Also known as holy grass, sweetgrass is considered one of the four sacred herbs of the First Nations and is used in traditional ceremonies to promote peace and healing. The sweet vanilla scent is produced by the chemical coumarin, and it thought to evoke a calm, meditative relaxation. The fragrance of this grass can be used to scent everything from linen closets to candles and bath salts with its soothing perfume. Producing stands of long satiny green ribbons that should be cut to prevent the plant from dying back, sweetgrass can be used to scent linens and clothing when dried, or tightly braided and burned as incense. In Europe during the Medieval period, sweetgrass was scattered across the floors of cathedrals to scent the air. The cut grass can be woven into hats, baskets and mats.
It grows quickly and can be harvested twice a year or more by cutting, never pulling up from the roots. The plant prefers fertile, evenly moist to damp soil and full sun, and will tolerate part shade in the southern States. It is a very hardy perennial and can be invasive, spreading from the roots. Deer and livestock avoid it. Sweetgrass has been in cultivation by humans for thousands of years, propagating from division, and thus has lost some of its ability to set viable seed. Therefore, seed can be difficult to germinate. For those who are up to the challenge, however, it is worthwhile to gain the sweet scent in the garden, and the many uses of this ancient plant.
Note: Sweetgrass seeds typically have a low germination rate, around 5-10%. This is due to a biological limitation in sweetgrass flowers to produce viable seeds. Fortunately, a single seedling can produce hundreds of plants because the roots produce many rhizomes which develop into new plants.