Sweet Grass

Hierochloe odorata – Sweet Grass

Sweet GrassHierochloe odorata

Hierochloe = L. “Holy Grass”;

odorata = L. “fragrant, scented”;

Blackfoot – siputus-simal (fragrant smell).

Identification: Sweet Grass is a perennial, sweet-smelling grass, with flat leaf blades. The smooth culms are 30 – 60 cm tall. The spikelets are shining, yellowish brown, or purplish. The whole plant is fragrant when dried.

Distribution & Habitat: Sweet Grass has a circumpolar distribution. It likes low meadows and occasional dampness. It is also found along lake shores and is most commonly seen in early spring. Sweet Grass sometimes persists as a weed in recently broken ground.

Preparation & Uses: In late summer, sweet grass was gathered by the Blackfoot. They would take a handful of it and braid it to use as incense. I often put some of this sweet smelling grass on coals, or on the airtight stove in my tipi. This freshens up the air, leaving a pleasant odour.

Amongst the Blackfoot, virtually every holy article was cleaned in the smoke of sweet grass before use. Medicine men made a ritual of burning this grass twice a day. Sweet Grass was sometimes chewed by prairie Indians during a prolonged fast to give them extended endurance.

This herb had many ritualistic uses, e.g., to cleanse women in smoke after they had given birth. It was often given to help in expulsion of afterbirth and to stop vaginal bleeding. The tea was also used by men to treat venereal infections.

It was used as a treatment for sore throats. The stems were soaked in water and used to treat chapping and wind burn. This was sometimes combined with bear grease. This infusion was also used as an eyewash.

A hair tonic was made of sweet grass water with the addition of gelatin from boiled hooves. It was also mixed with red ochre, which the Blackfoot used to decorate their clothing and bodies.