Sweetgrass, has undoubtedly been around since long before Homo Sapiens walked this earth. At one time it grew around the globe. According to some it grows in North America, Europe, and Asia, while other research shows various species of Hierochloe, growing on all continents.
IHierochloe Odorata; the scientific name for Sweetgrass, comes from the Greek Hieros which means sacred, and Chloe, meaning grass. It is known by other names such as Buffalo Grass, Pai Mao Hsiang, Russian Buffalo Grass, Seneca Grass, Vanilla Grass, Zubrowski, Marys' Grass, and Hair of the Mother, to mention just a few of its names.
The sweet almond/vanilla aroma is derived from coumarin contained within the plant, which some say can be toxic and cause liver damage. If that is the case we also need to beware of parsley, vanilla bean, tonka bean and cinnamon, (to name a few other edibles), which also contain coumarin. The aroma becomes stronger after it is cut and dried, although it has a light scent of this when it is growing.
Down through the years a tea from it's leaves, was used for fevers, coughs, sore throats, and hair tonics, a sweetgrass tea provides wonderful relief from dry skin. An essential oil from the leaves is used as a food flavoring in sweets, soft drinks, and for flavoring vodka. When used in making beer, the leaves produce a very mild flavor to the beer that overrides the bite from the malt and fermentation.
Sweetgrass has been used as a strewing herb during Holy days in churches, and many Native American tribes use it in prayer for smudging and purifying ceremonies, where it is considered one of the four sacred medicines.
Centuries ago it was not only used as an insect repellent in the tipi, wigwam, hogan, or circle stone houses, it was also used for stuffing bedding, keeping extra clothing fresh and sweet smelling, a hair rinse, or even a soothing tea or ointment for rough, chaffed, wind burned skin. Both sexes braided it in their hair, made headbands, arm bands, or necklaces. The list of it's ancient use goes on and on.
The sweetgrass plant, at different stages of maturity, or (dependent on the soil structure, and mineral content of the soil or water), produces many different colors of grass, from golds, and oranges, to burgundy, yellow, lavender, brown, or any of the mireade shades of green. All of these were used in making various pieces of artwork such as masks, weavings, wrappings, in utility baskets, bowls, serving trays, and head coverings, hair ties, braid wrappings, arm bands, and the list goes on and on. Even the seeds were added to soups and stews for protein, and as a thickening agent.
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