Cleansing your body and your space with herbal smoke has been practiced by many cultures all over the globe for centuries. There is quite a lot of controversy over the word “Smudging,” as it originates from the Native Indian tribes of the Southwestern United States, where white sage (salvia apiana) grows wild.
I personally use the word “smudging” more often than not because at this point in time it is the most recognizable term for the practice of lighting a bundle of dried herbs and wafting the smoke in a specific direction with a specific intent. This YouTube Channel gives a very succinct and accurate demonstration on the process. I personally grow my own white sage in pots that I move indoors over winter. I think a lot of the argument for cultural appropriation stems from the fact that there are a dangerous number of people going onto land they don’t have permission to be on and foraging for (stealing) wild white sage, to the point that the plant is now endangered in the wild.
Many European cultures have been practicing cleansing rituals similar to smudging for centuries. Working with herbs found in your native region, whether they are native plants or (like mugwort) invasive plants is one of the best and most sustainable ways you can create smoke sticks.
Take a walk around your yard or woods and see what grows naturally there. Be sure you aren’t touching poison ivy or something toxic, but if you see a plant that you don’t recognize, it is usually safe to rub a leaf or flower between your fingers and then smell your fingers. Does it smell pungent? Sweet? If there is a definite and pleasant aromatic scent on your fingertips, check a field guide (or the internet) to see if you can identify the plant. You are looking for a plant with a pleasing scent and high volatile oil content. Once you are certain you’re not picking something that could hurt you, ask the plant if you can harvest a little from it. Only take a little and always say thank you, preferably with a personal offering such as tobacco, hair from your head, or some water from your water bottle.
Remember that garden sage (salvia officinalis) works just as well for smudging as white sage; there is no reason to go to the hippie shop and drop a ton of money on a bundle that probably isn’t ethically harvested. It is safe and possible to grow your own white sage instead.
Once your bundle has hung to dry somewhere out of direct sunlight for several weeks, you can tighten the strings and then light the end. Get it smouldering and walk around the house or cleanse your body with the smoke. I will likely teach more classes on this soon!
For more reading about herbal smoke versus smudging, see the articles below:
The Ancient Art of Smoke Cleansing