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White sage (Salvia apiana), a perennial sub-shrub native to Southern California’s coastal sage scrub region, is a plant of remarkable botanical characteristics and ecological significance1 2. Typically less than 1 meter tall, white sage is easily recognized by its lanceolate leaves that are 4-8 cm long, with a tapered base and minute teeth, covered in dense hairs that give them a velvety appearance. 3 4
Culturally, white sage holds immense importance among various Indigenous peoples. Traditionally used by the Chumash people as a ritual and medicinal plant, it has been employed as a calmative, a diuretic, and a remedy for the common cold. 5 The plant is also central to smudging, a sacred Indigenous ritual involving the burning of herbs for purification purposes. 6 Beyond its medicinal uses, sage is integral to ceremonies and teachings, often used for cleansing homes and sacred items, and is considered stronger and more medicinal than sweetgrass. 7
White sage, venerated for its spiritual significance, is also acclaimed for its therapeutic benefits, although these claims are primarily based on traditional use rather than clinical trials. The Native Americans capitalized on white sage’s medicinal properties to create remedies for various health issues. According to ethnobotanical records, it has been utilized to decrease sweating and salivation, reduce milk production during weaning, and treat mucosal secretions associated with respiratory infections.8
Several contemporary folk remedies continue to employ white sage for its purported anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and astringent effects, making it a homeopathic choice for alleviating wounds and preventing infections.9 The brewing of sage tea is said to assist not only in respiratory recovery but also to foster digestive health and alleviate menstrual discomfort by acting as a uterine hemostatic. Notably, there has been ongoing research into the antiseptic qualities of sage’s volatile oils, which might aid in fighting against fungal infections, such as candida, as well as bacterial infections like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). 10
While empirical evidence is limited when compared to established pharmaceutical interventions, the synergistic effects of various compounds found in white sage—such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, and essential oils—may contribute to its medicinal credibility. Nevertheless, it is indispensable to approach the use of white sage with caution and consult healthcare professionals before relying on it for medical treatment. 11
Effects of smoking white sage
While white sage is commonly associated with ceremonial practices, it has also been used for its psychotropic effects when smoked. Anecdotal reports describe a sense of relaxation, heightened sensory perception, and a mild euphoric sensation. Users have noted tingling in the extremities and increased sensitivity to light without experiencing significant impairment of cognitive functions. It is believed that the compounds within white sage can influence mood and cognitive effects, potentially aiding in mental clarity and reduced anxiety.
I smoked a bowl of dried white sage about 10 mins ago, and I definitely have some sensations of the effects. My extremeties are tingling with a sort of vibrate-y feel, and I have some sensitivity to light (no pain, but a sense of wonder over it). No haziness, but sort of a cloudy feeling.Al Quimica experience report on Erowid.
However, these effects are largely based on personal accounts, and scientific research on smoking white sage specifically is limited. As with any practice of inhaling smoke, caution is advised due to the potential respiratory effects and individual variability in response to herbal smoke inhalation.
You might be interested in this article about 15 flavorful herbs you can smoke featuring white sage and providing a crash course about how to craft an herbal blend.
While short-term burning of sage is generally safe, inhaling its smoke can cause lung problems and allergies, particularly for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions. The FDA classifies Artemisia, a genus to which white sage belongs, as containing an active narcotic poison, indicating potential risks if not used properly.
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Nicolas ‘Axel’ Duval is the founder and content editor of this website. He launched Smokable Herbs in 2011. He later created the Smokably herb online store, which sells herbs and blends worldwide.
As an herbalist and marketing enthusiast, he used Smokable Herbs as a sandbox to test ideas and deploy content.