Burning sage as part of a cleansing ritual or before you perform any kind of spellwork is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it dates back to ancient times but has recently enjoyed a comeback. Sage smudge sticks are now so popular that it makes you wonder, where is the sage I’m purchasing coming from, and is it possible that white sage is now endangered?
When buying anything (food, clothes, crystals, herbs, etc.), it’s important that we choose products that have been sourced and made sustainably and ethically. Because that energy bleeds into us, our home, and affects the spells and rituals we perform.
So, in this post, I’ll be exploring the ethics to consider when buying herbs, where to buy sage (if you still want to use it), and how to burn sage (or any other herb) as part of a cleansing ritual.
Why do we burn sage for cleansing?
Before modern medicine was manufactured and mass-produced, communities relied on the native ingredients in their environment to heal all physical ailments and emotional and spiritual blockages. Plant medicine is powerful. Women had this knowledge and would pass it on through the matriarchal line. Witches and medicine women were the original herbalists.
Sage can clear most bacteria in the air and act as a natural disinfectant. Sage smoke also releases negative ions, which have been shown to improve a person’s mood and help us feel more positive. The Latin name for sage is “salvia,” derived from the word “salvare,” which means “to heal.”
Ancient communities would burn sage for cleansing a space, a person, or a group of people and to banish negative energy or spirits. This incredible herb is also said to help bring us more wisdom and clarity and heighten our spiritual awareness.
Is white sage endangered?
When considering where to buy sage or whether to use sage for cleansing, it’s important to think about ethics and sustainability.
When I first came across the idea of burning sage and using it as a cleansing tool, it didn’t occur to me that this plant might be endangered or that huge companies might be exploiting this wild species and profiting from it.
Now, countless white sage harvesting companies sell sage smudge sticks and herb bundles. Many claim they use sustainable harvesting methods and ethically sourcing white sage and possess a permit to do so. But the reality is, it’s actually illegal to harvest wild-growing white sage. Commercial harvesting of this sort is not permitted on state and federal lands to protect the diversity of species in this habitat.
So, is white sage endangered? Yes. Many people continue to illegally harvest and sell it to turn a profit. It’s being harvested at an alarming rate to meet growing demand.
This is why I no longer buy sage smudge sticks or sage bundles for my cleansing rituals.
Where to buy sage for cleansing
So, if white sage is endangered, where can you buy ethically harvested sage for cleansing?
Right now, you can find sage bundles and cleansing kits in national stores, including Target, Walmart, and Urban Outfitters, as well as from various sellers on Amazon and Etsy. In 2018, Anthropologie was selling white sage bundles but quickly removed them after a social media outburst. I recommend avoiding buying herbs or altar tools from large companies like these.
Many smaller sellers (particularly on Etsy) claim to be selling sage bundles and smudge sticks that have been ethically and sustainably harvested. But as we know, there is currently no permit that allows white sage to be legally harvested. Many undocumented workers sneak into the Etiwanda Preserve (a white sage hub) to harvest white sage for the companies they work for because they’re desperate for money.
Some indigenous elders still live on these lands in California and are clear about the fact that they do not sell white sage. If someone needs it for medicinal purposes, they will give it to them freely.
So, if you can’t trust that the sage you’re purchasing has been collected in a fair and loving way, where should you buy sage from?
I recommend not buying it at all.
But, if you have a sage bundle that you’re mid-way through burning, don’t throw it away because that would be a waste of this magical plant. Offer gratitude to this plant and the elders, and give thanks each time you use it.
If you live in the right climate, you can grow white sage in your backyard. And if not? There are so many equally effective alternatives.
Alternatives to burning sage
White sage might be endangered, but it is just one herb out of so many others. Each one has its unique blend of magical properties.
Here are some alternatives to burning sage as part of a cleansing ritual:
- Garden sage
- Palo santo
- Pine Cones
Blend a couple of these together and make your own herb bundle depending on what you’re in the mood for.
You can also use an essential oil spray or diffuser for cleansing and purifying if you prefer not to set alight to anything.
When done authentically, cleansing rituals have much more power, so do what you feel called to do.
How to burn sage (or other herbs) for cleansing
Burning sage (or any other herbs listed above) is a great way to cleanse your space, your altar, and yourself whenever you want to clear away negative energy. It’s best to do this regularly and definitely before you perform any kind of spell or ritual.
If you have an argument with your partner, someone with toxic vibes ends up in your home, or you’re physically unwell, a cleansing ritual can help you dissolve the bad energy and heal.
1. Open your doors & windows
If you want to clear negative energy from yourself or your home, give it a place to go! Open the doors and windows in your home so the smoke and energy can leave.
2. Gather your tools
When you purchase a sage smudging kit, it will typically come with a bundle of sage, an abalone shell to hold the sage in as you burn it, and a feather to spread the smoke around the corners of your home.
The problem is a lot of abalone shells are collected unethically too. Don’t just think about where to buy sage; think about where to buy any of the tools and ingredients you’re using. If you already own a shell, that’s okay. But if you don’t, you can use any fireproof bowl or plate to hold your sage in. You can use a fan, a large leaf, or your hand to waft the smoke.
3. Set an intention
The next step for any sage cleansing ritual is to set an intention. That might be to clear away negative vibes or heal yourself from something.
Setting an intention before doing a spell or ritual is important because it helps you clarify why you’re doing it, and it also helps you get into the right energetic space. And this has a powerful effect on your spellwork.
4. Light your sage bundle
The next step is to light your sage or herb bundle. Hold it from the opposite end you’re lighting. Tilt it to a 45-degree angle, then light it with a match or lighter. Let the herbs burn for about 20 seconds before you gently blow out the flame.
In the past, I would always struggle to keep my sage lit. This is usually because the herbs have been bundled together too tightly, so the oxygen can’t get in, which means they won’t stay lit. If this happens to you, loosen your herb bundle slightly.
5. Walk around your space
Now you’re ready to cleanse your space!
Move your herb bundle from near the crown of your head. Edge slowly down and around your body so that you “sage” your whole self.
Next, wander around your house and waft the smoke into all the hidden corners. Take your time doing this, and carry your intention with you as you do. Spend more time in areas that feel stale, heavy, or negative.
I hope this post has filled in some blanks regarding white sage, sourcing ethically harvested herbs, and burning sage as part of a cleansing ritual. If you have friends wondering where to buy sage, share this as a helpful guide.
You might find that burning herbs doesn’t align with you, which is perfectly okay. Try one of the other options listed above when cleansing yourself or your space. Magic and ritual are about doing things that resonate with you energetically, so let your intuition guide the way.