Even without a thorough knowledge of white sage’s (Saliva apiana) mystical characteristics, simple observation of the plant will impress upon the onlooker a profound sense of respect and reverence. Its long, grey-green leaves are covered with hundreds of soft, silvery hairs and emit a powerful, earthy smell. In the right light, white sage almost shimmers, and when in bloom, white or pale purple flowers erupt from stalks that can reach several feet in height. White sage tends to grow in full sun, in dusty or rocky soil, and is extremely drought resistant.
Traditional use of White Sage
White sage (we’wey) has been used by the Chumash for thousands of years in order to primarily heal the spirit, which they believe in turn aids in the body’s ability to recover. When smudged, the smoke is used to purify the patient’s central nervous system and calm the psyche. Smudging is typically used with prayer and formal ritual, but a constant dose of sage and its benevolent properties can be ensured every day by maintaining gardens where the plant holds a prominent position. During blessings, the smoke from white sage is said to bring prayers to God and invite divine benevolence into the healing process.
Leaves can be collected in conjunction with prayer to create a tea or placed directly in the mouth to soothe sore throats. Sage contains cineole, which is an anti-inflammatory, as well as active diterpenoids, which are compounds that have been shown to combat bacterial infections, and reduce allergy symptoms. White sage can also be added to a sweat bath, used to treat fevers, made into a poultice, and ingested to aid in the treatment of ulcers.
White Sage at the House of Bamboo
At one point, we were selling bundles of white sage at Bambu Batu, the House of Bamboo. But we ultimately decided to stop offering the special plant for sale. Repeated conversations with local healers and Chumash elders convinced us that selling this sacred herb for profit was act of disrespect, both to the plant and to the indigenous culture.
If you’d like to make use of white sage and its beneficial properties for the mind and spirit, we suggest you wild craft the plant on your own. In Coastal California it’s actually fairly common, although less common than black sage and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica).
Collecting your own White Sage
On the Central Coast, you’ll probably have your greatest success up the north coast towards Big Sur. Head inland and look in the drier areas and Riparian habitats, which also feature a lot of oak trees, coyote bush and poison oak. And most importantly, be responsible about your harvesting. Do not decimate the plants, but take leaves selectively, and be sure to leave a healthy plant behind. If you are collecting the herb for personal use, this is easy enough to do. Only when people gather wholesale quantities of the plant do they cause significant habitat destruction.
Natural healing with bamboo
To learn more about natural healing with plants, and bamboo in particular, check out some of our other popular articles. Bamboo shoots are a great source of nutrition, and bamboo leaves make a healthy tea. For medicinal benefits, you can get the best results from drinking the tea.