Sweetgrass’s flat, bright green leaves smell fresh and sweet like a blend of vanilla and cut grass. The name “sweetgrass” is an apt name for this plant’s light, delicate fragrance. Since sweet grass is a perennial, it comes back to grow year after year, growing up to half a meter tall, sometimes even taller! The small yellow flowers produce seeds; however, if planted, they will often not germinate because the plant spreads and reproduces through its long underground roots.
Sweetgrass has a number of different names depending on the region or the people talking about it. Several varieties of sweetgrass include common sweetgrass, hierochloe odorata, and alpine sweetgrass. Sweetgrass is also most popularly known as bison grass, vanilla grass, buffalo grass, vanilla sweetgrass, and holy grass.
It all started when I was 19 years old. I first became aware of sweetgrass when seeing Akwesasne Mohawk women harvesting wild holy grass from a large wild patch near Stockholm, NY. It was 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…Yet, it was also a summer to remember because the Mohawk basket makers harvesting the vanilla sweet grass taught me some important life lessons. Not only was hierochloe odorata used in Mohawk basketry, but it was also used by burning the sweetgrass braids as a woman’s prayer herb and purifying smoke.
The Mohawk women told me the Creator would instruct their people 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, braids, and smoke all sounded really enjoyable to a 19-year-old girl to begin a lifelong relationship with the sweetgrass plant. By growing sweet grass and incorporating it into products along with other ingredients we love, we can offer you
Sweetgrass has made my life better in so many ways. You can find the finest Adirondack style products here. Still, if you have a chance to grow sweetgrass for yourself, we are more than happy to show you how you can grow your own.
Sweetgrass Community Support Fragrance (CSF)
Want to support what we do? Join our Community Support Fragrance program and receive a box filled with Adirondack Inspired products grown on our farm and crafted by our artisans. For a limited time you can get 50% Off the Adirondack Memories CSF Box.
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. I have discovered that storing my years supply of garlic from my garden in a sweetgrass basket keeps my garlic fresh for an entire year!
1. Natural Bug Repellent Plants
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 sweet grass doesn’t grow. Playing an important role in indigenous cultures, sweetgrass is considered a sacred plant to indigenous people and is often used in prayers and smudging or purifying ceremonies. 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 mildly fragrant and alive.
2. Fight Colds
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 scores 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!
You can purchase Hierochloe odorata plants from the Eco Seeds website. They also have all the information you need for growing and tending sweetgrass patches. Even a small 4 ft. x 4 ft. patch is large enough for home use. You can also reach out to us to discuss delivering root stock in the fall or the early spring because we are willing to share with our beloved customers.
Traditionally, there are 2 ways to plant ceremonial sweet grass:
- Directly sow sweet grass seeds and hope for the best!
- Plant the sweet grass from the Plugs / Root Stock
Approach One: Growing with the Seeds
- When planting sweetgrass from seed, we would recommend you wait till spring. Or you can also start growing your sweet grass indoors and transfer it outside in the spring
- Dig a two inches deep hole for seeds in just about any type of soil when the spring season arrives and add some sand if your soil is heavy
- Add one to two inches of shredded cedar bark to eliminate the weeds and retain the moisture
- Use a small pot to sow the seed and cover it with a quarter inch of soil when growing indoors
- Put the pot in a place where it receives ample sun exposure. The germination period usually takes four to six weeks
Approach 2: Growing with the Plugs
- Keep the plugs shaded and watered well for at least two weeks to allow the plants to establish their new roots when planting bison grass with plugs
- Dig the hole big enough to cover the roots and add two to three inches of topsoil. The sweet grass plugs should be around eight to twelve inches apart
- Add fertilizer two to three times to the soil during the peak growing season. Sweet grass plants love bonemeal and blood meal powder
- Keep the soil moist, but don’t over-soak the roots
1. The Harvesting Season
Late June to early July is considered the best season for harvesting vanilla grass. Though, we would recommend harvesting very lightly in the first year of planting.
2. Ways to Pick
Simply cut the stem two to three inches from the base of the plant to avoid pulling the roots out of the soil.
Lay out the leaves to dry in direct sun and turn every 40 minutes after harvesting. The leaves should dry within six hours on a dry, breezy day.
Adirondack Artisan Sweetgrass perfume 1oz is an artful extract of the essence of sweet grass grown on my farm. The sweet grass is harvested at its peak in the mid-late summer. The grass is thanked, harvested, and dried, while the scents are extracted and stored for inclusion in our beautiful farm-based products to celebrate all things Adirondack! We make sweet grass perfume and sweetgrass scented candles.
The candles have small clippings of dried sweet grass embedded on the top, adding natural beauty and a bit of natural magic when the candle is lit. If you’re in our local area (Northern New York), feel free to contact us at [email protected] for recommendations on where to get sweet grass seeds or plugs for sale to grow your own. Visit us with one click at www.ADKfragrancefarm.com. We have beautiful sweet grass products and gift sets waiting for you!
- Research confirms Native American use of sweetgrass as bug repellent published by the Washington Post
- Research confirms Native American use of sweetgrass as bug repellent.” Washingtonpost.com, 18 Aug. 2015. Gale Academic OneFile
- Gordon, Naomi. “Sweetgrass: The Hair of Mother Earth: Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta.” Windspeaker, 05, 2003, pp. 33. ProQuest