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Burning Sage To Cleanse Your Space? Why You’ll Want To Think Twice


Right now, it seems like white sage is everywhere—suddenly, this herb is popping up on witchy Instagram accounts, in New Age shops, and even in drinks and baked goods. Recently, Sephora even floated the idea of selling a beginner “witch kit” complete with a sage smudging stick. Sage has been used for spiritual purposes for centuries, but now, it’s becoming a major trend in the health and wellness world. Where does sage come from? What’s driving this big demand for sage? And should we really all be getting in on the hype?

White sage, technically named “salvia apiana,” is also known as “bee sage” or “sacred sage.” It grows in the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico, and it’s usually found in southern California and Baja California. Its natural habitat is known as the coastal sage scrub habitat. 

White sage has a strong, noticeable scent when burned. Native American tribes along the Pacific coast used white sage for various purposes. For example, the Cahuilla tribe mixed it with flour and sugar to make dough for biscuits and bread, and they also steeped it to make sage tea. The Chumash tribe ate the leaves and seeds of the plant. Many tribes in this general area burnt white sage leaves in a practice known as “smudging.” This ceremony was said to cleanse negative energy from a dwelling, and smudging sticks could also be used in ceremonies to cleanse individual people or objects. 


The current popularity of sage started a couple years ago, but it’s becoming more noticeable now as bigger companies attempt to capitalize on this herb. Over the past few years, more and more people have gotten involved in paganism, Wicca, and other goddess-centered religions that are focused on nature worship. Lots of women are also dabbling in witchcraft and doing ceremonies and rituals that involve a wide variety of herbs. Since white sage has been traditionally been used by Native Americans for spiritual ceremonies, people interested in these paths began using it in their own practices.

However, there has been some opposition to the sale of spiritual herbs that were originally used by indigenous people, and people can easily get the details of these traditional ceremonies wrong. Some tribes even had rules around when sage could be picked to be used in a ceremony—for instance, a ritual might require sage that was picked in the evening under a full moon at a certain time of year. Furthermore, smudging sticks sold by large companies may not even contain the herbs they advertise, and some can contain materials that are actually toxic when burned! 

In addition, many companies that are selling cheap bundles of sage are not harvesting the herb sustainably, and because of this, its natural habitat is being threatened. In order to grow back, sage leaves must be pruned correctly, and the base of the plant has to be left intact. However, many companies are simply clearcutting fields of sage—which means they’re cutting off the plant at the base, making it impossible for it to grow back. This kills the plants and over time, it can alter the natural ecosystem of the area. Thankfully, white sage is not endangered, but if this trend continues and companies continue to sell it in mass quantities, it could easily land on the list of threatened species. 


So, should you personally be using sage in your spiritual practice? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to that question—but it’s best to err on the side of caution. Whenever we’re engaging in a practice that comes from a culture we’re not a part of, we should always do our research and make sure we’re respecting its roots—and sometimes, that could mean simply not participating. Other herbs like lavender, sweetgrass, and cedar are also said to have cleansing properties, so you have plenty of other options to choose from. 

If you do choose to use white sage, make sure to consider the origins. You can grow your own, carefully prune wild sage, or find a local, organic farmer who provides information about their own sustainable harvesting methods. After all, if you’re going to purchase an herb to cleanse your space, you want to make sure that your money is going towards people who respect our environment. 

Being conscious consumers means doing our homework when it comes to making purchases, and this is especially true for anything we’re buying for spiritual reasons. The witchy aesthetic may be all the rage right now, but remember, just because a company markets something as spiritual doesn’t mean that they are doing things ethically behind the scenes. 

Burning Sage To Cleanse Your Space? Why You’ll Want To Think Twice

What are your thoughts on the sage trend?

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Jane Harkness

Jane Harkness

Jane Harkness is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. She writes about veganism, travel, and wellness, and her writing has been published on platforms like Thought Catalog, Student Universe, The Financial Diet, and Wholesome Culture. She blogs daily on Medium, and you can check out more of her work on her website.
  • Verlinda Bluestone

    as a Native American woman– AMEN!!!
    In addition — the term “smudging” isn’t even “our” term to begin with. When I was little– my step dad or my mom would say: “come here– I’m going to smoke you down with cedar…” OR “Let me fan you with some sweetgrass.”
    I myself don’t even use that term… I use the terms my parents use–“fan down or smoke down ”
    ALSO– WE DON’T BURN SAGE!!!!!!!! THAT is ALSO something new to me (I’m from the Northern Utah area .. my tribes are from North to southern az…but I was raised amongst northern tribes in northern utah) and I find it kind of…. weird.
    Growing up amongst different tribes… many around me didn’t burn sage… only cedar or sweetgrass. Sage was used for other things. If it was used for a blessing.. it would be made into a tea and then that would be tossed around a room or space, much like a priest does with holy water during Holy week (Easter Season.)
    Our family always uses sweetgrass & cedar..never sage. AND the sage we use isn’t even the same. I’ve never used white sage…just the sage around the places I live and white sage isn’t it.
    I would like to add– Sweetgrass is ALSO in danger of being over harvested!!! It is not as readily found as it use to be. I also see this special herb(sweetgrass) in many “new age” stores along side white sage and abalone shells to be used Lord knows how by people who don’t even have these ways originally in their lineage. It makes me feel bad for the sage and the sweetgrass…because when we pick it, we only take small 5-6 inch stems and before we even pick any, we leave an offering for the plant– it could be a pretty stone, another herb, or even a bead (I’m a Native beadworker so beads mean a lot to me.) Then we pick what we need and that’s it. Never more than we need.
    The whole situation of Natives seeing our indigenous herbs and ways being sold off I. new age stores, grocery stores, and online by people who don’t know the meaning behind these things is horrifying imo. It saddens me. I’m always left wondering how many “sold off” our ways and our herbs to what non-native and why they did it. Now it’s being associated with “wicca” and “witchcraft” and I feel bad for those items and the questionable ways which they are going to be used since it seems that these “new” ways of witchcraft and Wicca that everyone is now practicing today is a huge melting pot of many different beliefs and ways all made Into one. I’m sure the original beliefs of Wicca are long gone as they have been re-made, and then re-made over and over again into something new until the old is unrecognizable.
    Please don’t buy from these places destroying the land and these herbs by over harvesting. IF you are buying these herbs… buy from a place that practices sustainable growth and doesn’t over harvest and over pick these precious plants of this land!!❤❤❤

    • Wow. Thank you *so much* for sharing this. that practice of giving a gift to the herb is so touching…

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