White Sage – a Sacred, Purifying Herb

While driving down the steep roads of San Francisco, our van started making strange sounds. We did not want to spend the night somewhere parked on a busy city street, so we drove on, towards Monterey. The next day, the culprit turned out to be the front brakes, which had to be replaced. It cost us a good amount of money, but all was well with our little home so we were happy. Our day was spend strolling down the coastal pathway, up to Lovers Point, and enjoying the serenity of a sunny November day by the seashore. A street vendor, selling crystals at the Old Fishermen’s Wharf, had gifted us two Oregon sun stones he had found himself, two Rose Quartz (the stone of Love – because we had told him that it was our anniversary) and a bundle of White Sage. This bundle lasted us for the rest of our journey, and became an important part of our little daily rituals. We could turn to it to cleanse our mind and space of negative energy, and to give thanks to the Universe for guiding us on our path.

As mentioned in the previous post, there were many sacred plants that were used in Native American culture, and that are still used up to this day. These plants were used for various reasons, from herbal remedies, to ceremonies – where they were smoked or burned (smudging) – or to cook or bathe with.

White Sage (Salvia Apiana)

Even if you have never studied herbs, you probably have heard of sage. An herb that is well-known to people all around the world, and used for culinary or medicinal purposes. Many cultures use their local variety of sage, as there are more than 900 hundred different kinds to be found on our planet. The one that is most commonly used in Europe is Salvia Officinalis or common sage, native to the Mediterranean. 

White sage, or Salvia Apiana, is a variety of sage that is very important to many Native American tribes. It is a perennial, evergreen shrub, and is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It was used by tribes in this region, however, thanks to its wide variety of medicinal, spiritual, and practical uses, it quickly spread to other tribes across North America, and became an important part of Native American culture.

Traditional Use 

White sage purifies, cleanses, and strengthens the connection to the spirit world, and the Creator. The herb was ceremoniously harvested, dried, and burned afterward. The smoke was believed to carry up prayers to the Creator while cleansing the space and the people participating of negative energies, emotions, spirits. It was also used to enhance mental clarity and heighten one’s sense of awareness during these rituals, while inviting positive spirits and harmony. The burning of white sage was often offered to the Creator, or the Spirit World while calling upon them to support them in the healing or purifying ritual.

Culinary, some tribes enjoyed the nutritious benefits by including the leaves and stems of the white sage shrub in their diets, while other used the seeds. The seeds were ground up together with different ingredients to create a nutrient-rich powder that was the base of many different meals such as porridge.

Some native tribes used this versatile plant as an herbal hair or body wash. They did this by rubbing the leaves, together with water, in the palms of their hands.

Medicinal Powers

White sage is believed to be very powerful, supporting the overall health and vitality of the body. It balances, and soothes the body and soul. Known to have a positive effect on the nervous system, white sage can ease anxiety issues, sleep disorders, and other problems that can come forth out of an imbalance of the nervous system. It is also known to have strong antimicrobial properties, and therefore it was applied topically to heal wounds. The seeds were used to treat problems with the eyes, by inserting seeds underneath the eyelids throughout the night. In the morning they would remove the seeds, and the eyes would be cleansed of contaminants.

As a tea, it was often drunk by Native women to ease the painful symptoms connected to childbirth, or their moon time (menstruation). White sage was also used for relieving a sore throat, respiratory problems, digestive issues, or treating a cold or fever.

The Present Day Use of White Sage

Nowadays, white sage has become an important part of many rituals, for healing and spiritual purposes. There is nothing wrong with honoring all things that nature has gifted us, but sadly, as with many things that became popular (such as Palo Santo), white sage has been over harvested (due to non-ethical, non-sustainable harvesting methods). Therefore, if you would like to use white sage in your own rituals, it is wise to always get it from a source that ethically cultivates it, or grow it yourself if your climate allows it. When wild-harvesting, it is important to never take more than 20 % of any shrub in order to not damage the plant and its change to survive. It is good to be conscious about the scarcity of the plant, give thanks while harvesting, and not burn too much at once while using it during a ritual.

Sage is a mystical, powerful plant. With her ancient wisdom and healing powers, she’s a beautiful gift of Nature, important to many of our ancestors, and she continues to be important to many people today.

For burning/smudging, there are plenty of alternative herbs that you can use such as cedar, sweet grass, mugwort, lavender, and so much more. Chances are big that a post about all of these, and our experiences with it, will follow in the future!

Resources:

Sarah Outlaw – Sage throughout the ages

 Evan Sylliaasen – White Sage: Wisdom, Clarity, Cleansing

Robin DiPasquale – The Many Faces of Sage

https://ndnr.com/botanical-medicine/the-many-faces-of-salvia/


Native American Healing Traditions

While traveling through the United States, we often thought about the native tribes who wandered freely through the forests and plains, just a few centuries ago. We wondered how they lived, traveled, what they ate and how they maintained their health throughout all of this. Luckily, we met people who could give us an idea about their way of living, their beliefs and their traditions, and thanks to the vast amount of knowledge on the internet, we could explore their traditions even further.

Healing and Balance

According to Native Americans, everything in our world is connected and to maintain well-being, in oneself and the community, it was important to find balance. An imbalance was often considered to be the reason why one was ill. During healing rituals, they sought to regain balance between the spiritual world, the community, the environment and oneself.

Rituals

Ceremonies were held for various reasons such as birth, death, or the success of a harvest. There were also important healing ceremonies, used to restore balance in the community. During those ceremonies, the community came together to sing and dance, and they were often accompanied by drums and the use of sacred (sometimes psychoactive) plants.

Purifying the body was a part of the healing process, and therefore building a sweat lodge was an important ritual in many tribes. A sweat lodge is a small structure, made of pliable young trees or branches and covered with blankets or tarps (earlier, they used animal skin). A pit inside the lodge was filled with hot stones, and water was poured over them, filling the lodge with steam. It was a ritual to purify and release, to sing, to pray, to connect with the spirit world, and the other participants.

Another tradition in some tribes was the use of a moon lodge, a structure build for the women of the tribe who were in their Moon Time (menstruation). A place for them to rest and regenerate, where they could be alone or together with their sisters of the tribe. Their family obligations were lifted from them, for as long as they retreated inside the lodge, and men were not allowed inside. It was a place for healing, connecting to each other and to the moon and the earth.

These beliefs and traditions vary from tribe to tribe, but a lot of similarities can be found between them. A great deal of these methods are still used today by several tribes, often combined with modern, allopathic medicine.

The Use of Healing Plants

The healers of the tribes combined the healing powers of plants with their connection to the spirit world. Plants were viewed as brothers and sisters and treated with respect. The healers asked permission to use the herb and expressed their gratitude when harvesting and preparing the medicine. These sacred herbs were used as herbal remedies, or as part of ceremonies, where they were smoked or burned.

It is said that Native Americans learned about the medicinal powers of certain herbs by observing animals such as deer or elk. They noticed that these animals ate specific plants when they were ill, and recovered after. The Native Americans understood that the plants must have some sort of medicinal benefits and started experimenting with them. Herbal wisdom was passed on from generation to generation until extensive knowledge was gathered on more than five hundred healing plants!

Balance of body and spirit is something very important in native healing traditions, and often forgot in modern medicine. An illness is seen as just that, and medicine is taken to suppress symptoms as quickly as possible, instead of listening to the body and working together towards healing. But times, they are a-changing! More and more people are interested in the wonders of traditional medicine and are learning to listen to what their body is telling them. After all, our body carries us wherever we need to go, bears the burden that we often put upon it and supports us throughout our lives, and it is something wonderful to honor this.

Resources:

Kathy Weiser – Native American Medicine https://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-medicine/

Mary Koithan and Cynthia Farrell – Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913884/

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