Saved by Sage

by | Sep 18, 2017 | Herbs, Perennials, Shrubs | 0 comments

A while back, friends of mine, a married couple, bought a fixer upper. This wasn’t a splash-of- paint-and-some-elbow-grease fixer upper; this was a 1970s gem that hadn’t seen a lick of work done to it, ever. The former owner, a curmudgeonly recluse, neglected repairs and maintenance saying “let the next people take care of it.” The next people, my friends, saw their renovation timeline double as unhappy surprises piled up.

After months of work, the house started to look habitable. My friends had added lots of lighting and put in new windows, but the place still felt gloomy. One half of the pair, the wife, decided to dispel the unhappy aura by trying sage smudging. I was surprised because my friends are ordinary folks and not at all New Age-y. But my friend was adamant, and I was sent to buy a sage smudge stick because I live close to a Whole Foods store, known purveyors of such items.

I found them a whopper of sage smudge stick at Whole Foods—it was at least ten inches long and looked vaguely illegal. It also was not cheap. I handed it over with comments about not burning down the new house before they’d moved in. The husband clearly was skeptical but put up no objections, probably because the cost of the sage smudge stick wasn’t divulged. The wife conducted her sagesmudging ritual in private, refusing to describe her methods other than saying she had enjoyed the smell of the burning sage.

I asked her if she was satisfied with the results and she said yes. Surprisingly, the husband said that the house felt better after the smudging. My verdict was the same: the cheerless house became light and lovely after the Whole Foods sagesmudging stick did its work. Yes, I know about the power of suggestion, and no I don’t know if sage smudging actually “does” something verifiable. But it’s an interesting topic, worth a little exploration, and here’s a bit of what I found out about sage:


Sage, formally called Salvia, according to the Sunset Western Garden Book, is a shrub, and a member of the mint family. It has over 900 varieties, including perennials, biennials and annuals. It can be evergreen or deciduous, culinary and medicinal, and even hallucinogenic. When it comes to sage, “variety” is the key word, especially regarding its growing habits. No matter where you live, you can probably find a variety that will grow for you.

Cooks love sage. Sausage wouldn’t be as tasty without sage, nor would dozens of other dishes including the Thanksgiving turkey. Sage has been used medicinally for centuries, as a remedy for a host of ills. Modernly, it’s recognized by herbalists for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, as an aid to digestion, and as a relaxant. It repels bugs and reduces odors. The smoke from dried sage alters the air’s ionic composition and cleans bacteria from the air. The Latin word for Salvia, “salus,” translates to “health,” “salvation,” and “well-being.”

Sage is known for its mystical properties too—cleansing away negative energy and uplifting the mood or spirit. Historically, many cultures worldwide have practiced burning herbs, incense, and other natural materials for religious reasons. Smudging, or burning dried sage, is part of a Native American spiritual cleansing ceremony, and is the most frequently mentioned method of cleansing negative energy.

Practitioners suggest a variety of smudging rituals, but their core recommendations include making or buying a sage stick, and conducting the ritual in a calm and intentional manner. At a minimum, you’ll need a sage stick, matches, and a fireproof vessel. Light the sage stick, and wave it gently to get it smoking. You may have to relight it during the smudging, so keep the matches handy. Hold the smoking sage stick over the vessel to catch any smoldering bits. Wave the smoke everywhere in the house including closets, attics, basements, etc. When done, carefully extinguish the stick. For the smoke-sensitive, sage spray is said to achieve the same results.

WHITE SAGE SMUDGE STICKS. By Paloma Cervantes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Practitioners recommend smudging a house several times a year as negative energy can accumulate even in happy homes. And you aren’t limited to cleansing your home—you can smudge your car, workplace and even your body.  One person who owns a dress shop said she smudged the dresses customers tried on but didn’t buy to rid the rejected dress of any leftover negative vibes.

How about my friends’ new house—did the sage smudging really transform their dismal fixer upper? There’s no way to prove it. But consider that the former occupant sat in that house for decades while it rotted away around him. In addition to emitting colossal amounts of negative energy, the old coot probably expelled billions of unpleasant bacteria into the fabric of the house. Sage with its ion altering antibacterial properties, plus the ability to cleanse negative energy, could have a positive impact. Maybe, just maybe, waving smoke from a rather expensive Whole Foods sage stick restored “salus” to a very neglected house. Saved by sage? I know two people who’d say yes.

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