Smudging Herbs – Why you should use herbs native in the UK
The burning of Smudging herbs for ritual purposes goes back thousands of years and occurs amongst peoples all over the world. There are strong opinions about our current practice of using Californian White Sage with Native Americans justifiably upset by Western commercialisation, and a lack of understanding or respect for their traditions.
I support their views for two reasons. Firstly the earliest record of smudging rituals originates in Mongolia and regions of far East Asia where the White Sage does not grow. Clearly Shamans would use the herbs they knew well and which were local to their environment. It makes no sense that rituals can only be performed with a particular herb from the other side of the planet!
Secondly, I ask how can it be sustainable or proper to transport herbs around the planet with all the associated pollution and cost? This year there have been many wildfires in California and together with wholesale harvesting, the White Sage is now an endangered species. I cannot believe that people who want to use herbs for their rituals would consider it beneficial to use an endangered plant in this way.
Happily the fact is that there are plenty of sacred and powerful herbs available on our own doorsteps and using herbs that grow and thrive in our own environment makes them very suitable for a wide range of ritual purposes. Witches and Shamans in England have used smudging for centuries so what are the plants they used and how did they conduct their rituals?
For information on smudging ritual processes, see my article on the how and why of smudging. Practical smudging
Many aromatic herbs can be used in Smudging and choosing the right herb or combination of herbs depends on your intent. You should experiment a little to see what works best for you but here are some popular choices to start you off.
Our own Sage (Salvia officinalis) originates in the Mediterranean and has spread all over Europe. It has an amazing array of properties and has been used for centuries for its healing powers. There are many cultivars developed more for decorative purposes and some of these are less suitable for smudging. I find the Purple variety (Purpurascens) is best avoided. As you might guess our ancestors were all quite content with the common sage, and I recommend you use the leaves when they are mostly grey rather than fresh green.
Mugwort is a member of the Artemisia genus and our local species is vulgaris. There is evidence this herb was used by people of the Iron age so we have a lot of history with this wonderful herb. Anglo Saxons used Mugwort in the Nine Herbs Charm and I think this is a good place to start. The charm was used to protect against poison and infection and used Mugwort as principle ingredient.
Mugwort has been used ever since as a powerful lucid dreaming herb that has particular relevance to communication with ancestors and will enhance your dreaming experience. It can make dreams more vivid, improve your recall and give you access to ‘divine’ visions.
Sometimes you will want to use Sage and Mugwort together. This helps to clear energies from your space in preparation for focusing your intent and will ensure that your journey and lucid dreaming is not interfered with by unwanted participants.
Sweet Wormwood (Artemisia annua) is a close relative of Mugwort and can be used in much the same way, however, not so abundant in the wild and you may have to grow your own. Care should be taken if foraging as it easy to confuse the plant with the other varieties. Chinese people have used this herb for 2,000 years in the treatment of fever and is the source of “Qing Hao”. It has important anti-malarial properties as well. In smudging, Wormwood has the power to induce visions in the underworld and can help and enhance communication with Spirit Guides.