Herbal Smoke and Smudging

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.

A few bundles I made before hanging them to dry

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.

Me tying the knot at the end of a bundle during my Smoke Stick making class

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

Smudging vs. Smoke Cleansing

Smoke Cleansing as an Alternative to Smudging

Maintaining a Healthy Urinary Tract

This is one of the articles I wrote during my Herbalist Certification course. It’s chock full of good information about urinary tract health, so if you have bladder issues, pay attention! References are cited at the bottom of the page.

(This is the image that came up when I googled “pee”)

Just like the book with the title referring to the opposite end of the digestive system, Everybody Pees.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy Urinary Tract system, but the fact remains that we all must do so or suffer detrimental health consequences.

The simplest method to making sure you don’t end up with urinary problems is to remain hydrated.  While problems can still arise due to other circumstances that your body may be subjected to, the simple act of drinking enough water is your biggest and best shield for protecting your kidneys and bladder.  Your urine should be almost clear, to very light yellow if you are drinking enough.  Generally speaking, if you “feel thirsty,” your body has already begun to dehydrate and you definitely need to drink.  On this same note, making sure you eliminate often enough is crucial.  It doesn’t matter how much your boss wants you to take care of a customer if your bladder is so full it might explode.  Take regular bathroom breaks and ignore your co-workers or friends if they make fun of you for going “too often.” Regular water intake and elimination is crucial for kidney function, and functioning kidneys are a necessity for life.

Some supplements that can be helpful in maintaining your urinary tract include cranberry juice (or a supplement pill,) blueberries, and probiotics such as yogurt or kombucha.  The berries contain high amounts of Vitamin C and help prevent bacteria from attaching to the uterine lining[1] (in women.) Wearing breathable cotton underwear and maintaining a clean genital area (without the use of highly-perfumed soaps or douches) will also help prevent any infections from taking hold. Men can avoid the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection by drinking plenty of water, eliminating often, and maintaining clean genitalia. For both genders, urinating and washing up after sexual intercourse is also a crucial key to preventing bacteria climbing up the urethra.

If, despite your best efforts, you do end up with a burning, itchy, painful sensation whenever you urinate, you probably have a Urinary Tract Infection. It is actually quite possible to treat a UTI without antibiotics, though if you attempt these methods without success it is best to see your doctor anyway.  Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugary, highly-processed foods, start taking a supplement of cranberry or acidophilus (probiotics are widely available in pill form,) or you can drink low-sugar cranberry juice and eat low-sugar yogurt.  Balancing the bacteria in your gut with the help of kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, or other fermented foods will absolutely help to bring balance to your other bodily systems via their antifungal and antiviral properties. [2]

As an adult with a UTI, you can avoid citrus fruits and make sure you drink lots of water, but you also have several herbal remedy options for treatment.  Provided you aren’t pregnant, breastfeeding, or have known kidney problems, horsetail can be a helpful supplement. A capsule of horsetail extract two or three times daily may be helpful for alleviating some of the symptoms of bladder and urinary tract infections, incontinence, and even bed wetting because it can relieve the urge to urinate. [3]  Parsley made into a tea/infusion may also help, as it is a diuretic and will increase the flow of good urine through the urethra, helping clean out the bad bacteria. Uva ursi is another herb that can help treat urinary tract infections if used on a short-term basis. And I have personally had success working with a tincture of corn silk when a burning sensation has come along.

Drink lots of water daily! It’s okay to pee!

Preventing kidney stones is another common Urinary Tract concern, but it is usually possible to prevent these with many of the same methods as preventing a UTI.  Drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, avoid highly-processed foods and sugars, and eat fresh, whole foods whenever possible.  If you have a history of kidney stones, you may also want to avoid eating too much sodium and try to get your calcium needs from foods rather than supplements. Beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts are rich in oxalate, and colas are rich in phosphate, both of which can contribute to kidney stones. If you suffer from stones, your doctor may advise you to avoid these foods or to consume them in smaller amounts.[4]  It is also important to get most of your Vitamin D from sunlight exposure, rather than supplements.  The most natural method of acquiring your vitamins and minerals is always best.

With a good dose of sunshine and vegetables, regular exercise, and plenty of water, you too can maintain your body’s urinary system, avoid the unpleasant problems, and have happy pee.


[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/stay-a-step-ahead-of-urinary-tract-infections

[2] https://www.culturedfoodlife.com/utis-yeast-infections-and-cultured-foods/

[3] https://wellnessmama.com/8592/horsetail-herb-profile/comment-page-5/

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-steps-for-preventing-kidney-stones-201310046721

Cleavers is Galium, but not all Galium is Cleavers

That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!

I was wrong.

THIS is actual “Cleavers,” Galium Aparine

After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.

Galium Mollugo I have been seeing
This is the galium I’ve seen at my farm. Note the NON-Hairy stem

Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.

Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.

I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…

At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!

Food IS Medicine!

Before herbs, before drugs/pharmaceutical medicine, before therapy, what is there in this world that you put into your body EVERY SINGLE DAY to run you, heal you, activate you, motivate you, energize you, or even just to survive on? FOOD.

It is really difficult to get this message through to people for some reason. I actually might present a class on it, if I can muster enough resources.

The food that you eat every day is almost entirely what determines your energy levels, ailments, health, mental state, happiness, desire, life. It makes sense to me that since the health and well-being of my entire body is so dependent upon what I put into it, I should pay attention to the quality of that fuel.

I’m not shaming you for drinking booze occasionally, or eating some chips or cookies once in awhile. We all have weaknesses, and eating or drinking something we know is bad for us once in awhile is a human right. Many of us regret doing so later (diarrhea, nausea, hangover) but it was fun while it lasted. But the things you ingest regularly matter more than you can imagine. Cookies and cocoa puffs are not meant to be everyday fare.

You’ve probably heard about your microbiome, that symbiotic colony of bacteria inside your body that is more than partially running your organ systems, like tiny little engineers. This is related to the Gut-Brain connection, which basically means the bacteria in your gut affect your mood and behavior. Remember that episode of Futurama where Fry eats a gas station sandwich and suddenly his body is colonized by generations of tape worms that clean out his organs, increase his intelligence, and make him healthier? That’s not how it actually works with parasites (much the opposite,) but your gut’s natural microbiota DO have a similar effect on your system.

Which is a healthier food choice: a salad or a box of Oreos? “Duh!” you say. “I’m not an idiot!” But which one do you eat more frequently? Which one, honestly, would you rather have?

I don’t eat Oreos anymore. I refuse to support Nabisco because their demand for palm oil has decimated the only forests in the world that are the last remaining natural habitat for orangutans. But I digress. Cheap processed food is made to trigger the happy centers of your brain. But it doesn’t run your body the same way a salad or a baked potato would.

This is one of the best winter time meals ever, no matter where you bought the potato

Every human body has different needs; this post isn’t meant to be taken as a knock on you or your dietary restrictions, specific condition, or income level. I’ve certainly been in a spot in life (See: How to Eat When You’re Poor) where I couldn’t afford to eat great quality food, especially not organic vegetables. BUT I DID know that vegetables and fruits were the best thing I could put into my body, and I did my grocery shopping with that in mind. Are organic potatoes and collard greens better for you than conventionally-grown? Abso-freaking lutely. But are the regular cheap veggies still better than eating Top Ramen and Cheetos for dinner? DUH. You can go shopping at Aldi and CHOOSE to buy a bunch of veggies, meat, and cheese instead of shopping in the chips aisle. It should be well-known by this point that I agree with the theory that Processed Foods Are Bad.

When you (hopefully) reach a point in your life where you can do some of your weekly shopping at the local farmer’s market instead of the grocery store, you should be excited as hell because THOSE veggies are going to be fresher than anything you could possibly get at the local store.

Maybe you can even grow a little garden yourself? Even if you think a garden is too hard, ANYONE can grow a tomato plant in a pot on their front step. If you can’t grow a tomato plant, I pity whatever gods gave you the blackest thumbs in humanity. Nothing tastes better than a tomato you grew and picked yourself!

As far as protein goes, you know damned well I want you to eat eggs. Which eggs you buy and eat DOES make a difference, which you can see just from cracking some open. While I will say again that buying the cheap 80 cents a dozen eggs from Wal-Mart is still healthier for you than eating a can of Chef Boyardee for dinner, if you are at a point where you can choose where to buy your eggs, please, PLEASE buy from a local farm or at least buy Free-range eggs. Quick note: “Vegetarian Fed” chickens are probably freaking miserable. Chickens naturally eat bugs and sometimes even eat mice and small snakes. They are omnivores; anyone who forces them to only eat vegetable sources is cruel.

Our eggs frying in bacon fat in February

Buying your meat from sources LOCAL TO YOU is incredibly good for the environment, and it helps the farmers in/near your community rather than some asshat who clear cut half the Brazilian rainforest for his crappy beef cows. We raise meat birds on a very small scale here, mostly for our own consumption. But there’s always a meat vendor at the farmer’s market selling great quality meats. I like to know that I can go pat the cow on the head and see it happily eating grass a few weeks before I eat some of it.

I’m going to stop ranting now, but I want to make it clear to anyone struggling to eat healthfully, lose weight, or stop feeling so crappy in your tummy: EAT REAL FOOD. If it was grown as a plant of some sort or produced by an animal somehow, it’s better for you than Tasty Cakes and Doritos. If you have specific questions or a different situation and would like help figuring out the best dietary changes or herbal additions for YOU, please remember that I do Consultations, in-person and online.

Happy eating!

Incense Crafting: Messy Experimentation

Hopefully you’ve figured out by now that I’m into incense… it’s a pretty big deal for me. I’m not an aromatherapist; I just know how certain scents can make me feel and I want to share that joy with the world around me.

I used to buy stick incense at head shops, and burn them so my house would smell nice. I admit many of the scents were a bit sharp smelling and often caused me to sneeze. I learned recently that it’s because MANY of the commercial stick incenses you can buy are made with chemical scents and oils rather than the actual herb they are supposed to be imitating. I find that burning my own incense made from ACTUAL herbs and not a bunch of fillers or chemical scents is a completely different experience that often brings out emotions I didn’t expect, or makes me feel more grounded and connected to the earth.

I started delving into making my own incense blends a few years ago, but I really got serious about it when I took a course through the Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. I highly recommend Evan’s courses! While I went into the courses knowing the power of many herbs, those classes helped me dive into a deeper understanding of the herbs I already loved, and discover many more. I also learned some good tricks to boost my crafting skills, and I feel like the herbs themselves are still teaching me every time I work with them.

A loose incense blend, or burning a single plant by itself, is the most intimate form of incense burning one can experience. After lighting a chunk of charcoal and allowing it to burn enough to have formed a thin layer of ash on top, you can begin sprinkling your loose incense on it and inhale the intoxicating aroma of real dried herbs. You have to pay attention to it more closely because the charcoal burns through the herbs fairly quickly, requiring you to sprinkle more onto it to continue creating smoke. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as it makes your mind and senses more aware of the subtleties in the blend. Perhaps a bit more mugwort in this pinch, or that pinch had an abundance of sage. Every scent is different and can evoke a different feeling in your consciousness.

Whenever possible, I work with materials that I have either grown or foraged myself. There are some things that I do have to buy in, such as sandalwood or makko powder, cloves, cinnamon, and my binding powder. But I forage/grow and dry my own sage, white sage, patchouli, mugwort, white pine, cedar, juniper, and many other aromatic plant materials. I often experiment with different scents; more often than not, even the most alluring aromatic plant smells very different when it is slowly burning into ash!

My table becomes a messy work station when I’m crafting

Cone incense and stick incense require the herbs to be ground much more finely in order to stick together properly. A binding agent is added, and then water, and the blend is mixed until it forms a dough.

About to blend this

While I am mixing and kneading this into dough, I project my feelings and intentions into the herbs, asking them as they blend to create those same feelings for the person that ends up burning them. Often, I will have music playing that evokes a certain feeling in me personally, such as relaxation, being soothed, happiness, or excitement. My hope is that the same emotions I am feeling so strongly while I knead get incorporated into the dough, to be expelled later into the person who burns it. For this reason I do not make incense when I’m angry or highly distracted. That means most of my crafting happens when the kids aren’t around.

After adding water and binder

From here, depending on how much time I have, I will either mould this into cones or sticks, or set it back in the bowl and into the refrigerator to allow the herbs to get to know each other a little better for a day or so before I shape them. I have only recently started making dhoop incense, which is basically stick incense without a bamboo skewer inside. Please bear with me if you see me selling incense stick that are less than perfectly straight– I’m an artisan, not an engineer!

If you are interested in seeing more of my process and the things I create, I suggest you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, as I frequently post photos of whatever I am working on.

What kinds of plants do YOU like to burn? Have you ever made incense before?

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