White Sage (Salvia apiana) has been a sacred herb of Native-Americans for centuries. White sage has played a big part in native purification ceremonies by smudging, the process of burning the leaves to cleanse areas of negative energy. Many tribes throughout southern California, including the tribes north of Santa Barbara, kept small baskets of white sage seeds and other food on hand stored for the winter. The seeds were ground and mixed with flour to make into small biscuits which were a staple for tribes of the central and southern California coastlands. The Chumash and other California tribes also ate leaves and stems of white sage. Leaves of white sage were smoked, made into a tea, and used in sweathouses to cure colds. White sage leaves were also used by some tribes as a shampoo to clean their hair and to keep it from turning gray.
White sage is still used today in tinctures, teas, and salves for its healing benefits. Hot sage tea can help to break a fever and induce perspiration. A cold tea decreases sweating, salivation, and mucous secretions in the sinuses, throat, and lungs and also can be a good stomach tonic. White sage also helps to balance out the menses. Sage is excellent for skin abrasions and rashes. It can be used in liniments, salves, and tonics for the skin.
Salvia apiana grows on slopes and canyon walls and requires well-drained, fairly dry soil and full sun. Excessive watering of white sage, especially during summer months, may kill the plant. White sage is particularly good for restoring disturbed areas. White sage grows largely from north of Santa Barbara south to Baja California as it likes the heat. Those folks I know who have found white sage in San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties usually keep their spot secret as it is very difficult to find here due to the colder temperatures. However, it can be planted next to a building to allow the plant to absorb more warmth and avoid the frost.
Many health food stores and alternative shops carry white sage bundles for smudging.
According to native purification rituals, light the sage bundle over a fireproof bowl. Gently blow out the flame so it continues smoldering. If the smoke burns thick and white, it indicates that the area contains negativity and needs more cleansing. It is also believed that the sage stick must burn itself out, not be put out. The tradition states that when a place has been neutralized, the sage will naturally go out. Of course, be safe and never leave the sage bundle unattended or near flammable objects. Burning sage leaves in a sauna is also a great purification of body and mind. This ritual is an excellent one for wiping out lingering negative experiences and welcoming in the New Year and decade.