Sweetgrass basket making was brought to the Charleston, South Carolina area by slaves from West Africa. Basket making is a traditional art form which has been passed on from generation to generation. For more than 300 years, people in Charleston have been weaving baskets using locally-harvested sweetgrass and bulrush, a strong yet flexible marshgrass that thrives in the sandy soil of the Lowcountry. Originally used as winnowing fans to separate the rice seed from its chaff, sweetgrass baskets are regarded among the nation’s most prized cultural souvenirs.
Today, it is one of the oldest art forms in the United States. Charleston County, South Carolina is currently the only place where this particular type of basketry is practiced. Here the descendants of slaves still continue the West African tradition.
During slavery, baskets were used mainly for agricultural purposes. They were used to collect and store vegetables, cotton, fish, rice, and grains.
Baskets are made with sweetgrass, bulrush, long leaf pine needles, and palmetto leaves.