Sweet Grass, folklore, Uses and Smudging

Everything About Sweetgrass

Sweet grass or sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata.) A friend sent me some sweetgrass starts a few years back and I grew a beautiful crop of it for a couple of years. The third year it got spotty and turned kind of yellow. I can’t say for sure what the cause was but my guess is one of two things. #1. I did not thin it enough and it died out. – or – #2. It became diseased due to all the spraying of various toxins on the wheat fields that surrounded us.

Sweetgrass is AKA: Holy grass, buffalo grass, vanilla grass, manna grass, and seneca grass.

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In Europe, the herb has been used to flavor tobacco, sweets and alcoholic beverages like Polish vodka.

They say you can find sweetgrass growing among other grasses in some areas of low prairies, edges of marsh’s, bogs, banks of streams and lake shores. I have never run across any. My guess is they are referring to the smaller sweetgrass and not the kind that is commonly used to make sweetgrass braids. For this article we will be talking about the tall Sweetgrass that is used for braids.

Sweetgrass rhizomes and roots form a dense mat beneath the soil surface. The stems grow upright and average 2 to 3 feet tall. The leaves are narrow and flat. They average about 1/4 inch wide.

Much like garlic and horseradish, sweetgrass does not seem to produce viable seeds. Humans have been replanting them from starter plants that are usually taken up when thinning a sweetgrass patch.

Sweetgrass is traditionally harvested in late June or early July. It’s important to cut it rather than pull it up by it’s roots. If cut, it will grow back again. However, if we are growing a patch of it, we need to thin it every year, thus, we do have to dig it up by the roots. This is a great time to share with others who might want to grow some. Or, start another patch.


It is said that among the Chippewa that many young people, mostly young men, carried a braid of sweetgrass with them. They would cut off a short piece and burn it for perfume.

It is said that the young men might also wear two braids of it around their neck. It would be joined at the back of the neck and fall on either side like braids of hair.

It is said that it was also used in pipe-smoking mixtures, along will red willow and bear-berry. When burned, it was believed that prayers, thoughts and wishes rise with the smoke to the creator who will hear them. This is still practiced today.

Medicine men kept sweet grass in the bag with their medicinal roots and herbs.

Sweetgrass for Smudging

To make the braids, it is generally cut when it reaches around 16 to 24 inches. It is then dried and used in various ways. Prayer, smudging, and purifying ceremonies are the most noted.

Sweetgrass works well for these things because it smolders. It does not make an open flame. Nor does it generally continue to burn long unless you fan it. Even then, it may have to be lit again if you want to continue.

It is said that the sweet scent attracts good spirits much the same as it is attractive and pleasing to us humans. I can understand this as I find it to be a very uplifting scent that helps to relax me.

It is said that smudging our-self with the smoke from sweetgrass will keep insects away. I would believe this to be true, even if only for a short time.

In smudging the smoke might be used in various ways. To fan over people, objects and spaces. We may smudge ourselves as well.

NOTE: You do not have to braid it to burn and smudge. You can bundle it like sage and make a smudge stick. You can cut it into pieces and burn also.

Sweetgrass is one of 4 healing plants that are most used for smudging. The others are tobacco, cedar and sage.


It is said that many Native Americans brewed sweetgrass and used it for coughs, sore throat and various other things. NOTE: It is warned that because the roots contain coumarin, (it’s a blood thinner.) Generally not recommended for internal use -thus – a trained herbalist should be contacted if interested in using internally.

Sweetgrass Essential oil

Sweetgrass has a powerful deodorizing and cleansing ability. It can be very strong in essential oil form and truthfully it is hard to find.

Sweetgrass in Baskets & Crafts

Sweetgrass is the hair of our Mother; separately, each strand is not as strong as the strands are when braided together. ~ quote by Mary Ritchie

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5 thoughts on “Sweet Grass, folklore, Uses and Smudging

  1. Interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. I wonder if it grows around here?

  2. Great information. I’ve seen it growing, but not as far north as I am now.

  3. Great read Linda! I smudge it whenever I think of it. A little more messy than your sage, but smells so sweet. I’m going to fire one up right now.

  4. Interesting! So it does actually have a sweet smell when burning?

    • The braid itself holds a sweet scent for a very long time. And a slight hint of that scent is there when burned.

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