Indigenous communities have specific protocols for picking, preparing and using sage. One of the important protocols is to protect sacred medicines so they can grow the following year. It’s important not to over-pick a plant, as it can wither and die.
Burning sage has become “trendy” in recent popular and media culture.
It’s not uncommon for a square of burning sage to appear as you scroll through social media. Beauty and wellness products are marketed as containing sage, promoting skin and rejuvenation benefits.
But, smudging is a centuries-old practice of Indigenous communities and is still practiced today to help people participating in ceremony and teachings.
It is necessary to discuss the practice of burning smudge in the context of cultural appropriation, given that it was once forbidden for Indigenous Peoples to practice their cultural traditions and ceremonies.
Sage and other sacred medicines, like tobacco, sweetgrass, and cedar, are gifted to us by Mother Earth and should not be exploited. There are protocols around the use of sacred medicines, how to smudge your home, sacred items, or another person, and how to store the medicines.
Sage can soothe, relax, and heal the mind, body, and spirit.
Protocols for sage picking and use
In 2001, the VACFSS Cultural Committee initiated an annual Sage Picking event on the traditional territories of the Nlaka’pamux and Syilx Nations. We are honoured to have our friends, the Elders and Knowledge Keepers from Conyat Friendship Society host this event.
Every spring, when the sagebrush is at its peak, we invite our young people, adults, and caregivers to pick the sage together as a spiritual and grounding experience.
We start the day at the Conyat Friendship Society with a meal and teachings and exchange gifts. After that, we head out to pick sage.
The protocol before picking sage is to offer tobacco and prayer in the four directions.
Sage is honoured alongside plants, animals, winds, and spirits from each direction. When offering tobacco to the plant, explain the reason for your visit. Tobacco will communicate with all the other plants to inform them of your presence. The relationship of tobacco with other plants is unique as it’s believed that tobacco is the principal activator for all plants.
Additional protocols we follow during and after sage picking:
- Medicine needs to be protected and supported to provide seeds for the next year. It’s important not to over-pick a plant, as it can wither and die.
- Could not collect sage with metal objects (such as knives or scissors) since this causes the plant to bleed its sacred juices. If you run your fingers down the main branch, the small branches will come off easily.
- The territory is a sacred place and must be cleaned of garbage. Garbage seeps into the plants and impacts the person taking the medicine. The same is true of negative emotions and behaviors. All living things, including plants, naturally absorb energy. It is critical that we protect the spirit of both plants and other living beings.
- After returning home, spread the sage on a tarp in a dry area to prevent mold growth. Check the sage after six days to determine when the leaves are ready to be plucked and bagged.
It is a common practice to gift bundled sage along with tobacco, sweet grass, and cedar to those who are dear to you. We gift it to our families, children, and youth.