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White Sage

March 16, 2012

The Healer frequently starts treatment with white sage (Salvia apiana), which purifies the central nervous system to help a person maintain integrity. White sage is called khapshikh by the Barbareno, Ineseno and Ventureno Chumash.

This evergreen perennial shrub is characterized by it’s broad, slightly fuzzy, very light green leaves. It is considered one of the most useful and sacred sages in California. The Chumash considered white sage to be their “everyday plant”; it was said that one should suck on a leaf or drink it in water everyday in order to strengthen your soul and to remain calm, peaceful and healthy. The dried leaves of the sage were bundled and burned, and the combination of prayer and sweet smoke was thought to protect, cleanse, and heal. Sucking on a leaf of white sage or drinking water with leaves in it is especially useful for sore throats. Other medicinal uses of white sage include relief of stomach aches, tooth aches, colds, flu, asthma, to promote menstruation, and to cleanse skin wounds and rashes. The Luiseno and Cahuilla used white sage as a shampoo and deodorant, making a shampoo by rubbing fresh leaves between the palms with water. It also is said that smoking white sage can induce sacred dreams and help people recovering from addiction, due to the calming effects of the smoke and the good spirits it is said to attract. (Reid, Sara; Wishingrad, Van; McCabe, Stephen Plant Uses: California; Native American Uses of California Plants- Ethnobotany University of Santa Cruz June 2009)

White sage, or Salvia apiana, is a hardy, fragrant herb in season from May through September that grows throughout North America. It flourishes in arid climates in full sunlight. The color of the plant is silver and green and its flowers are white or purple. Native Americans have used sage for medicinal and ceremonial purposes for centuries.

Traditional Medicinal Uses:

Native American tribes in California traditionally placed white sage seeds in their eyes at night to collect impurities. Native American women drank white sage root tea after giving birth to encourage the expulsion of the afterbirth and promote healing. The smoke from the white sage plant used in sweat houses released volatile oils that relieved symptoms of the common cold. The plant’s leaves functioned as a hair cleanser and to inhibit the development of gray hair. (“White Sage Facts” Tara Carson February 15th, 2011 Livestrong.com)

Ceremonial Use:

Native Americans valued white sage as a ceremonial plant. They placed sage in ceremonial locations, such as the sweat lodges and altars, positioning the flowering side of the plant facing the fire. They used white sage as an incense to cleanse and fend off evil spirits, sickness and negative feelings. The plant’s purification properties also cleansed inanimate objects, such as utensils, weapons and living quarters.(“White Sage Facts” Tara Carson February 15th, 2011 Livestrong.com)

Chumash Healing Herb:

White sage was an important healing herb for the Chumash Native American tribe in California, according to a 2005 review by researchers at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. According to the report, the Chumash gathered the plant carefully, praying and taking only the minimum amount needed. They dried any excess leaves for later use. Chumash healers initiated medical treatment by burning white sage, purifying the patient’s central nervous system. The patient drank water infused with sage leaves. The plant destroyed harmful pathogens, soothed sore throats and reduced inflammation. The principal active ingredient responsible for white sage’s medicinal effects is cineole. (“White Sage Facts” Tara Carson February 15th, 2011 Livestrong.com)

Culinary Uses:

Native Americans in California used white sage seeds as food. They collected and dried the seeds and ground them into meal. They used the meal to create batter for cakes, biscuits and porridge. The tribes collected and stored extra seeds for use during the winter. The Chumash tribe also used white sage leaves and stems as culinary ingredients. (“White Sage Facts” Tara Carson February 15th, 2011 Livestrong.com)

Smudging:

The traditional Chumash way to do this is to use small branches, about 6 inches long, of dried white sage. The white sage should not be bound with yarn or string. This can cause the white sage to mold.  Gently suck on the end of the branch and gently touch each leaf after harvesting. Remember that white sage is spirit medicine and should not be wasted by simply burning it like incense. When white sage is smudged, everyone should be praying. ( James D. Adams, Jr and Cecilia Garcia The Advantages of Traditional Chumash Healing (2005). Published by Oxford University Press)

White sage, like any plant, should be collected with prayer. Only the amount needed should be collected. A small branch or a single leaf can be broken off for each use. Each leaf contains vital medicine for the health of the spirit.

Abalone shells have always been used by the Chumash – then and now – during religious and healing ceremonies, often as vessels for burning white sage.

Abalone were found in large, thick colonies along the south coast of California, as well as the Channel Islands, for thousands of years. But, because of changes in the climate, as well as having been “overfished”, it has become more scarce – almost extinct – during the past 40 years.

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The Chumash harvested the abalone for its sweet and nutritious meat, and for the beautiful shells that were used as bowls, money, jewelry. Abalone shell was also carved into sturdy fish hooks, using the natural inner curve of the shell.

The healer, or an elder from the village, put a small branch of dried white sage in a suitable container such as a seashell,typically an abalone shell. The white sage was ignited withfire. The flames were blown out allowing the white sage to smolderand smoke. The smoke from white sage has a pleasant smell andis thought to help carry prayers to God. The healer prayedfor the health of the patient while moving the seashell to allowthe smoke to touch every part of the patient’s body includingthe soles of the feet. The healer sometimes touched the patient’s back with an eagle or hawk wing to draw out harmful spirits(nunasus). The wing was then flicked down to send the harmfulspirits back into the underworld where they originated.Smudging with white sage is still practiced by Chumash people today. (James D. Adams, Jr and Cecilia Garci Spirit, Mind and Body in Chumash Healing, Oxford Journals)

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