Sweetgrass (a.k.a. Mother Earth's Hair)

If you have not read Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, you might want to check it out. Literally - there are multiple copies at most libraries because it is that good. Robin Klimmerer's website describes her as "a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation." Her heritage, knowledge, wisdom, and passion shine through clearly in her writing.

I was tickled to introduce a longtime friend of mine to the plant, Sweetgrass, earlier this week. She had read Braiding Sweetgrass recently and, predictably, was intrigued and interested in meeting sweetgrass herself, which I have cultivated in my yard. So she stopped by and Sweetgrass did not disappoint, with her sweet vanilla taste and scent. Valerie happily gathered some to take home to create the traditional sweetgrass braid. Life is good.

So, what's the deal with sweetgrass?

Its scientific name, Hierochloe odorata, literally means, “fragrant holy grass.” The plant has been regarded as sacred by many Native American groups for hundreds if not thousands of years, some tribes believing she was the first plant to cover the earth and referring to sweetgrass as "Mother Earth's hair." Traditionally, she is braided, with the three strands of the braid representing mind, body, and soul to some indigenous groups, while others believe the braids represent love, kindness, and honesty. After the braid is dried, it is used as a smudge during ceremonies to purify thoughts and the environment and to eliminate bad or negative thoughts, bringing positivity and calm along with its sweet smelling smoke.

Sweetgrass has been used by humans for centuries for many other purposes also, ranging from ingredients in herbal medicine to flavoring for tea, tobacco, and even candy! Therapeutically, some indigenous persons would stuff the fragrant grass into their pillow or mattresses with hopes of having sweet dreams. The sweet blades are also used in basket weaving, which retains the plant's aroma long after the weaving is completed. I read of one person who tucked small sweetgrass braids into her shoes, socks, or bra, for relief from arthritis - that's worth a try!

Regarding medicinal uses, sweetgrass tea can be used to help with cold or sinus issues. Some report that the tea can also help with coughing or could be gargled for sore throats. I think I'll try making a herbal infused honey with sweetgrass and give that a try for coughs. The herbal honey could also be a tasty sweetener for tea! Maybe for sweetgrass tea, which due to its scent and sweet taste may encourage one's mind and body to relax by releasing tension and anxiety.

Another interesting fact is that though the scent is sweet to humans, it’s repulsive to mosquitos, so perhaps we could come up with a use for it in that regard? Wouldn't that be something! Hmmm...

One caution: sweetgrass, like other vanilla-scented plants, contains coumarin, which has blood thinning properties. So avoid sweetgrass if you are taking any sort of blood thinners. And don't drink sweetgrass tea or use it medicinally in any form for a few weeks before any surgery.

I admit I haven't gotten to know sweetgrass well myself, but that's about to change. If you would like to gather some sweetgrass, too, there's plenty for everyone! She is a vigorous grower, spreading through rhizomes, and I have plenty in my yard to share!

One of my favorite lines from Robin Wall Klimmerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass, is:

“In some native languages, the term for plants translates to ‘those who take care of us.”

Another favorite is:

"The land knows us, even when we are lost."

The last I'll mention today:

"All powers have two sides, the power to create and the power to destroy.

We must recognize them both, but invest our gifts on the side of creation.”

May we all join with creation and give life today, with the assurance that when all is said and done, the land and the plants,.along with the Creator of them and us, will continue to provide what we need. Sometimes (and way too often) in spite of us.

Hmm - I got a bit philosophical this time... sorry. Just read Braiding Sweetgrass for yourself. You're welcome.