Burning sage is an ancient spiritual practice from different cultures, including certain groups of Native Americans. Historically, it’s been used in spiritual rituals, to connect to a mystical realm, enhance intuition, and reflect on inner dilemmas. It’s also traditionally used for healing, whether for physical, mental, or spiritual ailments. As burning sage becomes more mainstream, researchers begin to investigate its benefits and have found evidence to back the historic claims of sage being a stress reliever, a mood enhancer, a spiritual tool, and more.
What does the Science Say? The Potential Benefits of Burning Sage
Above all, sage has a lovely aroma. On that alone, it works as a natural air freshener or as aromatherapy, which could positively impact one’s mood. Beyond that, some types of sage contain antimicrobial effects. In other words, they can potentially fight viruses, bacteria, and fungi. White safe and white prairie sage are both antimicrobial, but the latter is also antibacterial. Plus, both could repel insects. 
Sage may also help clear out more bugs and microbes. Burning sage is believed to release negative ions and help neutralize positive ions, although this hasn’t been proven by research. But if true, burning sage could help fight against positive ions like dust, mold, dander from pets, and pollution. 
Burning sage — also called smudging — is well-known in spiritual practices and this may have scientific grounding as well. Some types of sage-like white prairie sage and salvia sage contain thujone, which has mild psychoactive effects. Smudging could create a helpful environment for meditation or similar practices. It’s common for people to use this sort of setting to work through past trauma and bad memories, or for similar self-realizations. Similarly, people burn sage to cleanse themselves, locations, or specific objects of negative energies. While not scientifically backed, this practice can help bring peace of mind when moving into a new place or buying new or secondhand items.
In that vein, burning sage — namely white sage — could alleviate stress. One research project from 2016 found that white sage contains compounds that activate parts of the brain that reduce stress and elevate mood levels. Classic garden sage may also soothe anxiety and help improve sleep. Early studies indicate that sage may have cognitive-enhancing properties, which may potentially help patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Additionally, animal studies showed that sage may help soothe digestive issues. However, most of these studies use sage extract; it’s unknown if burning sage could provide these effects. 
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How to Burn Sage
To Burn Sage You will need to:
Prepare a sage bundle
- Often used are white sage (Salvia apiana) also known as California or bee sage, and similar Salvia species, or white prairie sage or estafiate (Artemisia ludoviciana) and similar Artemisia species.
- You can buy a ready-made bundle or collect sage from your backyard or a store. Let the leaves sit and dry out for a week before using them. They should crackle as they’re bundled up.
- A bowl made of ceramic, clay, or glass to hold the sage or catch the ashes
- Some prefer using matches over a lighter
- Some use feathers or a fan to spread the smoke
Prepare the space:
- If the cleanse is meant to be for spiritual practice, some recommend setting an intention before beginning.
- Remove any pets or people from the area.
- Open a window before burning and keep it open afterward to allow the smoke to escape.
How to begin the practice:
- Light the end of a sage bundle. The tip of the leaves should begin slowly smoldering but blow it out if the bundle catches on fire.
- To cleanse a space or object: Hold the bundle in one hand and direct the smoke with the other hand or with a fan around your body, the space, or an object. Use a bowl to collect the ashes.
- Alternatively, you could let the bundle smolder in a bowl or burner to use as an aromatherapy practice. Simply allow the smoke to waft around the air for a while.
To end a practice, extinguish the sage bundle by dabbing the lit end into a small dish of sand or ash. Use water only in emergencies, since it could make the sage difficult to reignite again later. Ensure the bundle has completely stopped burning before storing it in a safe, dry place. Remember to conduct this practice respectfully since it is a sacred tradition for many Native Americans. Learning more about the history of this ceremony could bring more meaning to individual practice.
The Potential Side Effects and Risks
Keep in mind, there are some potential risks in this practice. The most prevalent one is fire safety. Ensure the sage is burned in a safe environment, with water nearby for emergencies. This may cause a fire alarm to go off, so keep that in mind depending on the location. Never leave burning sage unattended and ensure the bundle is completely out before ending a session.
Keep a window open to prevent smoke inhalation, which can be damaging to one’s health. This is particularly dangerous to those with asthma, allergies, and similar respiratory conditions. They may be more sensitive to smoke and could have adverse reactions. Talk to a medical health practitioner if burning sage may be unsafe for you. Burn sage for only brief periods of time to avoid too much smoke inhalation. Additionally, white prairie sage is an endangered plant, so buy yours only from an ethical source.
Keep Reading: The Top 10 Medicinal Plants and Herbs for Your Health
- “Sage Smudging 101: How To Sage Your House And Welcome Positive Energy Responsibly.” Women’s Health Magazine. Emily Becker. January 4, 2022.
- “10 Benefits of Burning Sage, How to Get Started, and More.” Healthline. Adrian White. August 29, 1022
- “Salvia (Sage): A Review of its Potential Cognitive-Enhancing and Protective Effects.” Drugs R D. Adrian L. Lopresti. November 25, 2016
- “Are There Health Benefits from Burning Sage?” WebMD. Stephanie Watson. May 21, 2019