The Medicines: Sweetgrass

Cultural Uses

Sweetgrass is generally seen as the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Its sweet aroma reminds people of the gentle love she has for them. When used in a healing circle, sweetgrass has a calming effect. It is also used for smudging and often represents the teaching of kindness.

How to tell Sweetgrass from Other Grasses

The following are several clues in helping you decipher sweetgrass from other grasses:

  • The base of the leaves, just below soil surface, is broad, purple and white and is hairless.
  • The top sides of leaves are very shiny and hairless.
  • The undersides of the leaves are matte and flat, never v-shaped.
  • The leaves curl quickly when dried in the sun within a few hours. Most other weed-grass leaves remain flat when dried.
  • Leaves 30 cm/1 ft long or more are at least 0.64 cm/1.01 cm/0.25-0.4 in with an average of 0.83 cm/0.328 in.

Initial Stages of Planting

Sweetgrass is “rhizomatous”, meaning is spreads by sending out horizontal, root-like stems called rhizomes. Rhizomes are basically underground shoots; they grow horizontally through the soil a short distance from the parent plant before sprouting up to the soil surface to begin growing as another plant. In fact, a single sweetgrass plug (a stem or two with a few inches of frizzy rhizome) can spread to cover a square foot of ground in a single year. Because most sweetgrass seed is infertile it should be planted from root plugs. Plugs grow best when they are started in wide, shallow plastic pots and covered in potting soil. Keep the pots in a shaded area for a few weeks until new roots have developed. Once the plants have filled out the pots, they should be transplanted into the garden with about 30 cm (1 ft.) of space between each plant. Plant sweetgrass in rich, moist, slightly sandy soil, with full exposure to the sun.

Braiding and Drying

Braid the sweetgrass as soon after harvesting as possible. Each plant will most likely include three to four blades of grass. Split the plants into individual blades. Clean all the blades by removing any roots that may have been pulled out. Again, save these roots and replant them as soon as possible.

Next, line up all the blades so that all the ends are reasonably well-aligned. Grab a bunch of grass in your hand and secure using a strip of red cloth, or any other means that you desire. If you have waited a day or even a few hours, the grass may have slightly dried out, leaving it stiff and hard to braid. In this case, dip the tied bunches of sweetgrass into a bucket of warm water for a few minutes to soften the grass blades. This will allow the grass to be more malleable and easier to work with.

To braid the sweetgrass, you may wish to work with a partner. One person should hold the tied end of the sweetgrass bunch while the other person braids.

Once you have finished making braids from all of your sweetgrass, it is necessary to let them dry. You may place them outside in the sun on a dry surface. If this is not possible, you may tie all braids onto a long piece of string, with about 30 cm/1 ft space between each braid. Tie the string along the ceiling and leave it there until it is dry.