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Sage or Not Sage

Saging or smudging ones home has become a popular practice among many. Considered an ancient Native American tradition to drive away bad spirits or negative energies, people across the country – especially the west and southwest, are often in search of some sage of their own.

But do they know the difference between the type of sage burned for ceremonies and sage that grows on shrubbery? There is a difference, even though the two look somewhat similar and are promoted equally.

The first, Sagebrush or Artermesia tridentate is not the type of sage Native Americans typically burn for energy clearing. Despite this fact, hundreds of people are pulling its leaves off and bundling them just for this cause. The sagebrush is of the shrub family and grows in arid sections of the western United States and Western Canada. It is a coarse, hardly silvery-grey bush with yellow flowers and grows up to 10 feet tall but most typically 1 to 2 feet tall.

Sagebrush has a strong fragrance, like sage, but a bitter taste. The sagebrush’s leaves are wedge shaped, about 1-4 cm long and are attached to the branch by the narrow end. The outer and wider end is generally divided into three lobes. The leaves are covered with fine silvery hairs, which protect the plant from water loss. Sagebrush flowers bloom in the late summer or early fall.

The White Sage or Sacred Sage comes from the Salvia apiana family. This sage is of the mint family, while the Artemesia is of the sunflower family. Salvia apiana is typically only found in Southern California and in the Baja area.

White sage also looks quite different than sagebrush. It is a sub-shrub that grows a little over a meter tall and has leaves that are 4 to 8 cm long. The leaves are covered with dense hairs giving them a white coloring. The leaves also have tapered bases and are minutely toothed. The leaves are also highly aromatic and are used for the smudging.

Although we think of the White Sage primarily for smudging, Native Americans have used these plants for several uses. Seeds have been ground into flour to make porridge. Leaves are used for flavoring cooking or to remedy colds. Seeds are dropped into the eye to cleanse eyes. Leaves are crushed and mixed with water to make shampoo and dye. Leaves have also been used in teas to decrease sweating, salivation and mucous secretions in the sinuses, throat and lungs. Leaves have also been used as a uterine hemostatic during heavy menstruation.

As far as the smudge sticks, the white sage leaf is believed to cleanse a space of evil spirits. It is said that the plant when burned releases a fragrance that negative spirits dislike the smell of. In this, the sage also releases a troubled mind. Sage leaves are often bundled into ‘wands’ and wrapped tightly to keep them burning. The wands are about 6 to 18 inches long. To draw in positive spirits, sweetgrass is then burned.

Some traditionalists believe only the White Sage should be used for ceremony. Others say any sage of the Salvia family will work. Then of course, there are those who say herbs from the Asteracea family are just as useful.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit https://www.centraltexastreecare.com.