Why White Sage?

White sage, also known as Sacred Sage, is a sacred plant to Indigenous Peoples, used ceremonially for prayer.

White sage is special because it grows only in Southern California and in Northern Baja California. It grows nowhere else in the world.

White sage, Salvia apiana. Photo by E. Wallace.

Unfortunately, current television shows and movies have popularized sage smudging as a quick and easy way to repair romances, cleanse homes, or connect with the spirit world.

“Trend smudging” has caused widespread cultural misappropriation of Native Peoples’ sacred white sage prayer rituals while also creating a worldwide demand for dried smudge sticks.

Retail outlets around the world are selling dried sage smudge sticks. But where does the white sage come from?

In many cases, the sage is being illegally poached from our local wild lands. According to an interview with volunteer ranger Ron Goodman at the Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga:

“We would occasionally run into individuals poaching. And as the years ticked on, we would encounter them as many as two or three times a week […] As they got more sophisticated, they moved on to duffle sacks to carry their poached sage out because they were able to: 1. Put more of the confiscated sage in it and 2. Hike it out on their back, just like a backpack. Over the last seven or eight years I would imagine that there’s probably been in excess of 15 to 20 thousand pounds of white sage taken out of these foothills. The last couple of years, we have seen a tremendous uptake in poaching.”

Poachers damage the plants irreparably, using machetes or pulling the sages out by the roots.

A truckload of poached white sage. Photo by Ron Goodman

How can you help? Don’t buy sage smudge sticks.

If you live in Orange County, consider joining the California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 12 at the Norman Murrary Center in Mission Viejo, to learn about our upcoming A Sage in Every Garden campaign. OCCNPS will be giving away one free California white sage to OC homeowners at events throughout Orange County starting in November.

Also at the October 12th meeting, I will discuss how the native plant palette for Southern California landscapes is trending toward more local evergreen plants that can withstand our increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall. I hope to see you there.

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