With the chaotic nature of today's modern world, the idea of cleansing our spaces, objects, and ourselves of negative energy sounds quite appealing. Cue the ritual of sage burning, also known as smudging, an essential part of many Native American cultures.
What are the benefits of burning sage?
Sage belongs to the Salvia plant family and is derived from the Latin word salvere, which means "be well/in good health."
"Aside from the metaphysical uses of smudging, research is showing that sage can also be used to benefit physical, mental, and emotional well-being," says Reshma Patel, PA-C, MMS, CEO and founder of Ananda Integrative Medicine.
She points to a number of studies that have shown that medicinal smokes1 such as sage have powerful antimicrobial2 and antibacterial2 qualities, can improve mood and cognition3, can serve as an insect repellent, and can even help with sleep quality by easing insomnia.
In traditional Native American culture, burning sage is also thought to cleanse people of negativity and promote healing, wisdom, and longevity.
What you'll need to burn sage respectfully
Giselle Wasfie, L.Ac., a Chinese medicine expert and the founder of REMIX Acupuncture & Integrative Health, notes that the practice of burning sage is sacred in many communities and deserves our respect. To avoid cultural appropriation, it's something you should always be doing with intention, reverence, and deep gratitude to those who did it before you.
If you are a non-Native person choosing to smudge, buying sage from an Indigenous company is one way to directly support the communities where this practice originated. (More on that below!)
If you're new to the practice of smudging, there are a few more items you'll need to get started. "Traditionally, people use an abalone shell to hold the sage and then use a feather to fan and spread the smoke around the space once the sage is burning," says Colleen McCann, a shamanic energy practitioner.
If you're a bit sensitive to smoke or can't have smoke in a specific space like your office, there are plenty of cleansing smudge mist options available these days too. (Here are a few from Indigenous-led companies.)
To recap, here's what you'll need to get started:
- A vessel for burning sage
- Sage or a sage spray
- A fire source (such as a long match or candle)
- A fanning tool (not completely necessary but could be helpful if you need to cover a large area such as a home or office)
How to sage your house to clear negative energy
Gather your tools and have an exit strategy
First and foremost, ensure you have all the above-mentioned tools handy and that you've opened a door or window before lighting up. After all, that negativity (not to mention smoke) needs to have a pathway to get out.
Set your intention and say a mantra
Intentions are central to the practice of smudging, so take a moment before you light the sage to determine what exactly it is that you're trying to purify or release from your space. Then, decide on a mantra or prayer to repeat while saging that encapsulates this intention.
It can be something you come up with on your own, or for a little guidance, Wasfie, suggests, "I let go and release what no longer serves me."
Once you're ready, hold the sage at a 45-degree angle, light it using your match or candle, and let it burn for about 20 seconds. After that, gently blow out the flame so you see orange embers on one end. The smoke should now billow up.
Slowly walk around your space
Slowly walk around your space and allow the smoke to waft around. Guide the smoke—and the negative energy—toward the open windows or a door, so it can escape.
"Give special attention to areas in front of mirrors, in corners, and in spaces like foyers, hallways, and doorways," Wasfie recommends. "I'm also a big fan of saging technology like our phones or laptops. I usually hold the sage wand underneath them and then wave it around them."
Sage burning 101: Always stay present! If you see little embers fall on the ground, tamp them out immediately. Never let the burning sage stay unattended for any reason. Also, take care not to inhale too much of the smoke.
"Although saging is a great way to clear your apartment or office of stagnant and possibly negative energy, it is best not to inhale it directly," says licensed acupuncturist and certified herbalist Irina Logman, L.Ac., MSTOM. "Lungs are a delicate organ, and any type of smoke can be drying and irritating to the mucosa."
Extinguish your sage
Once you're ready to extinguish a sage smudge stick, press the burning tip firmly into your fireproof vessel, dirt, or sand until the smoke no longer rises.
Pro tip: Don't get it wet! "Don't use water to extinguish the hot embers—it will ruin the tip of the stick and make it harder to light next time. When you are done using the smudge stick, you can keep it in a vessel until you are ready to use it again," says McCann.
How to sage yourself
If you're interested in saging yourself, you can essentially follow the same steps as above, but the focus will be on your body instead of your space.
Stand in the shape of a T with legs slightly spread like you're in the TSA line at the airport. Then, keeping the sage stick at an arm's length distance away from you, work your way up from your feet. Repeat your mantra (either internally or aloud) as you go, envisioning the smoke is clearing you of any and all lingering negativity.
McCann recommends doing a little self-diagnosis ahead of smudging yourself to determine which areas might need it the most. For example, if you shake hands often, then smudge your hands frequently, or if you speak all day at work, then be sure to sage around your throat.
Again, don't directly inhale large amounts of smoke, and ensure the sage remains a safe distance from your body. If you have long hair, pull it back in a bun. Don't forget to extinguish the sage once you've finished the ritual.
How often should you smudge?
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to how often you should sage yourself or your space. We are our best guides when it comes to identifying negative energy—so pay attention to your intuition. If you feel weighed down by stress or worry, it's usually a good indication that a cleansing is in order.
Where to buy sage
As smudging becomes more popular, there has been a huge uptick in sage providers who are overharvesting the plant, so it's important to use sage that's been collected sustainably and with reverence.
Pasqualini recommends researching how your sage is being handled and prepared. "If it will be used for your energy clearing ritual, it's important for your smudge stick to be deliberately prepared and handled with care and thoughtfulness," she says. To respect this practice, purchase from small shops owned by Native Americans, such as The Wandering Bull, Whispering Winds, or Native California White Sage.
White sage is the most common variety you'll find in a smudge stick, since the color is associated with purity. However, other dried plants such as juniper, rosemary, and cedar can also be used to clear energy if sage isn't your thing.
Burning sage is a powerful ritual that Indigenous communities have been using to clear negative energy for thousands of years. If you're going to burn sage in your own home, office, or apartment, be sure to do so safely and with respect for the origins of this sacred practice.
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Kristin Hickey is a consultant and freelance writer living in Hoboken, NJ. She has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Queensland in Australia and received her bachelor’s degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut. She enjoys covering lifestyle, wellness, parenting and beauty topics.