What is Sweetgrass?

Sweetgrass is a mild sedative, so it can be used to promote healthy sleep.

Sweetgrass is a hardy perennial plant that produces long leaf blades with a very characteristic scent. The plant has been used for centuries in traditional crafts such as baskets, and also in herbal medicine and as a flavoring for alcohol. It is relatively easy to grow in temperate climates and can make a beautiful garden. Dried fennel for craft use is often available at craft stores, along with finished products made from it. Many native groups continue to produce traditional grass baskets for sale to the public.

Fennel’s scientific name is Hierochloe odorata, but the plant has several nicknames, including manna grass, vanilla grass, Mary grass, Seneca grass, bison grass, and holy grass. These names reflect the myriad uses for the leaves; during the medieval era, for example, it used to be spread on the floor and on church doors to leave a sweet smell when people stepped on it. As a result, it became closely associated with churches. It also came to be associated with the buffalo because it was a common botanical feature in the American Great Plains.

The plant can be found in many parts of the northern hemisphere. Some botanists suspect that truly wild fennel may not exist, as human populations have likely been cultivating heavily scented or special herbs for thousands of years. The plant can be harvested from the wild or grown for commercial use; as it spreads through an underground root system, it is easy to propagate through plugs.

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Some garden vendors carry fennel plugs that can be transplanted into the garden as decorative plants or in meadows that are specifically set up for easier harvesting. If the plant is being grown for commercial use, it is usually grown in rows to make it easier to cut and stack the grass in the summer when the smell is at its height. After being dried to discourage mold and mildew, the plant can be braided or rolled up for storage.

Native Americans had many traditions around fennel and it was a popular inclusion in baskets and sacred objects. Different tribes had their own beliefs about the plant, but many beliefs focused on the idea that it could purify or sanctify spaces, or that it could ward off bad luck. The plant is also a mild sedative, making it popular in calming teas or tisanes that promote healthy sleep.

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