sage: of cleansing and wisdom

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Sage: an aromatic plant which was formerly burnt by some Native American Indians for its cleansing properties and as incense; […] from the Latin: sapere ‘be wise’

- Oxford English Dictionary

There are certain things in life that elicit an immediate response or reaction. It could be a song that takes you back to a specific time, or a photo that floods your heart and soul with a sweet memory, or perhaps it is the sensation of sunlight on your bare skin that reminds you of summer, regardless of the season. For me, it is the smell of sage in the desert rain.

When I close my eyes during a desert rainstorm, deeply inhale, and fill my lungs and spirit with the smell of wet sage, I am a child again…roaming the idyllic desert labyrinths of Capitol Reef, the Escalante, and my youth. Even in this very moment, the thought of sage during the monsoon is restorative…I almost believe if I close my eyes in this moment, and reach out my hand I might be able to touch the silvery-green, soft blades and leaves of that fragrant, and sacred plant.

The ancient Romans called sage, salvare, the “salvation plant.” Many (not all) Native American tribes frequently use sage, and sage smudges in ceremonies, and cleansing rituals. Perhaps one of the reasons that such practice is so prevalent is that our sense of smell originates in the same part of our brain as emotion, memory, and creativity. That part of the brain processing smell, is also responsible for the storing of emotional memory.

“Juniper smoke, like the perfume of sagebrush after rain, evokes in magical catalysis, like certain music, the space and light and clarity and piercing strangeness of the American West. Long may it burn.”

- Edward Abbey


There are several unique and proprietary methods of smudging, for our purposes we will speak in very general terms. Smudging is the process of burning a dry, bound, sage bundle (a sage smudge), and washing the smoke over one’s body, or in a room as a cleansing agent; or as a means of clearing negative energy, and restoring oneself, or one’s space to its rightful state.

How to make a sage bundle:

  1. Harvesting sage: when collecting sage branches and stems, make sure to be respectful of the plant (do not harvest all, or even most of your materials from one plant). Find sage branches that are mature (leafy, instead of leaf buds), and choose branches and stems based on the length, and width you would like the smudge to be. Typically, 4”-8” inches long; and 1”- 2” inches wide.

  2. Once you have collected the sage, bunch them together at the stem. Using twine, hemp, or other organic string, tie a loop on one end, and slip the “un-looped” end through the loop around the stems:

  3. Begin to wrap up and down the stems to securely form the base of the sage bundle.

  4. It is recommended, though not necessary, to hang the sage bundle upside down for a period of 12-24 hours. This allows the sage to dry a little before forming the smudge. If you dry the sage, be sure to not let it dry too much (becoming “crunchy,” and brittle).

  5. Begin to wrap the smudge stick up and down. Repeat the process 3-4 times.

  6. Tie off the wrapping at the base of the smudge.

  7. When lighting the smudge, burn at the end opposite the stem. Allow smudge to begin to burn; if there is a flame, blow it out once the sage is lit.

  8. Holding the smudge, respectfully cup the smoke, and direct it over your body (arms, legs, torso, face, and head). Or, wave it in a room, directing the smoke throughout the room, walls, and floor.

  9. Once you have “bathed” yourself, and/or the room, make sure to extinguish the smudge completely.

*When smudging, be sure to make your intention known, either internally, or out loud. The more intentional the process, the more effective and sacred the smudging. A smudge can come to signify anything of personal meaning. The meaning of the smudge can be as varied as the smudger, or the situation.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

- Edward Abbey

{this blog was written by Josh Nelson}

For more information on traditional sage smudging, please check out:

For more comprehensive information on the benefits of sage smudging, please check out:

73 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All