Smudge sticks are useful for cleansing energy, and like crystals and herbs, they can be used for a variety of reasons and in a number of different ways.
Smudging goes back thousands of years across the globe of cultures and civilizations.
While you might hear that you cannot use this or that smudge stick, the reality is that these arguments are largely based in extreme views on what cultural appropriation is.
And while it is important to be mindful of the practices you use and how you use them, it is just as important to do what works for you on a spiritual level and not let the outside world dictate how you operate.
What Are Smudge Sticks?
I lived my whole life in a big city in the California Bay Area, where hippies and gangsters lived mostly in harmony.
Smudge sticks were bound up and gathered bundles of herbs and branches that we purchased in crystal stores and occult shops. We picked them up at art and wine festivals.
Today, I live on the side of a mountain where the herbs and branches thrive in my front yard in wild nature, and I can make my own smudge stick.
What are smudge sticks, then?
Gatherings, bundles, of branches, sticks, and/or herbs that you tie off with a natural rope or cord of some sort, dry out, and then burn for cleansing.
It can literally be made from anything.
You draw on the herbs for cleansing in the same way that you would draw on herbs and plants for potpourri or tea.
In general, you can use any plant for a smudge stick, but the commonly used plants are cedar, pine, lavender, sage, sweet grass, bayberry, frankincense, and myrrh.
To make your own smudge stick, you will simply choose your collection of plants, gather them together to make a thick wand of sorts, usually of about 6 inches to 9 includes long, and nice and fat so it can burn well.
Then bind the bundle with a length of cord, typically twine, and hang it upside down in a dry location for several days.
Once it is thoroughly dried out, you can light the end of the stick with a flame and then blow it out. The herbs will then produce a smoke that is cleansing for energy and even for your physical health.
The History and Health Benefits of Smudge Sticks
Again, virtually every culture in history has used smudging of some sort.
Pagan cultures smudged to clear ways dark spirits, to welcome a new addition to the family or a new structure to a community.
They also smudged or burned herbs to clear away illness.
Even the Catholic Church smudges. Have you seen the priest or bishop swinging that lantern and spreading smoke along the aisles?
Yes, that’s smudging.
Eastern traditions today still practice smudging alongside acupuncture and reiki healing. Healers note that patients feel lighter and cleansed after a healing session that includes smudging.
Science supports smudge sticks as well, with evidence showing that smudging with various herbs can rid homes of harmful bacteria and microbes.
Many forms of herbs when burned can also balance and neutralize things in your home like dust, dander, and even mold and mildew, making them less harmful to humans.
Smudging also has psychological benefits; studies have shown that smudging with various herbs can relieve depression and anxiety and lift your mood.
Now, since virtually every culture on earth at some point in history has practiced smudging or some version of cleansing, it is impossible for it to be cultural appropriation.
To be clear, cultural appropriation is when you take a practice from a culture outside of your own for your own benefit and do not properly credit or respect the culture from which you got your practice.
An example of this would be white people with dreadlocks.
Sure, you can argue that Vikings had dreadlocks.
And they did.
But if you are not a direct descendant of the Vikings, or deeply steeped in African American culture, it is a form of cultural appropriation.
Now, on a spiritual level should any of this matter?
Of course not.
Wear your dreads with pride if you will.
Just know that when someone is talking about cultural appropriation, and dear gods that is a conversation we seem to be having at all times in all spaces lately, that is what they are referring to.
And if you post yourself smudging your space on Instagram or TikTok, be aware that you may get called out for cultural appropriation.
Whether you make your own smudge stick from the pine tree in your backyard or not.
It is incredibly helpful when you are “called out” or “cancelled” to be armed with information like this so you can respond from a place of love and information.
The person attempting to cancel you may not hear you, but that is not the point.
You have the knowledge you need.
And knowledge is power.
5 Smudge Sticks and How to Use Them
The following are the 5 most commonly used smudge sticks and their purposes.
Be mindful, always, that you are buying all natural, sustainably sourced material, or your smudge stick maybe tainted with chemicals and negative energy.
You will not always have backyard access to the herbs you need for a particular smudge ceremony, so it is perfectly acceptable to purchase your materials from a vendor. Just be aware of your sources.
Sage and White Sage
Sage is the most commonly used smudge stick in practice today. So much so that many people simply use the term “saging” rather a than “smudging.”
Sage and white sage have come into our awareness in the US because of its use by our native people here on this land.
Native Americans have long used sage as a cleansing herb, burning it to clear out negative energy. You can use it to clear out a space where someone died a tragic death, a new space you are taking over, or even to cleanse a person.
Be mindful that you use sage that is not endangered or in scarce supply as we don’t want to take sage away from the people who use it culturally for their spiritual practices when we can just as easily use other materials for the same purposes.
Remember, it is not the herb that is most important, it is you, your energy, and your intent.
You could use virtually any herb or plant or stick and perform the same exact ceremony.
Pine and White Pine
I love pine as a smudge stick source because I am from the west coast, and I currently live in the Pacific Northwest.
Pine is everywhere!
No one can concern themselves with the use of pine when it is in such abundant supply, and the herb itself is easy to gather, to bundle, to dry, and to burn.
If you have a pine tree in your yard or local park, you must smudge with pine.
It is always wonderful to burn your local herbs as they are native to your land and root you more firmly to your region and your community.
Pine also has tremendous health benefits as a plant medicine alone. It is great in a tea when used for sinus issues, fever, cough, respiratory issues, and so much more.
You can pull pine into your home to ease a cold and then burn it as a smudge stick to clear out dis-ease energy.
Cedar is another commonly used ingredient in smudge sticks.
It smells amazing and it is pretty abundant as a plant.
Health wise, cedar is anti inflammatory and is used in teas and in oils to treat pneumonia and arthritis as well as other respiratory issues.
Use cedar as a smudge when wishing health and happiness for someone or some place.
Frankincense and Myrrh
If you’re hearkening back to the ancient days, frankincense and myrrh are about as old school as you can get, referenced in Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern texts, as well as in the bible, these ingredients are universal.
They are very traditional, so you may use them to smudge in spiritual ceremonies, in birth ceremonies, or in rebirth rituals.
Lavender and Rose
And of course because I am an herbal witch, I will include two of my favorite herbs here.
Use lavender and rose separately or in combination for soothing, calming, healing, and even romantic endeavors.
They are two plants known for both health benefits and for alleviating stress and anxiety.
You can make a smudge stick combining these ingredients, or you can simply place the herbs in a fire proof bowl and light them on fire and blow out the flame.
Allow the bowl to sit and smoke in your room and you can expect calm to settle in.
And even “set the mood” if that is what you are hoping for.
In the end, choose the herbs or plants that resonate most with you and the purpose of your cleansing.
Experiment and play around with what works, and don’t be afraid to get it wrong.
Because, you can’t!