Sweetgrass, Hierochloe Odorata, is a beautiful sacred plant growing in the northern half of the U.S., up to the arctic circle. Sometimes called Buffalo Grass or Vanilla Grass, it spreads by underground rhizomes and prefers damp lowland areas. Because of its connection to water and its sweet smell it is considered feminine. People use it for ceremonies and healing along with sage and cedar. Often, sage (masculine) is first burned to purify and cleanse and then gentle sweetgrass (feminine) is used to attract good spirits. Sometimes people mix it with the other herbs to be used together because sweetgrass helps make a steady smoke. She is very social.
Propagation is only possible by careful root division so someone must dig it up and give it to another in order to start a new patch. Harvesting and braiding is usually a group event. Harvesters cut sweetgrass (always cut, never pull up roots), then they lovingly braid it together.
Sweetgrass is more than just grass!
The three cords of braid represent mind, body, spirit or love, peace, harmony. The seven strands per cord represent the grandfathers teaching of Humility (wolf), Courage (bear), Honesty (sabe or bigfoot), Wisdom (beaver), Truth (turtle), Respect (buffalo), and Love (eagle). Ojibwe Native Americans call it “wiingaashk”, the sweet smelling hair of mother earth.
So a braid of sweetgrass is much more than just something to make nice smoke with. It is a complete connection to our earth mother, a gift from skywoman. It is a lock of sacred hair, braided in a way that reminds us of our connections and responsibilities. Its power in attracting beneficial spirits make it a favorite for basket weavers to use for accents and edging. If dried properly and kept out of the sun, it retains its sweet smell for years. Topically, people have found sweetgrass helpful for arthritis pain. They also make it into a tea for sore throats. As you can see, sweetgrass is a very comforting and motherly sort of plant. She has many gifts for her children if we use her wisely and respectfully.