The Healing Power of Burning Sage — letting go of what no longer serves you

By Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazine

When it comes to the art of letting go as a way to say Hasta La Vista, baby, to 2020, we tap into an ancient practice that has been used for centuries: the burning of sage as a way to clear out the old (often negative) energy and welcome the new.

Called smudging, many different plant materials can be used: cedar, sweetgrass, and lavender are but a few. But for many ancient cultures, the sage did the trick.

Ancient Celtic druids used it as a sacred herb alongside Oak Moss for medicinal purposes. The Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon whose Palo Santo sage burning ceremonies are still practiced today. Egyptians and Romans used it to treat digestive issues, memory problems, and sore throats. Indeed, Latin for sage is salvia, which means “to feel healthy.”

The science of sage: Sage contains flavonoids, plant compounds that have medicinal properties. In fact, some of these compounds appear to improve brain health and guard against diseases like Alzheimer’s. In one study of mice, sage extract improved memory. In other animal studies, sage helped against depression and anxiety. It also helps with digestive troubles, soothing upset stomachs.

Additional studies have shown that burning sage can clear bacteria in the air: It also is said to release negative ions, which is linked to putting people into a positive mood. Other benefits of burning sage are said to include providing wisdom, clarity, and increased spiritual awareness.

“It is seen to metaphysically un-cling the things that cling to us that are no longer needed —spiritually, mentally, and physically — almost the way a sponge can cleanse things from you that are stuck to you,” says Anthony Fleg, MD, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of New Mexico.

If you are willing to let the smoke swirl, here are a few tips to help you maximize the experience: 

  1. Set your intention: Whether you are burning sage to purify a space, or a person (including yourself), plant the idea in your before you light the sage. This is true of any visualization or affirmation, as we’ll explain in the next section of the Journal.
  2. Use white sage, if possible: Healers and herbalists often prefer to use California white sage, also known as bee sage. Of course, there are alternatives, and each has its own healing properties: blue sage is often used in cleansing and healing rituals, and desert sage is used for purifying and protection. Juniper and sweetgrass can also be burned for similar purposes.
  3. The drier the sage, the better: But be careful when you light it as it’ll catch quickly.
  4. Be aware: And be sure not to breathe in the smoke directly as it can be pungent. If you have allergies or lung problems, the smoke could be a real bother. As an alternative, try sage essential oils.
  5. Let’s get started: After lighting the tip of the sage bundle, let it burn for about 20 seconds, let the smoke waft into the air before blowing out the flame. If it doesn’t catch fire easily, the bundle may have been packed too tightly — so smash the ends into a dish to let some air in and try again. If you are trying to cleanse the air in a room, walk around the space with the burning wand. You can also place the burning sage bundle in an abalone shell, so the herbs don’t burn your fingers—the shell doubles as a fan to clear and move the smoke around into the corners of the house.
  6. Be sure to open doors and windows: Just like in chemistry class, if you mix a bunch of compounds in a jar and don’t lift the lid, the reaction could be volatile. Ditto for sage stuck in a room. Give that energy that you are trying to burn off a place to go — out!
  7. Focus burning sage in areas where negative energy can get stuck: Slowly walk around the room or the entire house, “smudging” the often-filled areas with people. Be sure to let the smoke move into the corners of the room. Then concentrate on gateway areas, such as windows, doors, closets, and hallways and closets. Use your intuition — a skill that will guide you in every aspect of your life, especially when you sage. You will “know” where the negative energy is living or hiding and then smudge it away.
  8. If you don’t like the scent of sage, try burning incense immediately after: We have some friends who really don’t like the scent, and they actually use the incense of their choice instead. Also, experiment with ringing a small or clapping your hands between smudging with sage and burning the incense for a total cleansing effect.
  9. Try it, and if you like it, make it part of your rituals: Like any spiritual practice, try it, and if you like it, experiment with how often you’d like to do it — daily, weekly, monthly, or at the end of the year to clear the past and welcome your future.

Research and Resources: