Sweetgrass and Sweet Gardens

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

Sweetgrass (hierochloe odorata) is a native perennial grass that grows in most areas of North America as far north as the artic and as south as Texas. The name, hierochloe odorata, comes from the Greek meaning “holy fragrant grass”. It has the sweetest vanilla scent, fresh or dried, where its long strands are made into braids and baskets.

Native Americans use and honor its beauty and function. It is one of the four sacred medicines: tobacco, sage, cedar and sweetgrass. As a smudge it purifies and scents the air. Native Americans view sweet grass as the hair of mother earth.

In our quest to be more “sustainable” including planting of native plants like sweetgrass, perhaps we too could view sweetgrass as mother earth’s hair. Sometimes just the doing of the right thing isn’t enough. There must be something deeper in our psyche, hearts and experiences that will save us and our world.

We need a new, or very old, perspective of our earth. How can we love our mother earth more? In what ways can we honor both ancient and modern wisdom? What will bring us into closer communication and communion with all beings, animate and inanimate, of this world?

This is the very quest of Native American Professor of Botany and author Robin Wall Kimmerer is passionate about. She weaves her lineage’s wisdom with the advances of scientific knowledge in both her teaching and her book Braiding Sweetgrass. She shares her challenges and successes of integrating two sometimes opposing world views into a way of honoring, loving and saving mother earth.

How can we who grew up with and internalized the modern western ways of being oblivious and dismissive of the animacy of all creation, turn around our ways of thinking, seeing and relating to things we call “it” to “us”? How can we open our hearts and minds to the consciousness of all creation, including the smallest particle of rock, individual drops of water, molecules of air to the mountains, continents, oceans and sky? And can we know that the consciousness of all creation responds to our awareness and love? Is this how our earth and humankind will turn around the wounds of what we have done to our world? Yes, according to Kimmmerer and many others whose passions are to heal the world not only sustainably, but in direct deep communication and relationship with.

What can we do to view our gardens as sweet gardens, as part of the body of mother earth? One way is to not see the world as full of objects that we learn about, instead we learn from. In our gardens we see plants and call them “it”. In English we call things we are close to as “he”, “she”. Our family, friends, other humans, pets are “he” and “she”. Robin Kimmerer suggests a word “ki”, which derives from her native language. “Ki” carries the meaning of life force, intimacy, consciousness and animacy. Instead of saying “it is” use the words “ki is” to acknowledge plants, stones, sky, waters and all parts of a garden. We can walk on the grass at our homes and public spaces and know that we are walking on the hair of mother earth. If we are lucky enough to have sweetgrass (hierochloe odorata) in our gardens or find it in our travels we can smell the sweetest fragrance and see “ki’s” long strands as the hair of mother earth, knowing “ki” loves to be braided and shared with humans.

Let your garden be a place of sweetness and love for and from our amazing mother earth, in other words let “ki” be a sweet garden.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or website: CreativityForTheSoul.com. Contact her at 314 -504-4266.