Sweet everlasting is notable near summer’s end and reaches 24 to 36 inches. The leaves are alternate, narrow and lancelet, lacking stalks. They are green above, white and hairy below. The difference between the top and bottom is striking.
Although sweet everlasting is aromatic and inviting, it makes a rather bitter tea and it is quite astringent. Morton wrote that sweet everlasting was the most common native cold remedy in South Carolina, where it was widely taken as tea sweetened with sugar or honey. In the American EclecticDispensatory (1855), King noted that the leaves and flowers, when chewed and swallowed relieved sore throats and mouth ulcers. Morton also noted that the plant was often boiled with pine tops (Pinus palustris) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) or salt bush (Baccharis halmifolia) or gallberry (Ilex glabra) or mullein (Verbascum Thapsus) and to used treat colds or flu.
Modern herbalist Matthew Wood tells us that sweet everlasting was and still is an important Cherokee medicine, and he shares intriguing bits of folklore in The Earthwise Herbal (2009) about how this plant received one of its many nicknames, “rabbit tobacco.” He writes at length about its use in respiratory ailments including asthma. Wood suggests harvesting the plant after it declines (based on, he writes, a spectro-chromatograph study by Alabama herbalist Dwight Collier), noting that the flower tops hold their scent. It would be interesting to dig deeper into the ethnobotanical lore to see if indeed the native people of the southeast used the plant after it had died, or if it was perhaps picked and dried.
Historically, sweet everlasting has also been used a “strewing” herb, which means it was thrown onto floors or placed around indoors areas to keep a fresh scent in the air before the advent of hardwood floors and disinfectants, and stuffed into pillows as well. It’s easy to see why as the aroma is intoxicating. Gather some soon before it disappears into the autumn shadows.
Paynes Prairie Chapter/Gainesville FL