The Great Mother Plant
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.
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
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 are hollow and break quite easily so the White Sage should be placed 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 is 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.
Let’s Talk Smudge Sticks
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, and pray while you do this. 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’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 is 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:
- For Tea: Put one leaf in your cup. Pour just-to-boiled water over it, cover with something, like a small plate to keep the essential oils in, and wait 5-10 minutes for steeping. Only drink this tea warm and at night, about an hour before bed. No more.
- Try keeping this unsweetened. It's beautiful and at some point necessary if training in depth to entrain your body to the taste of your medicine plants with nothing added.
- You can also add one leaf to your water bottle for day time support. Dry or fresh is fine. But just one leaf.
- Fresh or dry made tincture can be added to your water at three drops per day. You work homeopathically this way which is very potent medicine. 15 drops a day is fine for an adult with an acute cold or flu but stop after one week. Higher or more frequent doses or long periods of taking are contraindicated. Please be safe.
- Spiritual Work: I highly recommend leaning deeper into White Sage when preparing for vision quests, sweat lodges, fasting, plant dieting, or any spiritual retreat. Begin with it in your water daily, a warm cup of the tea at night, or tincture as just described starting several weeks, or more, before your gathering time with these ceremonies. And certainly smudge as you are called during your preparation time.
- Essential oil of White Sage – Things to consider:
Some believe that the essential oil of White Sage is too strong and so too dangerous and discourage its 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 and the fact that it's hard to grow. I save this essential oil for the smoke sensitive folks who cannot enjoy a single burned leaf. There are other options here too and other plants for smudge through mists that work well and are easier to grow. I do not use many essential oils for this very reason that they are not sustainable.
This holds for any of the native plants, particularly with a threatened existence. Their properties do not need to be consolidated. 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
Here’s a quick overview of the medicinal properties of White Sage, Salvia apiana:
- Prevent and eliminate head colds taken internally or added to your netty pot
- Soothe and heal sore throats as a gargle
- Thins secretions and clears the sinuses with internal doses and in netty pot
- Speeds up our immune response to the flu with internal doses and whole body bathing
- Eases asthma (my son is sensitive to smoke, but not from White Sage) internal dosing and gently smudge inhalation
- Thins and reduces secretions while it aids healing the lungs with internal doses, bathing, and gentle smudge inhalation
- Aids digestion, eases runny bowels and has bitter actions to break down fats and support the liver when taken as internally doses
- Improves sleep, eases anxiety, calms the soul - taken in all medicinal delivery routes
- Invigorates the blood, regulates cycles in the body with internal dosing
- Eases menstrual pain and heavy flow plus sweats and heart palpitations
- Reduces hot flashes and intense sweats with internal doses
- Dries things up, such as excessive bleeding, or breast milk during weaning with internal dosing
- The seeds were ground into flour for food; also steeped as tea for eye washes
- Tightens and tones tissues; such as gums or open wounds, or irritated intestines taken with gargles, wound washes and internal dosing respectively
- Supports spiritual practices: such as meditation, journey, writing, creative outlets, retreats and pilgrimages, creating altars, healing work, space clearing and tending, blessings, ceremony and ritual work when utilized in all medicinal route forms appropriate for the situation.
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 so, yes. So there should be no surprises when the scientists find such compounds in a plant. 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....