, and the temps were freezing the water in the buckets at night. It was hard camping that long weekend, because not only had we not prepared adequately for the low temps, but there was also the rain shield from a passing hurricane to deal with. There were numerous reasons why we all found it worthwhile to be there (even the teenagers), but the most important to me personally was finding Sweetgrass for the first time, and being taught how to harvest it correctly!

This member of the grass family is native to a large area, being what is called “circumpolar.” This means it is native around the world in the areas surrounding the Arctic Circle. It is rarely found in pure growth stands, but almost always found growing mixed with other grasses. This plant is listed as Endangered in Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Sweet Grass has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. The Natives of North America used a tea for sore throats, coughs, fever, chafing and venereal infections. Women found it useful in helping to expel afterbirth and to stem vaginal bleeding. Smoke from the burning blade of grass has been inhaled for the treatment of colds.

An essential oil has been used to flavor sweets and soft drinks, the flavor and smell both being vanilla like. In Europe the leaves have been added to vodka to give the vanilla influence to the alcohol. The Polish people add several blades of grass to each bottle of Zubrowka vodka, giving it a yellow-green color and the vanilla flavor!

Sweetgrass is a sacred plant (to Native Americans one of the 4 sacred plants) to the native people of all areas where it is found growing. Here in North America, it is cut, dried and then braided into ‘ropes’ of grass for burning as a smudge or incense. The use of this herb cleanses the area and person, draws friendly spirits, and carries prayers to Creator. It has also been included in herbal smoking mixtures, along with red willow and bearberry. Sweetgrass will retain the vanilla scent for a long time, and has been used to line baskets, hung in closets, placed on the shelves of a linen closet, and in bureau drawers to help keep things smelling fresh.

Note: This illistrations comes from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé from the Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany (Image in Public Domain)

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