desert sage smudging smudge sticks - artemisia tridentata

Organic High Desert Sage

Desert Sage

This sage grows in the arid Western deserts. The desert sage grows at elevations between 3000′ and 10,000′ feet above sea level.  It is also known by is official title, Artemisia Tridentata. Artemisia (ar-tay-MIS-ee-a) is from Artemisia, wife of Mausolus, ancient ruler of Ceria (southwest Asia Minor). Her name cam from Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the hunt and wilderness nature. Tridentata (tri-den-TAH-ta) means “three toothed,” in reference to the three lobes on the tips of the leaves from the sage. It goes by other names but most commonly known name is desert sage.


Sage prefers drier high lands, mesas or rocky areas. Sage can be found with Juniper and other desert flora. Big sage often grows in habitats such as cold snow-ridden elevations of Central and Southern Utah among Pinyon or Juniper trees. This plant is extremely resilient and can grow with little water in sandy conditions with temperatures in excess of 110 degrees while surviving winters and deep snow to temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-28 degrees Celsius).

Sage Details

A perennial shrub that grows from two to three feet tall. A stout knarled trunck supports the side branches that reach upward. The newer more tender stems are smooth and green-silver, but as the plant grows and matures, the stems mature as well and turn grey-brown and the bark starts growing in strips. The evergreen sage leaves are oblong and grow upward. The sage is quite pungent and aromatic. During the season when the sage is blooming, you can smell sage aroma for miles if near a sage laden area.

When and if herbivores attempt to eat the sage, they’ll get a significant surprise. The leaves contain a anti-herbivor oil to prevent them from digesting their leaves. Many animals, will still attempt to dine on the sage when food becomes more scarce. The leaves have a strong fragrance, and after a rainstorm or significant bout of wind will yield a sweet pungent aroma.

With leaves remaining during the winter, the sage has the power to photosynthesize later in the year during fall and earlier in the spring than many other plants in the arid desert areas. Sage garners an upper hand in the plant world by capitalizing on the long growing season, photosynthesizing even when the air temperatures a near freezing.

Early Tribal Uses

Sage was and still is commonly used by many Native Americans. Read about a ceremony at the sage smudge ceremony link. The stems and trunk are used for fire fuel. The leaves which containdesert sage smudgecamphor, were also used medicinally for coughs, colds, headaches, stomach aches, fevers and to relieve pain during child birthing.

Poultices of wet leaves were applied to bruises to reduce swelling. Navajo weavers boiled the leaves and flowers to create a yellow-gold color, used to dye wool. Ute Indians wove the shredded bark into wicks for candles, and they made sacks of woven bark and lined them with the grass.

Native American Ceremony

”The Native American people of this area knew sage’s value and used it for many things. I remember first being introduced to sage as a teen one summer at a Yakima Indian pow wow. I enjoyed the drums, bells and rattles that accompanied its burning as well as its smoky scent.

In Plains Native American sweat lodge ceremonies, the floor of the structure is strewn with sage leaves for the participants to rub on their bodies during the sweat. Sage is used in keeping sacred objects like pipes or peyote (feather) wands safe from negative energies. In the Sioux nation, the sacred pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs.

You can burn sage during meditations prior to doing readings or other forms of divination and before, during and after rituals.

sage smudge burning native americanSage smudge wands are typically used for clearing and purifying negative energies from a thing, space or person. Sometimes another herb or flower is used either in conjunction with or after a sage bundle. The intention of smudging is usually to cleanse and bless and bring positive or whatever influences you are looking for into a person or space. Sage was used in connection to significant events. Listen to the Eastern Suns Drum Circle at Brown University right here online at

You may also combine another herb or plant with sage; in this case, sage is used for clearing or cleansing and the other herb for blessing. One herb that comes readily to mind is cedar, a good choice because it is sacred to Northwest Native people. I also occasionally like to use lavender for blessing and healing. Both cedar and lavender not only help bring in wonderful energy, they also smell great combined with the sage! Having two herbs in one wand makes it easier, because it takes only half the time when you combine cleansing and blessing — unless you have a reason for wanting to separate the processes.

Once the sage is mostly dry, you may select pieces to group together for your wands. Try to find a variety of fronds that have leaves and foliage all over. Gather these together tightly in a bunch and wrap with brightly colored silk thread — I have used embroidery thread with good results.

Wrap the thread around the bases of the sage stalks a number of times, and tie it in a knot at the bottom. Then proceed to wind the thread up the stick several times, around it, each pass about an inch or so apart from the next. Spiral the thread up and then back down the other side. Make sure to knot it at the end so it stays together. Perform this process a couple times until the wand seems reasonably stable. You don’t want it falling apart all over the place when you’re doing your ceremony. While you gather and wrap, make sure and focus your intention and visualize your purpose for the wand.

When finished with your wands, you may want to tie all of them upside down from a string suspended high in the air and let them sit there for a few days, to allow any remaining moisture to dry and to make sure all of the sage resin is evenly distributed to the ends of the leaves. You’re then ready to use your smudge sticks.

Smudging is a way of using the smoke from burning herbs as a way to cleanse the body, an object, or a specific area of negative influences. Sage can and is traditionally burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits and destructive thoughts and feelings and to keep harmful spirits away.”

Sagebrush was used by Native Americans for ritual incense, shelter, cordage, and basketry. The fruits were used fresh, dried, or pounded into a meal.

Considerable quantities of Desert Sage are eaten by sage grouse, rabbits, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and domestic sheep.

References are online at:

Antirheumatic; Antiseptic; Digestive; Disinfectant; Febrifuge; Ophthalmic; Poultice; Sedative; Skin.

Sage brush was widely employed by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide range of disorders. It is little used in modern herbalism, though it certainly merits further investigation.

The plant is antirheumatic, antiseptic, digestive, disinfectant, febrifuge, ophthalmic, poultice and sedative. A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of digestive disorders and sore throats. An infusion of the fresh or dried leaves is used to treat pneumonia, bad colds with coughing and bronchitis.

It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of rheumatism. The crushed plant is used as a liniment on cuts, sores etc whilst a decoction of the leaves is used as an antiseptic wash for cuts, wounds and sores. A poultice of the steeped leaves is applied to sore eyes. The plant is burnt in the house in order to disinfect it.

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