Sweetgrass Harvest

by Carl Strang

Two springs ago on a whim I bought 3 plugs of sweetgrass at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s native plant sale. I planted them in 3 odd corners of my flowerbeds, and haven’t paid much attention to them since. As I was catching up on gardening in recent days I found that one of the plugs apparently didn’t make it, one barely is holding its own, but the third is going crazy, spreading as much as 2 feet in all directions from the initial spot. Sweetgrass, also known as vanilla grass, traditionally is used as incense, producing a sweet vanilla odor when burned. I decided to try harvesting this year’s growth. Traditionally sweetgrass is formed into braids, and so I cut the leaves and divided them into bunches.

Here are my clumsy looking braids, tied and ready to hang for drying.

The grass hasn’t flowered in my yard, but my understanding is that the species isn’t a heavy bloomer. Certainly I have yet to encounter flowers in the field. If the vegetative growth in my garden is typical, it can do fine without producing seeds.

I am guessing about everything: whether to harvest while still green, whether to braid while still green, and where best to hang it. I figured it would begin to decompose and its odor might go away if I waited for the leaves to senesce. It might not be flexible enough to braid when dry. My kitchen seemed an open enough place to hang the braids. Certainly after 24 hours my entire downstairs smells delightfully of vanilla. If any reader has experience with this and can advise me otherwise, I would appreciate it.

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