Sweetgrass holds an important place in the culture and ceremonies of indigenous peoples, as it is among the four plants (tobacco, sage, red cedar, and sweetgrass) considered to be sacred medicines. Frequently represented in Native legend, sweetgrass has long been used and revered for its medicinal properties and its sweet, long-lasting scent.
What is sweetgrass and where does it grow?
Sweetgrass is a plant that is prolific across North America and Northern Europe and can grow in nearly any climate. In North America, sweetgrass ranges from Alaska to Illinois to Arizona, and can be found growing anywhere from mountains and meadows to prairies, bogs, and lakeshores.
Most often found among other grasses and shrubs, sweetgrass flowers from June through August and is easily identified by its vanilla-like fragrance.
Sweetgrass has many ceremonial uses among Indigenous tribes and is often used in conjunction with sage. Like sage, its smoke can be used for prayer and cleansing. Sage is often used to drive away negative forces, while sweetgrass summons positive ones. Sweetgrass is also sometimes known as Marsh Hay or Holy Grass.
Why is sweetgrass braided?
One blade of sweetgrass is easily broken, but when braided together it is nearly impossible to break. Sweetgrass braids symbolize strength and help to teach us strength of family and strength of community. Braiding sweetgrass not only makes it stronger and easier to use, but reinforces the lessons it teaches us.
What makes sweetgrass a sacred medicine?
Sweetgrass is believed to be the first plant to grow on earth; it is said to be the hair of Mother Earth. It’s historical and ceremonial significance combined with its medicinal value make it a sacred plant. When used in smudging, healing, or talking circles it has a healing effect, purifying thoughts, the environment, and eliminating bad or negative energy.
How else can sweetgrass be used?
Most commonly, sweetgrass braids are used for smudging and prayer. You can smudge with sweetgrass by carefully lighting the end of the braid and waving it so that it burns enough to release smoke into the air. Though it does not burn as strongly as sage or cedar, it can be combined with other sacred medicines to create a potent smudge stick or smudge bowl.
Other uses for sweetgrass include:
- Use in basketmaking, particularly as a decorative accent. Historically, sweetgrass was used for ceremonial basketmaking, but continued to be important even once basketmaking became more commercial and less spiritual.
- Particularly among the Chippewa, sweetgrass was also burned and used as perfume or in pipe smoking mixtures.