My first interaction With Vanilla Grass
I first became aware of the plant Sweetgrass when I was 19 years old and saw Akwesasne Mohawk women harvesting wild sweetgrass from a large wild patch near Stockholm, NY not far from where I lived on a hippy commune called The Pickle Street Pig Farm!
It was 1976 and there was a lot of fun to be had that summer…but it was also a summer to remember because the Mohawk basket makers who were harvesting the Sweetgrass taught me some important life lessons. Not only was Sweetgrass to be used in Mohawk basketry but it was also braided and burned as a woman’s prayer herb and purifying smoke.
The Mohawk women told me their people were instructed by the Creator to braid their intentions into a swag and then burn it to release their intentions onto the wind. This is a good way to communicate with the universe.
The baskets and the braids and the smoke all sounded really good to me when I was 19 and it began my life long relationship with growing and using this fragrant, beautiful and special plant.
It has made my life better in so many ways, so I hope that if you have a chance to grow it for yourself you will do so. So let me tell you how you can grow your own sweet grass in your home:
Grow Your Own Sweet Grass
You can purchase the Vanilla Plants from the Eco Seeds web site and they also have all the information you need for growing and tending your own sweetgrass patch. Even a small 4 ft. x 4 ft. patch is large enough for home use. If you cannot buy any plants let me know and I will send you some root stock this fall. I have a very large patch and I’m willing to share.
Traditionally there are 2 ways to grow its ceremonial/ holy grass:
- Directly grow it from the seeds
- Plant the grass from the Plugs
Growing with the seeds
When planting your sweetgrass from seed, I would suggest you to wait till Spring, as winter conditions are not suitable for the growth of these grass. If you want to you can start growing your vanilla grass in un suitable season then try to grow it indoor and then transfer it outside in the spring.
When the season is in the favor, dig a 2 inches deep hole for seeds in soil having both rich in nutrients and sand based mixture. You can also add one to two inches of shredded cedar bark which will help to eliminate the weeds and will allow to retain the moisture. When growing indoor, use a small pot to sow the seed and cover it with a maximum of quarter-inch of soil in it mixed nutrients.
Make sure to put the pot in a place where it receives ample of light exposure, and the germination period usually takes 4 to 6 weeks.
Growing with the Plugs
When growing the sweetgrass with the plugs its best to keep them in shades for at least two weeks and allow them to establish their new roots at the place.
Dig the hole big enough to cover the roots and topsoil that must be around 2 to 3 inches with Sweetgrass plugs should be around eight to twelve inches apart.
You must add fertilizer repeated 2 to 3 times to the soil during the peak growing season. Keep the soil moist, but don’t over soak the roots or it might rot them.
The Harvesting Season
Starting in the Late June to early July is considered as the best season for harvesting these holy grass and produces small greenish-yellow flowers. However I would recommend not to harvest them in the first year of their plantation. They should only be harvested when the plant cover a six-foot area. If the procedure is followed properly the yield should produce 8 to 10 braids in one growing season.
Never pick the Sweetgrass by pulling the roots out of soil, simply cut the stem into 2 to 3 inches from the base.
After harvesting, simply lay out the leaves to dry in direct sun and turn every 40 minutes. On a hot day, the leaves should dry within six hours.
The essence of Sweetgrass
Sweetgrass’s flat bright green leaves smell like vanilla and cut grass, fresh and sweet. The name Sweetgrass reflects the smell, usually sweet is used to describe flowery scents, but this is an apt name for the light, delicate smell of this plant. As the leaves reach the ground they grow a purple tint.
Since sweetgrass is a perennial it comes back to grow year after year, growing up to half a meter tall, sometimes growing even taller than that. These flowers produce seeds, however, the seeds, if planted, will often not germinate, because the plant spreads and reproduces through its long underground roots.
Sweetgrass goes by a number of different names depending on the region, or the people talking about it. There are several varieties of sweetgrass including common sweetgrass and alpine sweetgrass. Sweetgrass is also most popularly known as bison grass, vanilla grass, buffalo grass, and holy grass.
The Tradition of Holy Grass
The abundant fields of sweetgrass that once existed in the US have been cleared for agricultural use and development. Many people that use sweetgrass now keep their own patches of it despite its history of being an easily forgeable plant.
Native Americans use sweetgrass for a wide variety of things, including as a bug repellent and for basket weaving. The weaving of baskets started as a functional craft, as the baskets were used for storage, now they are often made for decorative purposes. The baskets range from simple to intricate. The weaving of the baskets can take just hours or, for larger baskets can take days to weeks to finish.
Native indigenous people often kept sweetgrass in their homes and on their person to protect themselves from bug bites. Anyone that has spent time near a sweetgrass patch can tell you, there are noticeably fewer or even no bugs that bite near the area when compared to other areas where sweetgrass doesn’t grow.
Playing an important role in indigenous cultures, sweetgrass is considered a sacred plant to indigenous peoples and is often used in prayer, smudging and purifying ceremonies, and cleansing.
It can be dried, then burned by itself or with other herbs and plants. When burning the sweetgrass keeps its light and sweet vanilla scent, making the air smell nice without being an overpowering scent.
In Europe sweetgrass is also used to flavor distilled drinks like vodka, and can be used as a natural remedy to help fight colds. On the Great Plains the Saskia peoples used sweetgrass to treat the sores on their horses left by wearing saddles. They also carried braided dried sweetgrass to feed their horses in order to increase the horses stamina.
You can have a lot of seriousness and a lot of fun with sweetgrass. It’s the kind of plant that is a lifelong friend …one that you will never tire of!
Adirondack Artisan Sweetgrass perfume is an artful blend of essences gathered from local forests, rivers and fields of the Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm.
In the mid- late summer plants are harvested and dried, scents are extracted and stored for inclusion in our beautiful farm-based products in celebration of all things Adirondack!
These gifts of the great north woods are then and processed by traditional as well as modern methods, artfully blended, aged, and beautifully packaged for all to enjoy! The perfect gift for someone special!
- Research confirms Native American use of sweetgrass as bug repellent.” Washingtonpost.com, 18 Aug. 2015. Gale Academic OneFile, link-gale-sll.orc.scoolaid.net/apps/doc/A425897136/AONE?u=nysl_nc_sll&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=384a7be2. Accessed 6 July 2021.
- Gordon, Naomi. “Sweetgrass: The Hair of Mother Earth: Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta.” Windspeaker, 05, 2003, pp. 33. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/sweetgrass-hair-mother-earth/docview/345060650/se-2?accountid=4069.