The Great Mother Plant
Let's visit White Sage, or Sacred Sage, Bee Sage, Ceremonial Sage, or Salvia apiana. These are the most common ways to address her by name. She is akin to the 'Great Mother' and has that quality of clearing, protecting, healing, and nourishing that we often associate with mothering.
She has the most delicious smelling, aromatic, silvery-green, soft yet firm leaves. Her leaves are widely recognized as a cleansing herb, to purify the mind, body, and sacred space by dispelling negativity and unwanted, unsettled energies. She also supports purifying sacred items and tools, can be carried in a small medicine pouch or even a pocket to ensure personal and spiritual safety, and brought into ritual and ceremony for manifestation, healing and connection to the divine.
Did I lose you with the 'she'? Yes, being a scientist, herbalist, and medical professional that willingly, openly, even ecstatically, anthropomorphizes Nature, happens. It’s actually how I connect for the deeper lessons Nature has for me. Science can become a barrier sometimes with its dependency on only that which can be measured. Each has it’s place in supporting learning is how I see it. Besides, where do the scientists get their 'hunches' anyway? So bear with me on this if it offends or challenges in any way.
Here are some more thoughts about this plant that is struggling to survive our thirst for these properties she gives so easily along with safe tips for taking her into your body.
This writing can be considered a “plant profile’ for those of you building an apothecary and are currently in herbal studies with me or elsewhere. My hope is it's just a good read to keep us all at the same table with how to support ourselves in finding our medicine but to also support the continued existence of White Sage. Yes it's being challenged with over-harvesting by humans.
So let's begin with the leaves of this plant which as I said are a silvery-green, and if you rub the fresh leaves between your palms, a refreshing, hypnotic, deeply cleansing, and relaxing scent is released. Now cup your hands over your nose and mouth and inhale deeply. You can do with dried leaves as well by just rubbing on gently. There’s nothing like it and I think maybe time pauses when we do this! At least it feels that way and I would definitely agree that this is one plant that can bend our perception of time.
Our Native People of this land began the tradition of burning Sacred White Sage to ward off unwanted spirits and energies, and so it is a steady and true element in ceremonies and rituals for seeking blessings of health, prosperity and protection.
Sacred Sage can amplify any clearing and protective techniques that you already practice. As a plant, and a living being, White Sage also has a Spirit. The Spirit of this plant is dedicated to offering these blessings of protection, clearing and health and also supports the unraveling of DNA rooted diseases within lineages, be they physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Their walk with White Sage did not stay with just burning for these reasons. As you will see there are many medicinal and nutritional benefits to taking this plant internally or applying externally that support health and healing.
White Sage - Getting To Know Her
Common Names: White Sage, Ceremonial Sage, Bee Sage, Sacred Sage
Latin Name: Laminacea Salvia apiana
Height: 3-4 Feet – but it can take 3 years to reach maturity. White Sage flower stalks will add two to five feet to the height and will have tiny ‘insignificant’ flowers that are dotted with lavender. Strict botanists actually label flowers as ‘insignificant’. It just means small but by no means are they insignificant to the herbalist (or the bees).
Hardiness: Perennial in Zones 7-11
Flower Color: Pale lavender
Other Characteristics: full sun, evergreen, silvery-colored, soft, slightly sticky when picked (resins) water conserving, hollow stemmed
Uses: Aromatherapy, Incense, Medicinal, Ornamental
Growing tips for the adventurous:
Native to the Southwest, White Sage loves dry conditions, especially in the winter. Over winter, whole stems may turn black and die if the ground becomes too water saturated. If the condition is prolonged the whole plant will die, and it can do so quite quickly. In its native southwest it's hard to water White Sage too much in the summer due to the dry conditions of the region, which is why it thrives there. But, in other areas where summer humidity is high, White Sage may be impossible to grow successfully. Try keeping it in a pot and know to water lightly and ONLY when dry.
Another option is to grow it as an annual.
I do this with Rosemary as well which is quite particular about temperature, moisture, light, and being moved around. During the blooming season, late April to early June, the bees flock to the plant and provide a gorgeous, vibrational-symphony for the garden. The stems break quite easily so plant in places away from areas where it might be bumped or have the hose dragged across it accidentally. It can recover but in her own time, maybe.
Growing it in a large container that is moved in and outside will help with high levels of humidity. Let it be dry. When moving the plant it's best to move from outside to a cooler place like a garage with light before moving inside. Drastic temperature changes with movement make this one very unhappy. The smell and aromatics will not be as potent in potted plants. I've tried and tried and notice that being in Earth is the best. Makes sense.
Let’s Talk Smudge Sticks
Some have long rants about smudge sticks. Disrespectful accusations of ‘new age’ and 'woo-woo’ fly around, as some partake in ridicule of ancient ways. If I were to walk back along the thread of DNA of each person’s lineage that behaved this way, I would find a grandmother that burned plants for spiritual connection and physical and emotional well being. Disrespecting where we are from is never my way. Finding ways to remain reverent in the face of disrespect is important work and a skill that we all must practice, yes.
Dropping deeply into the study of the incense world is a journey through time with plants and people together and I love this richly woven path we share. Burning plants for gentle inhalation is nothing new.
We humans have receptor patches deep in our sinuses that can deliver medicinal molecules that travel on the inhaled smoke or steam directly into our brains and through our capillary beds deep within our lungs (the slower route). This is one way to get the medicine in. I make my own loose incense and cones for much of what is out there is adulterated with toxic chemicals today and will make you truly sick since we have such direct routes into the body. Incense burning, or the burning of plants of any kind is rooted farther back than any written records of plants healing people. Through ancient writings we do have testimony of ‘positive changes in behavior, mood, and wellness’ when inhaling different plants that are burned. Maybe it began simple as prehistoric people threw cedar or juniper logs and twigs on a fire and then noticed how enjoyable the smoke was and they felt better?
Have you noticed that White Sage smudge sticks have been getting larger and larger over the years, as if bigger is better?
Here's what it looks like in my life around smudging tools: I have one small working White Sage at all times, along with a stick of Palo santo, another sacred and protected tree from South America, a stick of Osha root from our southwest, and my homemade smudge sticks with local aromatics I love to burn. This is plenty for my work and personal needs. Oh yes, and Rose and Neroli hydrosols for aromatic mists, currently. So know what you need. Gather your tools, even if only one, for this can be all you need. Please think about conservation of resources when honoring your medicine. Most of all, enjoy your work with these powerful plants.
If you feel the need to enjoy the smudge smoke, try burning a single leaf while in prayer or clearing energy. Burn White Sage thoughtfully for it is one our most sacred plants. I have a small jar of single leaves that have dropped here and there that I save for this way of simple smudging. I also offer as gifts to Nature, the elements, when I harvest medicine, tucked into prayer bundles, or whenever I’m inspired.
Safe Suggestions for Accepting The Medicine
It is one of my everyday plants, be it single leaf smudge, rubbing fresh leaves or follow below for other ways.
It’s a spirit plant deeply honored by our Native Americans. I love to drink it by putting a leaf in my cool water daily. There’s a calming effect that's not sedating like other plants. Better decisions come from us remaining calm in the process. It enhances any medicine you take and can protect you from the toxicity of many medicines too.
White Sage contains a compound called miltirone which scientists are finding to act like Valium to relieve anxiety. Eucalyptol is also present and is what we know comes from Eucalyptus and may give us hints into why White Sage is so antimicrobial.
There are many more that have been identified but I shy away from so much dissecting of a plant in an attempt to know it. So yes, we can all benefit from the support of these compounds taken in, especially these days, and this is available through the smudge inhaled gently or taken orally in very small doses. Why do we take it in? To keep calm. To stay reverent and in the moment. To honor our healing path which is multi-leveled. To bless our way and our space and tools. To repair our souls and coax it forth for a better expression of ourselves in our walk here on this Earth.
White sage is very powerful, so if you wish to brew a hot cup of tea to address a cold, or other condition, be it physical or soul level, prepare it this way:
Some believe that the essential oil of White Sage is too strong and so too dangerous and discourage use strongly in this form–not only for internal use, but external use as well, mixed into massage oils or spray mists. Others disagree. I love plant people with they're passionate opinions! Let respect rule among us. Here’s my take for decades now: Producing essential oil takes massive quantities of plant material and this plant is already becoming endangered due to over harvesting. Couple this with the fact that it's hard to grow. There are other options here too and other plants for smudge through mists that work well and are easier to grow. I do not support White Sage essential oil use because it's not sustainable.
This holds for any of the native plants, particularly with a threatened existence. Their properties do not need to be consolidated. I suggest stay with my favorite standard dosage is 1 leaf per day or less and only when truly needed.
Many sources say it should not be used 'medicinally' at all. I disagree. First we would need to define the word 'medicine'. My understanding is much broader than some. Many who know this plant well will adopt the ways of the ancients and learn how to be safe with conservation of the plant tended to as well. So yes, I do agree with being reverent and aware of your medicine. Find and know your medicine. Study a bit and keep the plant close in dried form for tea for drink or bathing or take as a tincture as you study. We learn far more by cultivating that closeness to a plant than keeping our knowledge of it only coming from a book or the internet. If a plant is threatened due to many factors, how will you act with this knowledge? What will you choose so you can be a part of the solution within the sustainable movement around a threatened medicine plant? And please release the ‘more is better’ mindset and dispel this where you can.
The Benefits When White Sage Is In Your Apothecary
All salvias have medicinal qualities. Culinary Sage, Salvia officinalis, makes fantastic medicine and is easy to walk with, especially if you’re just starting out with herbs. If you have access to White Sage, I’d encourage you to try the White Sage leaf in your water bottle, just to experience where that sort of relationship with a plant might lead you.
Here’s a quick overview of the medicinal properties of White Sage, Salvia apiana:
Yes, Now The Warnings:
When OVERUSED, meaning too frequent or in too high of a dose, there is a strong alkaloid compound known as thujone that could irritate the body. Strong medicine must have strong compounds in order to be considered strong. So there should be no surprises when the scientists find such compounds in a plant. In fact let's welcome this. So, too much of this compound will increase heart rate, cause mental confusion, lead to vomiting, restlessness, and kidney complaints.
Instead of feeding fear here, I am asking us to see the wisdom in knowing strong medicine so we can call on it when needed. Be wise. Keep your medicine close. Take it in and take it safely. Know it well in your mind AND your body and walk strong with it. Honoring White Sage....
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine