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Sweetgrass

As this month’s theme is about sacred reciprocity, I could find no plant more fitting than Sweetgrass, as in the one written about by Robin Kimmerer in our featured book for this month’s book club, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. It was through reading her book several years ago that I really began to deepen my understanding of sacred reciprocity with the living world. Sweetgrass, is as the name sounds, a grass that grows commonly in cold, sunny areas with moist soil, typically found in the Northwest parts of the United States and Canada. Some common names you may hear are buffalo grass, holy grass, blue joint and vanilla grass. 


Its latin name Hierochloe odorata literally translates from Greek as sacred (hieros) and grass (chloe) or holy grass (Hitchcock et al. 1973). Indian people call sweetgrass the grass that never dies, because even when it is cut, it retains its fragrance and spirit.


Sweetgrass has been used since time immemorial by many Indigenous tribes, including the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Dakota, Kiowa, Lakota, Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Winnebago, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Menominee, Mohawk, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki. From ceremonial cleansing, and basket weaving, to herbal tea for sore throats and common respiratory infections, there are many documented uses of Sweetgrass.


Sweetgrass’s geographical spread is as diverse as its historical uses. From the Northern Great Plains, to the Rocky Mountains and even to the Northeast region, if you’re located in these areas, keep your eyes peeled for this beautiful plant ally who looks similar to the plant sketch in the photo above. 

One of the most beautiful descriptions of the spiritual significance of sweetgrass I stumbled upon from Sweetgrass Trading Company says “the three cords of the sweetgrass braid represent mind, body and spirit. There are typically seven strands of grass per cord. The first seven strands represent the seven generations behind us including our parents, grandparents, etc.; the next seven represent the seven sacred teachings of love, humility, truth, respect, honesty, courage and wisdom; the final seven strands represent the seven generations that will come after us. All in all, sweetgrass is a plant medicine that represents strength and resilience in both family and the community and their connection with Mother Earth. Braiding of the sweetgrass plant is usually a group event that brings communities together and connects each member. 

Sweetgrass is much more than a nice smelling plant that can be burned. It represents the connection of humans to earth and sky and is used in many ceremonies and prayers. Typically, sage is burned first to cleanse and purify and is followed by sweetgrass to attract good energy and spirits.”

I have never personally worked with sweetgrass internally, because I have read a lot of conflicting information online and would rather speak to people directly at the source of sacred oral traditions. There is a compound in the sweetgrass called coumarin, not to be confused with Coumadin aka Warfarin, a blood thinner that many people used to take. The coumarins in the grass are what give it the sweet, vanilla smell that it provides. There are accounts that report ingesting it as a tea can be carcinogenic, so for now, I’d recommend using sweetgrass as a spiritual plant ally and a friend that can help deepen your spiritual connection in everyday life. Feel free to explore all the plethora of information available to us at the reach of our fingertips on the world wide web, and as always, if you find anything interesting, please feel free to share with me, as I always love to learn new things.

Signing Off,


Krysten


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