Confession: I have a past of ignorant mis-smudging. Growing up in Eugene, I am oft called a hippie here in L.A., what with my car-free ways and belief in spirit animals. But even dropping that reference, I realize I am nowhere near knowledgeable about Native American traditions. So though I leapt at the idea to smudge my new home when moving in to a studio that had been inhabited by the tortured soul of an artist in conflict with her landlord, I’m not surprised to learn that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
A friend came and we offered blessings on the … room. (See above reference to “studio.”) While I waved my smoky bunch of sage in the air, I spoke my intentions for each part of the space, to create meals in the kitchen to nourish both body and soul of a visitor, that my desk might be a place for creativity to brew and thoughts to be put to page, that my door might be the way to a place of peace, thoughtful conversations, and belly-laughter.
And I did it WRONG. I mean, part of me believes there’s no wrong way to put out good intentions. But the next time I smudge a space with sage, I’d love to follow the guidelines detailed here by Cat Criger, aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto.
Why is sage the herb of choice for purifying a place, ridding it of negative energy? Salvia officinalis, or garden sage, is a short, evergreen shrub, a member of the flowering plant Lamiaceae family, and with its grey leaves and bluish-purple flowers, is native to the Mediterranean region.
Sage’s name hints at its nature: sometimes called S. salvatrix (sage the savior), the second half of Salvia officinalis refers to its medicinal use—according to Wikipedia, the officina was the storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored. Historically used to ward off evil, treat snakebites, increase women’s fertility, Pliny the Elder said the plant was called salvia by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, among other uses. That plant has a lot to live up to.
Whether you want sage for smudging, to brew, make your own essential oils, or simply add flavor to your food, here’s how to grow your own.
- Sage thrives in USDA zones 5 – 8, and grows in almost all climates. If you live in a region with extremely cold winters, you may want to plant in containers, to bring inside during the coldest weeks (months? Let’s say weeks).
- Plant your sage in full sun or slight shade.
- Use well-draining soil, and though it grows in a range of soil, it does best in slightly acidic soils, with a pH value of roughly 6.0 to 6.5. (SF Gate)
- Looking out your window, do you see snow? If so, plan to start your sage from seed 6 – 10 weeks before your last spring frost.
- If you choose to start your sage from cuttings, SF Gate recommends rooting it using sand and a rooting hormone before transplanting into individual pots. Either seedling or your cutting can then be transplanted to a sunny spot in your garden when your soil has reached 60F, one to two weeks before the last spring frost. Or, if you are keeping it in the container, move to a sunny spot on your balcony or patio, and be sure that the soil drains well.
(Photo Credit: Dried Sage, Joene’s Garden)