I have such wonderful memories of the last time I attended the NW Herb Fest in Eugene, Oregon. It was during a rather hot weekend in July 2010, sadly, the last time the NW Herb Fest was held. Walking from the parking area in the fields, the air was heavy with the wonderful vanilla scent of Sweet Grass.
At the time, I didn’t know which plant was responsible for that amazing smell and it wasn’t until I purchased a braid of Sweet Grass at one of the vendor’s tables that I figured it out. That lovely braid remained fragrant for a very long time, reminding me of the wonderful time I had with friends at the NW Herb Fest that summer.
Sweet Grass-Hierochloe odorata-is a hardy perennial native to North America as well as Europe. Its binomial name literally means, “Holy Fragrant Grass” in Greek. Other common names include Vanilla Grass and Bison Grass. Coumarin, a chemical compound also found in other fragrant plants such a Sweet Woodruff and Sweet clover, gives Sweet Grass its wonderful vanilla scent.
In northern Europe, Sweet Grass was often scattered in front of church doors during certain feast days. In France it was used to flavor a number of products including tobacco, candy and perfume, and in Russia, it was used to flavor tea. Sweet Grass is an ingredient in the Polish vodka, ?ubrówka or Bison Vodka.
Sweet Grass has been used extensively by many of the indigenous North American peoples for ceremonial purposes. It was often burned for purification, as an offering to ancestors, for protection, initiation and for peace ceremonies.
Sweet Grass was used topically by some indigenous people in hair rinses and for chapped skin. It was also used in sewing, for making baskets as well as for stuffing mattresses and pillows. Although Sweet Grass was sometimes smoked or taken as a tea for the treatment of upper respiratory conditions, I have been unable to find any references for contemporary medicinal use.
This spring I finally admitted that the fragrance from my precious Sweet Grass braid from 2010 was nearly spent and began searching for a source to obtain more. I have seen Sweet Grass sold in shops carrying metaphysical supplies, but I wanted a braid like the one I purchased at the NW Herb Fest: dry but still slightly green and alive with that amazing heady vanilla scent. I decided the only way to obtain what I wanted was to grow it myself.
I ordered one of the naturally occurring fast-growing varieties and decided to plant it in a very large plastic pot. My garden is currently in ‘remodeling mode’, so I didn’t want to add any permanent new residents right now. I also wanted to limit the plant’s prolific expansion throughout my garden. Sweet Grass likes full to partial sun and must not be allowed to become either too wet or to dry out.
My tiny baby Sweet Grass plant arrived in April, and so far, I have been able to take two cuttings with a third ready to be cut within a few days. I even shared a baby Sweet Grass plantlet with a friend. Granted, my braids are rather thin as the plant is still fairly small, but they have been incredibly fragrant with the smell intensifying after the Sweet Grass has been cut and begins to dry.
Several weeks after planting, I noticed that although the Sweet Grass appeared quite healthy, it really wasn’t growing very tall. This was rather odd considering how quickly grasses usually grow. Upon closer inspection I noticed that each blade had been neatly chewed off! I am not sure which little critter was responsible, but after wrapping some plastic mesh screen around the pot, this was no longer a problem.
Sweet Grass photo by Louise Harmon 2012
When the Sweet Grass plant reaches 18”-24” tall, I cut it down to about 2” above the ground. I spread the blades of grass out on a baking rack placed on one of my kitchen counters away from direct heat and sunlight, allowing the grass to dry for a day or two before braiding. I have a braid of Sweet Grass on my altar, one tucked in a basket hanging on the inside of my front door and one hung on the wall next to a small altar in our living room. The small bits and pieces left from the cuttings are added to my tarot card bags and other magickal items. Sweet Grass is wonderful for smudging, but I found this takes a bit of practice as the braid doesn’t smoke like incense or a sage wand, but gently smolders.
Sweet Grass Braid photo by Louise Harmon 2012
The Great Plains Peoples believed that Sweet Grass was the first plant to cover Mother Earth. I encourage you to treat your Sweet Grass with respect and take any used pieces out into your garden to be returned to the earth.
Although there are several vendors who sell Sweet Grass plants, this is where I purchased mine-Redwood City Seed Company. I love their website-lots of great information on growing, harvesting and braiding:
I found this brief tutorial on how to smudge with Sweet Grass:
This information is offered for educational purposes and is not intended to take the place of personalized medical care from a trained healthcare professional. The reader assumes all risk when utilizing the above information.
Copyright© 2012 Louise Harmon
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