Mountain Air

What the smudge?

Burning plants has become a daily routine for me. Whether it’s before I teach in my private studio or to promote a more tranquil space when someone arrives or leaves my home, this practice has driven me to learn to understand, grow and nurture a wide variety of plants and herbs.

Here are some of my thoughts and personal experiences with this ancient custom. I also teach astrology workshops that include making a bouquet that is relative to the upcoming season. Check out my workshop page for upcoming sessions!

Now, little by little, the air clears
Little by little, I can breath, I can breathe again
I can breathe again
I can breathe again, now

– Little by Little, by Jezz Woodroffe and Robert Plant
Fresh Smudge Stick Curing in my Yoga Studio

“For millennia, Native Americans have burned sacred plants in a bowl or on a stick to clear space of negative energies and restore balance. These simple smudging rituals can change your life, too. Learn how to combine smudging with other ancient techniques to promote healing or to turn your home into a spiritual sanctuary. Celebrate a baby’s birth with a gentle blessing that welcomes a new soul into the world. Begin each morning with a simple cleaning so you’ll sail through the day with confidence and hope. This natural power is available to everyone.”

– Jane Alexander from the book The Smudging and Blessings Book: Inspirational Rituals to Cleanse and Heal

This book served as my first resource about burning plants after I became curious when this was done prior to a yoga class I was attending at a studio in North Hollywood. There are various opinions on whether this age old practice is appropriate for everyone. Some say it should not be adopted outside the Native cultures. There is concern also about over-harvesting these sacred plants. I tend to rely on my intuition to guide me in these situations and felt much better when I began to grow my own plants and creating smudge bouquets. I knew their origin, I was able to contribute to their growth and show appreciation for what became a custom for me. That does not mean that I think it’s not appropriate for others to burn commercially harvested and produced smudge bundles, but this is just what felt “right” for me.

So what is a smudge stick? Most people are familiar with burning white sage, which is native to Southern California and Northwestern Mexico. I believe it is the most widely used plant used for smudging. As mentioned above, we have the traditions of many Native American peoples to thank for its use – the Lakota, Chumash, and Cahuilla, among others, but many other cultures and religions around the world use the burning of plant material to mark events and ceremonies.

White Sage for Smudging

So what are some reasons I might try smudging? It would depend on the smudge stick and the different plants used, but let’s start with sage. Sage has been found to have antimicrobial properties, which would make it useful for combating infectious bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the air. An exhaustive search on the The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website will wear you out, but wow will you find a ton of research on the medicinal uses for Salvia which is the group of plants that white sage belongs to. Knock yourself out.

How or what can I smudge? Most commonly, a room or physical space but you can also smudge objects that you would to cleanse – including yourself. Many people like to smudge their crystals to clear and cleanse them.

Here are what you will need for a basic smudge routine, I’m keeping it simple since I’m assuming you came here for newbie advice:

  • A smudge stick
  • A match or lighter
  • A fireproof vessel (for catching embers and snuffing out your smudge stick at the end), many use an abalone shell (very traditional), I use an oyster shell that came from my step dad’s oyster farm in front of his house near where I grew up in Olympia, WA
  • A feather (optional) (wild turkey or crow is what I use) or you can use your hand to help waft the smoke up toward where the wall meets the ceiling
  • A positive attitude or intention/blessing, you can repeat a mantra or phrase

I was advised by a Native elder to start in the Northeast corner and move clockwise through the room/house/space you are clearing. I’ve also heard you should start in the corner furthest from the door.

What can I smudge with? I focused on sage in this post because I feel that it’s the most widely known plant used. I grow my own sage so I feel really comfortable creating smudge bouquets or sticks for you with that. I let mother nature and the stars and planets decide what to include, 98% of what I use comes from my own property. Occasionally I will source materials from friends or farmers that I know personally and don’t use anything harmful in the way of chemicals on the plants at all. In 2020 I started to grow my own white sage. It’s been challenging! You wouldn’t think that something that grows in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains would be such a diva plant!!

You will also find I like to add a stick or two of Palo Santo. I get the Palo Santo sticks from Luna Sundara. I feel this company is paying attention to sustainable concerns and also to the indigenous people of Ecuador where this wood is harvested. It’s the resin in the Palo Santo wood that feels similar to two other ancient and sacred scents that I love – Frankincense and Myrrh. It’s said to have powerful therapeutic properties, including the ability to uplift mood, strengthen vitality and aid in protection. 

I love to add a crystal to smudge sticks as well. They bring additional positive energy to any smudging experience.

The wrap. I use all natural twine usually made from organic hemp or cotton to wrap the bouquets. The hemp burns a little cleaner than the cotton, you can always cut back the twine as you burn sections of it. Some plant materials bind tighter than others, white sage for example is much denser than the purple sage.

I was excited this spring to plant some new plants that I can nurture myself and add to my smudge products. Stay tuned for new and creative bouquets and more posts about clearing the air using a smudge stick or other dried plants.

Fresh bouquets. I do occasionally have dried (cured) bouquets and sticks available, but most of the work I do is sold fresh and then you or the recipient can enjoy having the arrangement and letting it dry/cure in your space. On average, it takes between 1-3 weeks to fully dry them so that they can be burned. Some people dry them upside down, particularly if there are whole flowers, it tends to preserve the shape a little bit better and some of my customers tell me they just enjoy displaying them in rooms or in their office space.

I tend to leave the tops with flowers unwrapped, I recommend cutting the dried bundle just above the first twine wrap, otherwise you might have a little mini inferno dropping embers in your house. You can use the flowers in a bowl like incense – sometimes I make tea or throw them in an organza bag and place that in a drawer. The energy that we receive from plants and minerals of the earth is amazing and sometimes just having them near is enough to clear a mood or room.

Here are some bouquets I have made in the past, I also love commission work, let me create your ideal herbal/floral bouquet for an event or practice!

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