© Copyright: 1994, 2012 S. Tephyr Burgess
Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata L.) is a native plant found mostly in meadows from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and South Dakota. Often called Seneca Grass or Vanilla Grass. Because of its uses in basket making for tourists it has become hard to find in my area of New England: I cant speak for other areas. Please, even if this plant grows in abundance near you do not harvest it unless necessary. Better yet: grow your own. Why do I say that even if it's in abundance near you? One of my soap box issues :)... If it's getting rare elsewhere it does no one any good to start over harvesting where it's in abundance. Then both places will become rare. There are so many species of plants that this is happening to I can't begin to list it. Let's just take the historical lesson from Ginseng and Goldenseal. (*steps off her soap box*)
I love braiding Sweet Grass as much as I love rolling Smudge Sticks. Take your basket of grass, sit in the shade and braid away....
If you like to weave baskets look into growing and using Sweetgrass.
Medicinally according to Petersons Field Guide for Medicinal Plants it is reputed to be used in tea for coughs and sore throats. For chafing, venereal infections and to stop vaginal bleeding and to help expel after birth. It also warns the roots contain a coumarin, sometimes considered carcinogenic.
Metaphysically it is mostly used to attract positive, harmonious energies. Often used after Smudging anything or anyone, to replace negative energy with positive. Also one of the herbs often used in Sweat Lodges.
If you are just harvesting the grass for loose incense you can just cut the leaf stalks, dry it on screens and then use it that way. You will want to crumble it up a bit when you light it and perhaps also use a piece of charcoal to burn it on.
Harvesting and Growing
Take a hold of a bunch of sweet grass blades and cut with scissors or knife, leaving at least three inches of the blades on the plant. Do not cut it to the ground you can kill the plant. Do not pull up the roots. If the blades aren't long enough to braid then wait until they grow long enough; it won't take long. Place them neatly in a basket: I find a long flat one works best.
Take only what you need as well as how much is available. In any wild crafting or even in The Garden I never take more than 1/4 to 1/3 of an herb plant; and less than that of an entire stand, particularly in the wild; no matter what my personal need, (though I have never had a problem finding less than I really need; Nature always provides) thus ensuring a future crop as well as keeping Harmony with Nature. Give Thanks in whatever form is comfortable for you...
As I said above, I highly recommend growing it in your garden rather than wild harvest it, thus saving the wild stands. It is very easy and prolific: though I warn you it can be too prolific so beware where you plant it. If you don't have a lot or room or don't like intrusive plants then you may want to grow it in a container. Plants can be purchased from various places; online you can go to Richter's (see link below).
While Sweetgrass can grow from seed it is said that her seeds are very low in germination and most of the growth and spreading come from root divisions. This is why it is recommended to cut blades rather than pull the blades with the root during harvest.
Making a Sweet Grass Braid:
The technique I am going to teach you was passed on to me by Khat OBrien as I mentioned in the article on Smudge Stick Rolling. The hard part is going to be verbally explaining how to braid. Your best bet is to go to the library or book store and get a book on hair braiding.. it is the same three braid technique: or if you know someone who knows how to braid, ask them to show you.
Take the bunch of grass stalks about the size of the space in a circle made between you thumb and "pointer" finger.
Tie one end off with a single stalk or thin string or thread. I find the thread works best for me.
Divide this into 3 equal bunches.
Hold the 3 bunches together in one hand: but still keep them separate with your fingers.
Cross the right bunch over the center bunch.
The center then is pushed to the right: the right is now the center bunch.
The left bunch is now brought over the center, the left is now the center.
Repeat over and over, eventually one hand will hold the top while the other will do the braiding. You want to keep the braiding tight but not too tight. Remember it will shrink some when it dries. With practice you will learn just how tight to make the braids.
When you get to the end, take a length of grass and wrap it around and tie with another single stalk, string or thread.
It takes practice. Be patient.
As far as I can tell the following is the number sequence you could follow..... being 1 bunch, 2 bunch 3 bunch.
1 2 3
1 3 2
3 1 2
When your done, dry the braids on a screen or flat basket out of direct sun.
Good luck and have fun.
Sweet Grass plants: Richter's