It’s safe to say that sage, Palo Santo, and other sacred herbs have entered the wellness mainstream. You can find them anywhere from your local farmer’s market to the counters at Chillhouse as everyone wants to soak up all the benefits these plants have to offer. According to witch and fashion alchemist Gabriela Herstik, the practice of smudging (or burning) sacred herbs allows us to get rid of energies that aren’t ours and shift our focus inwards. “Rituals connect us to something bigger,” she says. “They’re repetitive actions we can take to find that connection.”
Although they’re loved by many people today for their distinct smells and calming properties, these herbs have played a significant role in the healing and spiritual ceremonies of indigenous cultures for thousands of years. As we learn to incorporate them into our day-to-day lives, it’s important to honor their origins and best uses as tools that connect the physical and spiritual realms.
Sage, or salvia, comes from the Latin word “salvare,” which means to heal. It’s prevalent in many medicinal rituals and purification ceremonies of Native American and Métis Peoples due to its release of ions that neutralize the air. Sage is a great herb to burn or smudge in order to cleanse the energy around you and your home, which Gabriela says is essential before practicing any kind of magick or meditation–especially if you’re an empath and easily pick up on other people’s energy.
Because white sage is the most common, it’s also suffered from overharvesting. Gabriela recommends purchasing from sustainable sources, such as mountainroseherbs.com, as well as dipping your toes in one of the other varieties of this rich culinary and aromatic plant, such as desert, blue, or black sage. You can also get creative and bundle sage with other herbs for a unique blend that fits your needs.
My personal favorite, Palo Santo literally translates to “holy stick” or “holy wood.” It grows natively in Mexico and South America and was used by the Incas to remove negative energy and invoke good health and fortune. Its smoke, slightly sweeter and lighter than sage, also carries healing and protective properties that are perfect for meditation and spells. Externally, the smell also helps ward off mosquitos and bugs in the summertime. But, like any other herbs, Herstik points out that it’s important to take note of who you buy it from.
“Palo Santo has to die naturally for its full magic and spirit to be there,” she says. “It’s overharvested because it’s become so popular. Places who are not ethically sourcing kill the tree before it’s ready.” Try to become more intentional about where you’re purchasing your Palo Santo from. If the shop doesn’t offer information, don’t be afraid to ask!
Sweet grass, although not as popular as sage and Palo Santo, is a great sacred herb to include in your smudging rituals. Because of its positive nature, Native American peoples sometimes braid it in three stands to represent love, kindness, and honesty. Its sweet smell also invites in good energy and spirits. Sweet grass doesn’t produce an open flame, which makes it perfect for personal smudging.
When using sacred herbs on yourself, Herstik recommends smudging the palms of the hands as they are connected to the heart. Other great energy channels for this kind of smudging are the crown of the head, the feet, and between the legs. If you’ve recently gone through a difficult experience and have already worked on cleansing yourself of the energy it carried, sweet grass is perfect for moving into the future with a positive outlook and attracting good luck.
Ideal for the spring and summer, cedar is another sacred herb to add to your personal cleansing practice. This is because it’s associated with the Thunder Beings and the Lakota people. Cedar is known to represent purification and protection as well as to revive the mind and spirit from sickness or exhaustion. It is also great to burn as incense during thunderstorms and when moving into a new space as a form of cleaning out past energies and starting fresh at a new home.
“After I clean, I open the windows and use sacred smoke to cleanse my house energetically,” says Herstik. “It’s an added layer to everyday life and a way integrate those energies into everything you do.”
Feature image via Vanessa Granda