Food Is Our Medicine | Sweetgrass
SWEETGRASS – Anthoxanthum nitens, (formally): Hierochloe odorata
This native perennial grass has significant ties to Native North American or First Nation culture. Natives of the Great Plains believe it was the first plant to cover Mother Earth. The Anishinabe Natives believe it is a purifier, and burn Sweetgrass before all ceremonies. It is a reminder to respect the earth and all things it provides. The Seneca’s used this grass in their basketry.
- Spreads by rhizomes and consequently can be aggressive once established. Sweetgrass likes year-round moisture, moist loam and performs best in full sun – (8+ hours of sun exposure). Add lots of compost to existing gardens soil to help your Sweetgrass get established. It is a spreader, be mindful where you plant.
- Produces seed in early summer, late-April to mid-May.
- The wide-bladed grass reaches about ten inches in height before extending back to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass averages two-three feet long (as opposed to high).
- Western Natives use Sweetgrass to “smudge”–it is burned much like incense and is believed to bring about a spiritual cleansing.
- Natives usually braid Sweetgrass for two reasons: to increase its strength and because each piece of the braid is said to signify the Mind, the Body and the Spirit.
- In its dried form, Sweetgrass is very aromatic. Iroquois people use Sweetgrass in basketry and crafts.
- Harvesting Sweetgrass is a simple process. Cut your grass in early to late summer at the desired length (do not pull it out by the roots). Hang indoors out of the sun to dry for at least three days.
- To make braids, simply place the dried Sweetgrass in warm water for a few minutes, braid and hang out of the sun to dry.
- Sweetgrass seeds do not need stratification. To start your seeds indoors, keep soil evenly moist and place pots near a sunny window. Cover the precious seed with no more than one quarter of an inch of soil. Be patient! Sweetgrass takes four to six weeks for germination to occur, with only 10-30% germination success. Store surplus seeds in a cool, dry place.