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Sweet Grass - Athoxanthum hirtum

Sweet Grass - Athoxanthum hirtum

Athoxanthum hirtum, also known as Sweet Grass or Wiingaashk, is a perennial grass native to Michigan. It reaches 2 feet tall with rich green foliage and thrives and blooms in cool weather. It prefers full sun to partial shade, medium to wet soil and will grow in muck, clay, loam or sand.

Its fragrant foliage is used in basket-weaving and many other applications. It contains two chemicals, phytol and coumarin, which repel mosquitoes.

I’m not qualified to talk about the importance of this plant, but here is a statement shared by Sharyl WhiteHawk on FB about Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, scientist, professor, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation:

“Sweetgrass is a really good name for it, and in our language, her name is Wiingaashk. In the Potawatomi language, Wiingaashk refers to that sweet fragrance for sure, that wonderful vanilla-like fragrance. But it also refers to the fact that it is a ceremonial, sacred plant for us, and a teacher.

It’s also a healing plant, and the way that it heals is so interesting. Ecologically, it is a healer of broken, open land. It’s a pioneer species that comes and binds up the soil with its rhizomes. But it’s also a cultural healer, a spiritual healing plant as well.

We revere that plant. We revere Sweetgrass, or Wiingaashk, for a number of reasons, but one of which is in our oldest stories.

Sweetgrass is understood as the hair of Mother Earth – that sweet, shining long hair. And just as we braid the hair of someone that we love to enhance their beauty, to care for them, as a real tangible sign of our loving and caring relationship with one another, our people braid Sweetgrass. It is a metaphor and a pragmatic representation of our care for Mother Earth.

That plant is a braid of stories, which are made up of three strands. One of those strands is Indigenous knowledge and traditional environmental thinking about plants from the Native perspective.

Another one of the strands is scientific knowledge about plants, and then there’s that third strand that makes up the beautiful braid.

The way that I think of that third strand is the knowledge that the plants themselves hold – not what we can learn about plants, but what we can learn from plants.”

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