Whats with all this Smoke?

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Well, that's an abalone shell filled with burning smudge - herbs and other plant material. Like incense censers used in churches, etc., smudging is a native practice that has a lot of aspects - purification, connecting with the plant spirits, sending prayers up with the smoke and just the basic human thing of bringing fire and smoke from a spark and the breath. You can buy smudge sticks, usually made from desert sage (Big Sagebrush, artemesia tridentata) or California white sage and/or various cedars, in stores these days. I was first inspired to make my own mixtures after reading a description, in a book by the Dalai Lama's brother, of their mother going out every morning and burning herbs that she collected herself, the smoke offering rising to the sky.

You can do this whereever you are, by seeking out the plants around you that are good for this practice, using garden herbs, or buying bulk ingredients at the coop/health food store. You can make sticks/wands, or loose mixtures that you can burn in a bowl/shell. Watch out, the sticks can keep burning, the shells can get hot. If in doubt or a hurry, douse 'em or put 'em in the sink!!

One thing I like to do is keep a little bag of smudge mix in my car and sprinkle a few grains on the lighter before or after a trip, to give thanks, make the transition to what's next or just let go of whatever stress, etc., I might be carrying. This only works with a pretty fine mixture, isn't a good idea ON the road (i.e. only do this when the engine is OFF!), and really only takes a teeny bit of stuff! Sprinkling on an electric stove burner works, too.

In gathering herbs, just do your best to tune-in to the plants, meditate with them, ask whether, where and how to go about harvesting and drying. Give thanks, leave an offering for the plant spirits.

Here in North Carolina, here's what I use (basically if it smells nice/friendly and burns well, I try it out):

  • From the home herb garden or store: Rosemary, Lavender, Culinary Sage
  • Other herbs/spices: Cinnamon, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Clove
  • Trees & bushes: Eastern Red Cedar/Juniper (needles, berries, sawdust, chainsaw chips, shredded bark); other evergreen/christmas tree needles, etc. and other odd plant parts (like the little dangly parts of cypress trees); Wax Myrtle/Southern Bayberry (, berries - common on NC coast and planted around parking lots); when I've been out west in the home of Desert Sage ( (CO to NV and surrounding states), I always find some to bring home; usually it's been in the fall and what you get then is flower stalks, but commercial smudges sticks are leaves w/ stems.
  • Saps/resins: Dried tree resins are a special category; I've found some interesting dried saps on pines/pinyon and cedar; Copal is sold commercially,from a family of plants that grow from the Sonora to S. Mexico; Frankincense and Myrrh come from the Middle East. They can be dropped into burning smudge or a coal or charcoal briquette, or put on a piece of foil/metal on a woodstove or kitchen stove burner on very low.

TO PROCESS smudge ingredients you pick yourself: Dry well, strip and bag for later mixing and use OR make wands by winding cotton thread around a bunch of fresh sprigs and then drying them well.

CAUTIONS: You or others may have reactions to contact with these plants or the smoke. Be careful, respect the plants and try out new things carefully. I wear gloves when harvesting and stripping stems of the plants I mention above. And, one more time, be sure sticks and bowls are OUT, don't be burning down the house!


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