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

Steamin’ and Dreamin’

Oh man. Being sick sucks! I’ve had some kind of respiratory thing going on for over a week now, causing mucous in my sinuses to increase to disgustingly high levels. I feel like the snot troll monster from Earnest Scared Stupid.

At this point, the mucous has decided to leave my sinuses alone for awhile and travel into my lungs, which is another problem. But I figure I ought to tell you all how I am dealing with this.

First off, I am still taking my daily probiotic capsule and dose of reishi tincture. If they aren’t helping as much as I’d hoped, they certainly aren’t hurting. I haven’t had a fever through all this, or aches or anything like that, so I’m not concerned that it’s Covid. Just the yearly respiratory gunk infection that tends to happen to me at least once or twice a year, despite my best efforts.

Anyway, during the first portion of this virus, I was blowing my nose almost constantly all day and into the night, causing the mucous membranes in my sinus cavity to swell up with inflammation. This resulted in a VERY stuffy nose, which of course does not allow me to sleep. So priority one was to get some moisture up in there, and while a Neti Pot does help, when my nose is that stuffed up the water just sort of comes out and stops and sits there, like a car stuck in traffic from a road block.

Instead, I boiled some water in the tea pot, went to the herb garden (because thankfully, not everything is dead yet,) and picked a handful of thyme, oregano, and sage. I gave them a quick rinse under the sink and put them into a glass bowl. When the water was ready, I poured it over the herbs, filling the bowl about halfway, and got a large dish towel and a hankie ready. Then I sat down at the dining table, took off my glasses, placed my head over the bowl, and the towel over my head, and BREATHED. I sucked in HARD through my nose, forcing the hot steam filled with the volatile antiviral oils from those herbs up into my sinus cavity. I really enjoy watching the little bits of thyme dance around on the surface of the water with each exhalation. However, I literally cannot think of myself doing an herbal steam without recalling this scene from Crocodile Dundee:

Don’t do this with cocaine, guys

But seriously, guys. THIS WORKS. If your nose is all stuffed up, this is literally the best way to break a passage through. Like a ship busting through an iceberg, my nostrils were suddenly letting air enter my lungs! Of course, lots of steam and wet mucous was running around too, so I had to blow my nose like crazy. But with this method, after I had blown the gunk out, I could actually breathe for awhile. At least well enough to get to sleep.

Today, the gunk has moved into my lungs. I have that lovely tight feeling in my chest, like I need to cough, but when I do, not much is coming up. What I really need now is an expectorant. So I’m going to take some of my wild cherry bark syrup and check on the status of the elecampane root tincture I made about a month ago.

I am excited to finally be working with the Elacampane that I grew, as it is rumored to be an excellent herb for lung health, and an amazing expectorant. While I have also taken some of my beloved Usnea tincture to help get some air into my lungs as well, the effect of usnea is more short-lived than I would like, and I worry about its febrifuge (fever-reducing) qualities in the event that whatever virus has me becomes worse.

I also made a small amount of echinacea root tincture, which I hope to try out, as echinacea tends to work better on your immune system once you have already gotten sick. I’ve played around with making an infusion of mullein leaf, goldenrod, and peppermint as well. It’s all an experiment right now to see what relieves my symptoms best and helps me recover. I will say that taking a long walk and doing some farm work where my arms and legs and whole body was moving around helped me out immensely, so don’t underestimate the power of exercise to move virus gunk through your system!

I honestly believe that unless you are so sick with something that you can’t possibly get up, then getting up for a walk or light hike will help your body recover from whatever it is much faster, whether you actually want to do it or not. The lymphatic system can’t move on it’s own, and needs your muscles to move in order to push all the junk out. And don’t ever forget the healing power of SLEEP to get you through!

Anyway, that’s my share for this week. Hope my being sick can help you figure out how to help yourself with herbal remedies instead of sucking down Dayquil to survive.