Exploring Sacred Ingredients: téýwilh (Protected)
Plant medicines have existed since time immemorial. Every culture has a history of utilizing plants for medicinal, spiritual, food and material uses. Depending on where you are from you may have specific plants that come to mind. Plants that you have harvested, eaten, infused in oil, dried, preserved or burned in ritual. Or perhaps a parent or grandparent utilized a particular plant that you have a memory of and a relationship with. My father would boil spruce boughs and cedar on the stovetop to purify the air and help reduce congestion when we had colds as kids.
It’s not enough to know how to identify a particular plant by sight, you need to form a relationship! Depending on what use you have in mind for the plant, you need to know where it grows, what time of year it blooms, when it ripens, goes to seed or becomes fibrous.
You’ll want to spend time out on the land discovering where you can harvest this plant safely and sustainably. And you’ll want to experience picking the plant, taking in its smell, seeing how it tastes when it’s fresh, how it colors your fingers with natural dyes or resins. All of these experiences may be a part of your journey with becoming acquainted with culturally important plants.
In my life I have found that plants guide the way. They pave a path to reconnection with culture, place, identity and health. In Squamish there is a belief that plant knowledge comes to you in dreams or visions and that traditionally the gift of working with plants was bestowed upon someone that the elders and ancestors recognized as having a strong connection with plants.
Some plants hold particular importance spiritually. This ancient knowledge runs in the bloodlines of the individuals, families and communities that have utilized this plant for thousands of years. Culture is dynamic, as time passes these ancient plants may take on new applications and uses.
I think as humans we often yearn for a time when we were connected to the rhythms and patterns of our natural surroundings, a time when we held practical skill and knowledge to sustain our families and ourselves. Working with plants offers this connection.
I recently made two products that incorporate sweetgrass and sage floral waters. Floral waters, or hydrosols, are made through the process of steam distillation of fresh plant material. Sweetgrass and Sage have become widely known and regarded as powerful plant medicines with spiritual applications. I have grown up finding strength and spiritual grounding through burning these medicines together in smudging ceremonies. At times when I’ve lost someone close to me or have been feeling emotionally heavy I have turned to these medicines for both grounding and uplifting.
Let’s learn a bit about these two plants themselves.
Hierochloe odorata commonly known as Sweetgrass is a member of the grass family. It is native to North America is characterized by its sweet scent. Sweetgrass has a long history of use as a material for basketry in North American Indigenous cultures and is considered a sacred medicine within this same region. Sweetgrass is incorporated in smudging and sweat ceremonies. The scent of this plant is equated with safety and spiritual grounding for many who have utilized it in this way.
When I decided to incorporate sweetgrass into the téýwilh products I thought about how to do this in a culturally responsible and respectful way. In Squamish téýwilh translates to “protected” a name that honours the cultural use of this plant.
Sweetgrass has properties that are excellent for skincare. The hydrosol of sweetgrass carries the plants anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties that help heal skin irritations and minor cuts or scrapes. Sweetgrass is an anti-inflammatory that can be applied topically and is great for reducing swelling in the skin.
Needless to say sweetgrass has a rich and longstanding tradition of cultural use. Because of the spiritual applications and the cultural context, if you are going to incorporate this plant into something you are making ask yourself how to work with this plant in a respectful way? How do you honour the cultures that hold ancestral knowledge of this plant? How have you developed a relationship with the plant?
There are many plants that are commonly called sage. The plant that is probably the most familiar is white sage, or Salvia apiana. This sage is native to the South Western states and North-western Mexico and is related to garden sage, Salvia officianalis. Artemisia is a family of plants that are often referred to as wild sage and this includes mugwort, wormwood, sagebrush and tarragon.
Although there are a variety of plants that are commonly called sage they all hold antibacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. The benefits of sage for topical use are many. The téýwilh products contain plant ingredients that are anti-inflammatory and soothing at the same time as being healing and promoting clear skin. Not to mention the incredible smell of sage and sweetgrass together.
When you google ‘smudging’ or ‘sweetgrass and sage’ there are a number of sites that come up explaining the ‘how to’ of smudging. Stating that it is easy and anyone can do it. This is true however I urge you to remember the cultural context for the use of this plant by North American Indigenous Peoples. And honour in your way the knowledge that is being shared and the cultural origins and importance of these plants.