March 1, 2010

You Want Me to Do What?: Sage-Burning Edition

Posted in musings, you want me to do what? tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 2:13 pm by silversprung


A friend joked about whether we’re going to do a “sage burning” before we move into the new house. I’ve seen one of these on TV- it basically involved some guru walking around with a bunch of burning leaves saying things like “welcome the good, release the bad” or something like that.

I decided to look up what this pagan-sounding ritual really is.

After the jump:

1. Purpose: Sage burning or “smudging” is a traditional cleansing ritual used in Native American, Aboriginal, Chinese, Celtic, Hindu and other cultures. The purpose is to cleanse energy, purify it and remove the bad. Smudging can be performed to cleanse a person or a place (in this case, a home.)

2. Why Sage? The word sage comes from the Latin word salvia, meaning “to heal.” Use of the herb for healing and medicinal purposes has been document by the Egyptians and Romans, during the Middle Ages, and other time periods and is still used today. According to, sage remains popular in Europe to treat inflammation of the mouth and throat and upset stomach and is often used as a gargle. In the Middle East, its used as “a soporific and antimicrobial and to treat colds, influenza, abdominal pain, headaches, heart disorders, and gall stones.” Some studies suggest sage helps delay the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Many cultures have their own explanations for what the actual process of sage burning is believed to accomplish. For example, this is one explanation from a Native American standpoint:

“White sage is believed to cleanse a space of any evil spirits or ‘negative’ energies that may be present. This power is said to be released from the plant by the burning of the leaves, which are typically bundled into a wand or stick.”

3. How to: To perform a sage burning to cleanse a house, it’s recommended to create or buy sage bundles created from dried herbs tied together. From a cursory Google search, it appears that medicinal herb shops stock sage bundles, and there are a variety of places online that sell smudging “kits” such as You light the bundle, let it burn for a bit, then tamp out the flame so it’s smoldering. Place the smoking bundle in a container (such as a shell — an abalone shell is often used in some Native American rituals) and use something such as a feather to blow the smoke around the rooms of your home. Some people say prayers as they do this or say something to the effect of asking negativity to leave the home. This should be performed with some open windows or doors.


  1. JCphilatemap said,

    Sage advice! But as the ultimate sustainable protection for a new house and its residents, let’s hear it for Ruta Graveolans (Common: Rue). You’ll see it described as a noxious, poisonous weed, as causing allergic reactions, as an abortifactant when ingested as a brewed tea, as a tasty ingredient for soup (Chinese), as an attractant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies, as a garden cat and dog repellant, and, perhaps most importantly, as a vampire and devil repellant. Some randomly chosen Web commentary: “It is true that rue can cause skin rashes on some individuals. The rashes occur when a sensitive person’s skin comes in contact with fresh rue foliage and that area of skin then is exposed to sunlight. The ultraviolet portion of natural sunlight triggers the skin reaction by potentitizing the rue compounds. If these same sensitive persons are exposed to fresh rue and not to UV light then the rash does not occur. I have never heard of anyone suffering adverse reactions to rue’s use in foods. When used sparingly as a flavouring the risk of skin rashes is apparently quite low. Rue’s long history of use in food in europe and north africa would seem unlikely if it were poisonous to ingest. As always, when introducing a new herb or spice to the diet it is good idea to test a small amount first. Stop using any herb or spice that causes any adverse reaction including allergic ones. (I ate the leaves in a salad last night last night … and I am still here!)”

    And, “I have found some crushed rue covered by a bandage on skin cysts or large blemishes tends to heal them very quickly. A skin cyst can disappear practically overnight. I have never had an adverse reaction. The smell is not heavenly! It does add a nice touch to my herb garden. I have it near orange mint, thyme, oregano and Lemonbalm. They all get along fine.”

    I can personally vouch for the fact that, with a plant in our garden at three different locations: one in Connecticut and two in New Jersey, my wife and kids never saw a devil or vampire. A stem in a glass of water at night, placed on the night table of a child having trouble sleeping, was the ultimate calming agent. Plant a rue plant in your garden as a logical addition to an electronic home security system.

  2. Gardener said,

    Excellent work on this article. It makes for an interesting and Thoughtful read.

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