Healing Herbs: White Sage

Colombia is one of the primary meeting places for traditions from the land of the Eagle (North America) and those from the land of the Condor (South America).  One of the most ancient of these traditions is the use of healing herbs in ceremonies, at home, and in the healing of individuals.  The Eagle Condor Alliance uses healing herbs from both the north and the south during retreats.  


This article will explain some of the history and benefits of one of the primary healing herbs from the north: White Sage.    


White Sage – Salvia Apiana:


Sage has been burned for thousands of years, and not only in the Americas.  There are over 900 species of sage and the can be found around the globe.  In the areas pertaining to present-day Ireland and Britain, the Celtic people used sage in combination with oak moss ceremonially and to heal members of their community.  Further east, in parts of present-day Tibet, China and India, various species of sage have been used for many centuries to for the relief of pain, oxidative stress, bacterial and virus infection, etc.


White sage, however, comes almost exclusively from the dry coastal forests of Southern California.  Accordingly, it was ancestrally used by the Native American groups from the area, who called it qaashil, shlhtaay, pilhtaay, kasiile, and other names.


For the more scientific-minded reader who is not here to learn about ‘cleansing the space’ and ‘lifting the spirit’, there have fortunately been a number of reputable studies published in the last decade relating the antiseptic qualities of burning white sage.  The 2007 article Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria, which was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, proved that the simple and ancient act of smudging eliminated up to 95% of all airborne bacteria in closed indoor spaces.  This study and others have implied that the ancestral use of smudging to cure pulmonary infections.  Furthermore, the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine published an article which stated:


Sage tea has been traditionally used for the treatment of digestive and circulation disturbances, bronchitis, cough, asthma, angina, mouth and throat inflammations, depression, excessive sweating, skin diseases, and many other diseases. Salvia essential oils have been used in the treatment of a wide range of diseases like those of the nervous system, heart and blood circulation, respiratory system, digestive system, and metabolic and endocrine diseases. In addition, sage essential oil has been shown to have carminative, antispasmodic, antiseptic, and astringent properties.  


The health benefits of sage and white sage in particular may be worthy of further scientific study.  At this point it would not be surprising to discover that the burning of dry white sage and other preparations and uses of sage have diverse and verifiable health benefits.  


In our daily lives, burning white sage is much more effective on the energetic level when it is done with intention.  If we allow the act of burning sage in our house to become a ritual dedicated to lifting heavy and potentially unhealthy energies from our living spaces, then the plant will refresh our homes.  Watch as the smoke drift to certain parts of the house. Traditionally, the smoke’s path has always been thought to indicate the energetic peaks and valleys in a space.  When smudging an individual who is suffering, the same practices of intentionality and observation apply, and we ask the plant to take with it the source of the illness and to provide relief to the individual.  


Beyond daily life, white sage plays a crucial role in sacred ceremonies around the Americas.  Whether it is used to protect a sacred sweat lodge, cleanse the space in a peyote ceremony, or adorn the bodies of participants in the sacred Sundance ceremony of the Lakotas or in the Standing Against Thunder ceremony of the Cheyenne, white sage has always been a part of North American indigenous groups’ most sacred ceremonies.  Also, the plant’s slow migration south through Central and South America has led to it being included in present-day sacred ceremonies in places like Colombia.  


If you don’t already have it in your home, go out and get a bundle of white sage.  You won’t regret it!


Mitakuye Oyasin,
The Eagle Condor Alliance