Archive for the ‘Grass’ Category

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)

Pokeweed – Phytolacca americana

Ripe Pokeberries
Ripe Pokeberries

This native of northeastern North America loves weedy, disturbed areas in fields, fencerows, clearings, waste places, roadsides, even natural forest clearings. This large herb has become increasingly more and more invasive, spreading its territory quickly. Here on the eastern seaboard you can almost not go anywhere without seeing it along the road or railroad tracks!

Europe was introduced to pokeweed after the Native Americans had first introduced it to the early colonists. The local peoples here on the east coast at that time used the poke for food, medicine, and dye. Even with the knowledge of the toxicity of this plant this was a popular plant. If the root is not consumed or the seeds cracked and eaten then you can avoid the poisons. But should you experience symptoms of poisoning the signs will be gastrointestinal irritation (colic, diarrhea which may be bloody). Rarely: anemia, possibly death.

In the spring the early shoots work as spring greens that are high in Vitamin C. In the 1960’s a song was written and sung about Poke Salad, which is what the boiled greens are called. This is a traditional rural dish in the southern US.

In traditional use the berries were used in the folk medicine of the Native Americans throughout its range of growth. It has been used in the treatment of syphilis, diphtheria, conjunctivitis, cancer, adenitis and emesis or as a purgative. Due to its toxicity it is considered a Heroic, toxic class herb and therefore should only be administered by someone with the proper training. Great caution should be exerted with its use!

The berries formed a crimson colored ink which could be used in writing, there are some records of it being used in writing of book of Magic (Grimoires) for it conveyed magic through the ink. In magic use Pokeweed was carried to help with courage.

Common Wheat – Tritcum aestivum

This grass is easily grown, but is only known under cultivation. Since 6750 BC In Iraq and other eastern Mediterranean countries there is archeological evidence of its use. By 6000 BC it had reached the Indian subcontinent, and by 5,000 years ago it had reached Ethiopia, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain. In companion planting it grows well with maize and chamomile; but doesn’t like to be grown near dogwood, cherry, tulips, pines or poppies.

The seed are used in herbal medicine for the treatment of cancers, corns, tumors, warts and whitlows (also called a felon is an infection on the tip of the finger, not the sides or base of the nail.) It is considered a demulcent and emollient and used as a poultice on wounds.

Most wheat is made into flour and consumed baked into breads, cakes, pie crusts, etc. Most wheat flour consumed in the US is white flour, which has the bran and germ removed prior to grinding. The whole wheat flour (leaving the bran and germ in) is far healthier, but also goes rancid more quickly, therefore needing refrigeration to extend its shelf life. The removed germ is often sold as wheat germ and is then added back into food to increase the nutritional value. It can easily be put in ground meat dishes of all sorts.

Raw wheat can be ground into flour, or germinated and dried making malt, or made into bulgur. Wheat is the major ingredient in many popular breakfast cereals; i.e. Wheatena, Cream of Wheat, Wheaties, and Shredded Wheat.

There have been increasing problems with people becoming gluten sensitive or intolerant. When that happens the only solution is to cut wheat and other gluten containing products (barley and rye) from the diet! The inflamed bowel that results with a reduction in the absorption of nutrients can also be painful causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

In magic wheat is sacred to Ceres, Demeter, and Ishtar. It is a symbol of fertility and is often carried for that purpose. It is also used to attract money!

Sorghum – Sorghum bicolor

Ripe sorghum
Ripe sorghum

….I helped to strip the cane in the field, 
And hauled it to the mill, 
To make it into sorghum, 
And I can taste it still….

By Ruby F. Rippy 

This grass provides a grain that is the life sustaining staple for many of the world’s poorest. It originated in Africa, specifically Egypt, but is currently not known in the wild, only under cultivation. Sorghum was introduced to North America in 1850 from China.


‘Reported to be anti-abortive, cyanogenetic, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, intoxicant, and poison, sorghum is a folk remedy for cancer, epilepsy, flux, and stomachache’ (Duke and Wain, 1981).


There are several varieties…white grained is eaten as meal or cereal; the red grained is used for brewing beer as it is bitter in taste. A sugar syrup is obtained by crushing the stems. It can also be popped like popcorn!


In North America it’s most frequent use is as animal fodder. The white colored sorghum is the preferred grain for this use. The stems can be used to weave fences, mats and wattle. The flowering tops can be used as brushes or brooms.


Just a word of warning: Hydrogen cyanide can be found in the leaves and stems that are damaged or unripe. In horses and cattle that graze on this can have a spontaneous abortion, incoordination, urinary incontinence, coma, convulsions, cyanosis, dyspnea, staggering, and ultimately death is possible!

Corn – Zea mays

'Indian' Corn
‘Indian’ Corn


WHEN the corn’s all cut and the bright stalks shine
Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
Then it ‘s heigho! fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.


By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1905)


Another gift to the world from the New World. This grass was cultivated in Meso-America. It was the most useful and relied upon grain in pre-Columbian North America, MesoAmerica, South America and the Caribbean.  During the first century AD cultivation of maize spread into the southeastern US. In the areas it was common corn performed a significant number of jobs for the people of the time…it was food, and medicine; it was used in magic and religion…It was most important.


Corn was used in folk medicine as a diuretic and a mild stimulant. It has been used as a poultice for ulcers, swellings, and rheumatic pain. An infusion of corn helps with nausea and vomiting.


The fresh corn seeds can be eaten by simply boiling them for a short time. Grilling them in their own husk (with the silk removed, and the husk restored) will cause a sweet smoky taste. The dried seed is ground into flour that can make bread, cereal, tortillas, etc. They can also make hominy, grits, popcorn, and so much more.


Corn has been worshipped by the Cherokee as the mother goddess, or the corn goddess. There were several major festivals surrounding corn in the Cherokee spiritual cycle…Corn Dance (May – for the planting), Green Corn Ceremony (June – first corn), and the Ripe Corn Ceremony (July – fully ripe corn).