Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Broom Sage Brooms

field of broomsedge


I remember in the 40’s going out in the fields and the edges of woods in the fall of the year with Mama and my sisters and gathering armloads of Broomsage. Mama looked for the longest straws, cut, cleaned and stripped these of old blooms and made enough brooms to last until the next year. Sometimes she made extras to give away to friends and relatives when they came to visit. We were a big family of nine and money was hard to come by. It was always fun when we went on these trips. I loved the old days.

—Fay Pitts


Last night’s video: Mountain Path 8.

Tipper

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Christine
    October 11, 2021 at 9:04 am

    Tipper, thank you for sharing Faye’s memory as a child going to the fields with her mom and sisters to gather broom sage straw to make brooms. It was a sweet story. I know she will always cherish that memory. I enjoyed reading it!

  • Reply
    Kathy Gautier
    October 11, 2021 at 7:40 am

    Thanks for sharing this story and the memories. I faithfully read your posts and enjoy the times gone by and almost forgotten until you revive them. My grandma always used straw brooms and she called it broom straw. We would go and cut it and she would take old tire innertubes she had saved and cut the long strips to wrap around the straw at the end that it grew out of the ground to make the broom sturdy and make a handle to help hold onto. When we were looking at land to buy and build our home, she went to look at one piece with us and exclaimed “You have to buy this piece of land. It has broom straw, wild blueberries, and persimmon trees!” And we did. She always swept her house with a handmade straw broom.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 10, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Tipper , people in grandparents era were very skillful people. I wonder what if people of today had to go back to backward days would survive.thanks for the stories Tipper

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    October 9, 2021 at 10:59 pm

    I’m just as guilty as anyone — called it sage grass all my life — but only recently learned that the correct common name is probably broom sedge or sedge grass. Another example of Appalachians changing names making it easier to get their tongues around them? Maybe so, but I’m still gonna call it sage grass. Too old and too late to change now.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andropogon_virginicus
    I know that if you mow it for hay before the bloom, it will still “bloom out in the bale,” after which most livestock won’t touch it. But if grazed from early spring to late summer, I’ve seen horses gnaw it right to the ground, while it’s still young and tender. So, if you don’t want it to propagate or spread it any further, pasture it early.

  • Reply
    Patricia A Small
    October 9, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    I remember my grandma making these brooms. I wish I had paid more attention!

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    October 9, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve never made or used a broom made of broom sage. However, when I was a boy, I loved to find a nice patch of broom sage in a pasture and just lay on my back and watch the blue sky and clouds. Hidden from view from anything but a padding bird, I felt safe and glad to be alive in such a wonderful place.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 9, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    We always had store bought brooms when I was growing up but the neighbors made their own. Aunt Pearl made the brooms. Aunt Pearl wasn’t really my aunt but that’s what everybody else called her, except her grandkids who called her Maw. Aunt Pearl didn’t use broom sage though, she used either broom cane or broom corn. I don’t remember which one they called it but I do remember that it looked like very small corn but the seed head looked like sorghum. Unlike corn this plant was bushy at the top. Aunt Pearl would cut off the tops of the plant and let them dry. When they were sufficiently dry she would beat them against something to remove what looked like little beads at the ends of all the little forked branches. She would find a good straight stick about an inch in diameter and tie a few of these tops around on end. She used old coat hangers, stripped out copper wire from scraps of house wiring, whatever wire she could find and wrap it tightly around and around the bundle. Next she would take an axe and trim the business end of the broom fairly straight. Voilà, it’s a broom!
    That was the broom for inside use. For the yard Aunt Pearl repeated the process but instead of the corn/cane she used a tougher material. Rabbit cane worked well, birch twigs also, any stems that were flexible but tough. After all you weren’t sweeping a little dirt out of the house, you were actually cleaning off the dirt itself.
    Aunt Pearl also made rakes by splitting and bending hickory saplings. She also made lye from wood ashes and used it to make soap and hominy. Aunt Pearl had a set of lasts and all the tools to make shoes. I don’t remember ever seeing her making the entire shoes but I did see her repair them.
    Aunt Pearl was quite a woman. But unlike other self-reliant women you might read about, she had a major flaw. She was mean, to the point of cruelty. She had the personality of a raging bull. She lashed out at her grandchildren and any of their friends that might happen by. She carried a stick. Not a walking cane but a cudgel not unlike one of her broom handles. And she did not hesitate to use it. Mainly she went for the ankles but anywhere she could strike would make her happy. I always managed to stay out of range but her grandchildren were not so lucky. She would ask them to bring her something and when they gave it to her their “thank you” was a whack with her stick.

    Looks like I’m writing a book now so I’ll stop now! What were we talking about? Oh yeah, broomsage!

  • Reply
    Door
    October 9, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    I make porch/fireplace brooms out of basil plants.
    Been using the same wild persimmon stick for years.
    First frost the basil is gone, strip the seeds off and leave the sticks to dry, right where they are.
    About Christmas, cut the sticks off at ground level.
    They are dry by then, a little fence wire, some colored string and the persimmon stick.
    The smell is amazing, when you sweep the hearth.

    • Reply
      Tipper
      October 9, 2021 at 12:57 pm

      Door-thank you for sharing about the brooms you make-just fascinating!

  • Reply
    Robert Hutchins
    October 9, 2021 at 12:17 pm

    I grew up in the city, but as Fay was one of 9 so was I, the youngest son of a man born in Swain County in 1894. We didn’t make sage straw brooms but we did make brush brooms. For those who never saw them, they were limbs or shoots taken from small bush-like trees. They shoot a the end were trimmed to make a ‘flat’ side then the flat sides were brought together and tied with strips of cloth rags. They were made so that the length was about that of a broom handle and the diameter of the bundle not too thick for the hand to hold. The twigs that remained on the tied bundles were used as the bottom of a rake-like instrument that would really move a pile of leaves. Even in town, most of the back yards in our neighborhood had bare dirt not grass.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 9, 2021 at 8:43 pm

      I am from Swain County. I have Hutchins in my family tree. Most were from around the Almond area. Some are buried at Sawmill Hill, Lauada and Maple Springs. There is a place called Hutchins Hill. After you cross the Little Tennessee River going west on 74 the grade of the road increases rapidly as you climb out of the river valley onto the mountaintop. It’s that stretch of the road that I have always known as Hutchins Hill. I would like to ask you for more information as we might be related. Do the names Tabor, DeHart or Smiley sound familiar? If you are interested please contact me by email at [email protected].

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 9, 2021 at 11:44 am

    I married a Japanese girl in 1965 while stationed in Yokohama, Japan. We rented a house from a man who made brooms. He lived above his workroom and store. He spent the day sitting in the back of his one-room store cutting and tying rice stalks (I think they were rice) into large and small brooms. His Okusan (wife) sold the brooms to customers.

  • Reply
    Randy
    October 9, 2021 at 11:36 am

    My grandparents I posted about earlier also swept their front yard with a brush broom. This broom was not made out of broom straw but made from tree branches or the tops of bamboo canes. These brooms would also came in handy to help raise young boys! Like some others said when money is tight you learn you can not go to the store and buy everything you may need. This grandparent even saved old bent nails to straighten out and reuse.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 9, 2021 at 11:32 am

    In VA. coalfields, we made broomsage brooms to sweep the yard. But like a couple others here mentioned , my ugly brothers and I loved to use the broomsage hillsides for SLIDING! Oh what a time we had when the Mick or Mack gave us a banana box…our favorite because it was so strong. We’d ride on the broomsage and also on the fall leaves until the box was too small to sit on! I used to look at photos of Appalachian kids and see their poor little sad clothes. ….and I’d think….well, some of those rips in their clothes were surely from our flat out ROUGH PLAYING TIMES…so much fun.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    October 9, 2021 at 10:47 am

    I remember seeing this grow out in fields but we never did make any brooms from it. I never heard of gramaw doing it either. She might have or my great grandmother . If they did , I don’t remember.

  • Reply
    Lana Stuart
    October 9, 2021 at 10:02 am

    I remember my grandmothers having broomsage brooms. They used them around the house, but also “swept” the yard with them. Back then people didn’t grow grass in the yard, it was all dirt, and the brooms were used to sweep up leaves and other trash from the yard.

    • Reply
      Kevin Knight
      October 9, 2021 at 1:13 pm

      Hi Lana, thanx for the post, it brought back memories for me. Love to hear from like minded people, especially in the world today.

  • Reply
    Liz Hart
    October 9, 2021 at 9:54 am

    I remember using those brooms as a child. Also remember washing the soot off the kerosene lamp chimneys. Now when I use those lamps during power outages I wonder how we were able to see at all with those things. Thank God for electricity and vacuums. Read somewhere that there may be rolling outages this winter. Hope not!

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    October 9, 2021 at 8:58 am

    I have done the same thing with my aunt and I personally have made broom sage brooms. They worked fine because no one had carpet in their house. It was a way to have a broom and not pay anything for it.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 9, 2021 at 8:48 am

    Just saw last night on “Barnwood Builders” a Mr. Ogle in the Smokies making a broom. He was using – I think – the broom plant used in commercial brooms but no mention was made of where he got it. Wish they had said something about that, whether it was locally grown. He said his family had been making brooms about 50 years, going back to his grandpa which makes me think maybe they did grow their own.

    In all my rambling around in Appalachia I do not recall ever having seen any mention of broom making in pioneer days. i’ve heard “broomsage” all my life but never knew of it actually being used in brooms. Seems broom making needs to an item in some of the many museums and/or living history demonstrations somewhere. Back in the day when people swept the yard they needed something more substantial than store-bought besides not having money to buy what they could make themselves. Probably true in the house to.
    When we get reminded of how far removed we are from being self sufficient it is somewhat disappointing on one hand but cause us to appreciate those who were more.

    • Reply
      Door
      October 9, 2021 at 12:18 pm

      Mr. Ogle said his family had been doing it for 100 years, he himself had been doing it for fifty.
      I love BWB.
      Door

  • Reply
    Randy
    October 9, 2021 at 8:39 am

    I never knew my mother’s parents to use anything but a broom straw broom. They used these until they died in the late 60’s. There home did not have carpet or any type of inside plumbing. It has always been called broom straw and not broom sage by everyone in my area. It is still pretty easy to find some fields with broom straw in them around here.

  • Reply
    Angie Graeber
    October 9, 2021 at 8:35 am

    Tipper, I’m really enjoying your reading of “Mountain Path.” And you stir memories in me with your dictionary of Appalachian words and stories. I look forward to each new video you post!

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    October 9, 2021 at 7:28 am

    That’s a good memory Faye that I don’t have. We never made brooms from broomsage but sorta used it like you would snow in the winter. Us kids would go to the store and get the biggest pieces of cardboard or cardboard boxes we could get and use it as a sled to ride on the broomsage. We had a steep hill close to our house covered in broomsage which had a big ditch at the bottom. Sometimes we would be going so fast we would end up in the muddy ditch, Kids nowdays shore don’t know what fun we had back then. I’m glad we didn’t have all the computer and telephone games of today.

    • Reply
      Greg Church
      October 9, 2021 at 8:58 am

      I can remember riding cardboard sleds on a variety of summertime snow. The best was only used once.
      I can remember ashes from the stove being spread on the garden and kept for lye soap making but also my grandparents had a slope behind the smokehouse where ashes had been dumped for years. We discovered the slope and the speed of the slide one day. After we were discovered at our new play area and given “significant reasons” not to repeat our escapade the ash pile returned to quiet solitude.

  • Reply
    Jimk
    October 9, 2021 at 7:20 am

    Now the name Broomsage makes sense.
    I remember farmers use to burn the fields off in the fall, but on this day of efficient farm you don’t see very much Broomsage anymore.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 9, 2021 at 6:47 am

    It’s hard for me to grasp the idea of gathering and sorting straw then making brooms. I buy brooms and vacuums for that matter so that I rarely even use a broom. That was certainly another time!
    I wonder what the future holds!

    • Reply
      Robert Hutchins
      October 9, 2021 at 12:10 pm

      Roomba! LOL

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