Cleansing with Sage

I love sage.  Drought resistant and aromatic, its wild beauty and pungent aroma in desert locales have held a romantic allure for me ever since I did a field study in the Sonoran desert my sophomore year in college.

I’ve taken to planting sage all around my garden, using it to fill in areas under our giant fir trees where rain has trouble fighting it’s way through the trees’ canopy to bring relief to the parched soil. I also have a beautiful five-year old purple sage plant on a container in the back deck, which I frequently use to flavor breads, pastas, and soups.

Sage flavoring aside,  here I want to elaborate on the cleansing properties of sage. Native Americans have burned sage (known as “smudging”) for the purposes of purification for hundreds of years.  While often used before important ceremonies, or meetings, sage can also be used to clear bad energy after hearing bad news, for personal intentions, or simply as a potent incense.

What you’ll need:

  • gathered white sage, dried for at least one week
  • wrapping material of choice: embroidery floss, waxed string, or thin twine
  • a catch  for the burning sage embers: a ceramic, glass, or metal dish would do, or a seashell would be a lovely natural alternative

There are many traditions for smudging.  Ritual holds that sage should be gathered with positive intentions. White sage is the most commonly used sage in North America.  I gathered my wild sage on a recent trip to Botswana, gathered for the specific purpose of burning it in my household, and sharing it with two of my friends. Sage can be found growing wild in arid conditions, in Washington, sage is most often found in the more desert-like eastern portion of the state. Gather the sage before it goes to seed, harvesting only the stem and leaves. In the Northwest, this can done spring until mid-summer, though location affects seeding, as well as micro-climates in a region.

Once you’ve identified the sage, cut in 6-8″ pieces (never pull the sage up by the root, as sage is a perennial and will continue to grow after it has been trimmed), cutting the newest growth to ensure the most fragrance, and laying the sage all in the same direction, as this is what is ideal for wrapping and for the smudging process.  Collect the sage you’ve cut into a bundle, gathering approximately twice the width of the bundle you’d like to end up with, as the the leaves shrink significantly once dried. Thus, if you’d like to finish with a bundle that is 1 1/2″ in diameter, initially gather a bundle of sage leaves that is approximately 3″ in diameter. Remove any other plant bits that may be in your bundle, such as grass.

DSC02875Lay the sage in a cool, dry location, or gather your bundle and tie it up remove moisture while hanging. The process should take approximately one week – you want the sage to be crisp to the touch. Do not dry your sage in the sun, as the sun saps valuable aromatic value (and in the case of cooking or homeopathy – drying in the sun reduces the flavor and nutritional properties of plants as well).

Collect your sage in bundles of your desired size (generally 1-1 1/2 ” in diameter), use your wrapping material, and begin at the base, wrapping your sage up the length of the bundle, and then back down, before tying off at the bottom.DSC02877

Once you are prepared to light your sage for whatever your purpose, be careful that you are not over carpet or hardwood flooring – especially the first time, as the loose leaves at the ends sometimes catch fire and fall. Employ the use of your catch to collect the ashes, both while lighting and walking. Various traditions require the use of a shell to catch the ashes, and some also request that the sage be lit with matches instead of a lighter.

Once the sage is lit, blow or wave out the fire, and enjoy the thick, creamy coils of curling smoke as the earthy brightness of the sage fills your nostrils. Walk around the space you wish to smudge, (or to scent), carrying your catch with you to collect the ashes. Again, the culture of smudging varies, but some practices include the use of an eagle feather to help send the grey ribbons of smoke wafting through the area.DSC02886

When you are finished, use your catch to extinguish the embers.  If you’d like, sprinkle the ashes on the outside of the entryway to your home, as part of a practice to keep negative energy away.  If you do this, please make sure all embers are thoroughly extinguished in your catch before dumping onto your porch – no house fires please!


You’ll find that your sage bundle can be used many a time.  Whatever your purpose – aroma, for personal intent, or to clear bad energy, enjoy this simple way to take pleasure in another gift from this good earth, and smudge with gratitude.


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