Sage is a truly amazing plant. It’s something we often add to food, whether we’re rubbing it on meat as a marinade or mixing it with a liquid to form a sauce. It tastes great and we’re always happy to welcome it to the dinner table, but there is much more to it than that.
In a previous guide to the benefits of sage tea, we discussed how this herb is infused into super healthy tea in Greece, where it is known by the name Faskomilo. But it’s also burned as a part of many pagan rituals, and it’s burning sage that we will look at here.
Can burning sage around the home really help you, and if so, how?
What Is Burning Sage?
There are many different varieties of sage. Common sage, which is what you will find in your spice rack and your tea cupboard (if you have picked up our Revive Tea Gift Pack) is also known as culinary sage and is typically not used in burning rituals.
The sage used in burning rituals is white sage, which has the official name salvia apiana and is also known as “sacred sage” because of its supposed spiritual benefits. White sage, and indeed may other types of sage, can also be used to make teas. In fact, some shamanic rituals require the use of white sage in tea form, either while also burning it or burning another variety.
Burning Sage: Native Americans
Legend has it that Native Americans burned sage as part of a cleansing ritual, and it is this practice that has inspired many modern rituals. Native Americans were very connected to nature and to their ancestors, so when a pagan or spiritualist person wants to find a connection to the earth, they often track routes back to this ancient culture, whether in the form of a faux ancestry or an ostensibly Native ceremony.
Such is the case where burning sage is concerned, but as you might have guessed from the tone of this piece, it’s simply not true. Common sage, the herb used as part of this ritual, is not native to North America and is native only to the Mediterranean and North Africa. In other words, unless Naive Americans were secretly trading with Greece many hundreds of years ago, then this is one ceremony that has no basis in truth.
There are many reasons for this misunderstanding. First, the Native Americans did use herbs as part of cleansing rituals. They burned them in order to purify and to aid with other cleansing practices. There is also the fact that, as mentioned above, people like to find connections with the Native Americans, and it’s much easier to sell a practice/substance to someone in this day and age if you first lead them to believe that it was used by Native Americans.
Burning Sage: The Real History
So where did the act of burning sage really come from? Well, similar rituals have been employed by other cultures in Asia, including ones found throughout India and Nepal, but again, they didn’t use sage because it was not available to them at the time these rituals began.
As you might have guessed, and as many sage burners will likely be disappointed to discover, this is a European tradition through and through. It only makes sense, because not only does Europe have a rich history with regards to pagan rituals and other spiritual practice, but they have also had a steady supply of sage throughout their history and they have held this herb in high esteem throughout much of that time.
Many other verities of sage are also used, and these are said to offer different effects, but culinary sage is not used. So keep that for your tea and your marinades and leave the burning for other varieties.
Burning Sage Benefits
No one doubts the many health benefits of sage. In the form of a tea, this herb offers an abundance of nutrients, including many minerals that you may be missing elsewhere in your diet. It also contains oils that may help with everything from digestive issues to cardiovascular health.
However, drinking or eating sage and burning sage are different things entirely. The benefits that burning sage is supposed to offer do not concern nutrients and psychological fixes; they focus entirely on the metaphysical.
As far as these benefits go, it really depends on who you ask, but it is typically used to ward off evil forces and to create a protective field around a space. The idea is that you burn a sage “smudge” stick in your home and waft the smell all through it in order to protect it and your family from negative spiritual energy.
Some varieties of sage are also burned for emotional support, “soul blockages,” and to honour ancestors, although the latter once again connects to the Native Americans, suggesting that it either refers to a different kind of sage, a different plant entirely, or was made up.
The problem with burning sage is that there is no evidence to back up any of these benefits. That was always going to be the case, of course, because while scientists can run tests on humans and animals to determine whether a specific herb can help with an array of physiological ailments, they are not able to determine if an aura can be fixed, a soul can be unblocked, or a home’s spiritual energy can be protected.
If we sound dismissive, it’s not intentional. Not entirely. It’s just difficult to write about genuine health benefits when the claims are not rooted in science.
Should You Burn Sage?
Putting all of the above to one side, there really isn’t a reason you shouldn’t burn it. Providing you don’t set your house on fire, don’t inhale too much of the smoke (or any, for that matter), and don’t use too much (otherwise you’ll never get rid of the smell), then it won’t do you any harm.
It smells great, and strong smells like that can produce feelings of calm, relaxation, and even a mild sense of euphoria. We discovered that when researching the benefits of lavender. Fragrance plays a big role in emotion, trigging memories, releasing endorphins, and stimulating the senses. With that in mind, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try it out, especially if you believe in traditional medicines and spiritual practices.
Of course, we’d recommend that you make a tea out of it instead of burning it to ash. You will get more bang for your buck where the health benefits are concerned and the benefits will definitely be real. But we’re not going to stand in your way if you’d prefer to set it alight and do a little dance around your home.