Sage: How to Recognise, Health Benefits and Uses

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Sage (Salvia Officinalis) has many uses: in the kitchen, green witchery and as an herb that helps against heavy sweating.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t like the smell of fresh sage. The scent of it somehow gets stuck in my throat. But when cooked I absolutely love it, and I don’t mind burning dried sage as a cleansing stick.


How to recognise sage
Sage is a small shrub that doesn’t grow taller than about 60 cm and spreading 30 to 60 cm wide. The stem is of a purple or green colour, wooden and covered in a fine down. The leaves have a leathery texture also covered with soft hairs. Their colour depends on the variety of herb: it can have gold, purple, cream or pink leaves. The leaves are oval. When rubbed between thumb and index finger you can smell the characteristic citrus-like smell of sage. It has a strong earthy flavor.

Medicinal use of sage
Common sage was traditionally used to reduce menopause symptoms. This study suggests that the daily use of a sage supplement significantly reduced the number and intensity of hot flashes over eight weeks. Sage is also a natural remedy to treat hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). It can be consumed as a tea or as tablets.

Sage in the kitchen
Sage is actually never eaten raw—it’s way better when cooked or dried. Ron makes a lovely gnocchi dish with fennel and sage—I still have to convince him to share the recipe with me! Sage also goes well with pasta dishes. The leaves can be deep-fried to yield crispy chips that can be used as a garnish.

Magical use of sage
Lots of green witches and others interested in spirituality I know love to use sage as a way to get rid of all energies in their house. But be careful; this means it also rids your house of all the positive energy. A new moon ago (30 August 2019) I performed a ritual in my house while burning sage to get rid of all the energy. I won’t go into detail (click here for the whole story), but after this cleansing ritual my home feels like a home again.

Making your own smoke cleansing stick can be a ritual in itself! Clip the sage into relatively same lengths and remove any spotted or brown leaves. Then with an organic piece of string (cotton or hemp), tie a knot around the base of the stems. Hold the bundle in one hand and wind the string up the bundle. When you’ve reached the top, wind the string down the bundle creating a criss-cross design. Make sure to do this as tight as possible, because while drying the sage will lose volume. 

Hang the bundles to dry somewhere where it’s dark and dry. It will take up to a few weeks for the bundle to completely dry. Use the cleansing stick by lighting the top end of it. Allow the sage to catch fire for a moment and then carefully blow out the flame. Let the stick smolder and white smoke will start to travel upwards. Hold the sage over a bowl to catch any fallen ash.

Cultural appropriation
You might have noticed I didn’t use the word “smudge stick” even though nowadays that phrase is commonly used. I’d like to point out here that this is, in fact, cultural appropriation. Smudging is an important ceremonial purifying ritual in many North American Indigenous cultures, with a long and rich history. It has gained popularity but please do realise that this is a practice that was illegal for Natives: Many were imprisoned and killed for their religious practices!

There’s something else you might want to be aware of. Because “smudging” has become so trendy, the demand for white sage has become so great that people are concerned the plant is being overharvested. We should keep in mind that this “hype” of burning sage is ignoring the ritual’s traumatic history, and puts money in the pockets of those who have oppressed Native communities for centuries.

I don’t want to say you should give up burning sage altogether. Personally, I grow my own sage, which is common sage. I refuse to pay for white sage if I don’t know the origins and whether it’s ethically harvested. I make my own smoke cleansing sticks and have decided to not call it smudging. Instead, I prefer to call it smoke cleansing. There’s something magical about growing your own herbs, making bundles of them and burning them. For me, that’s a ritual in itself.


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