The Benefits of Burning Sage

Bowl of rocks with burning sage.

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In This Article

Are you curious about burning sage in order to improve air quality in your home, improve your health, or reduce your depression or anxiety? Sage (Salvia) is used as a spice and also as a way to improve health in traditional medicine.

Sage has a long history of use in Egyptian, Roman, and Greek medicine, as well as in Native American healing traditions. Dried sage is burned as a way to heal, protect, increase wisdom, and boost defense against disease.

Girl burning sage
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Some well-known species of sage include common sage, white sage, Spanish sage, and Chinese sage. The botanical term for common sage is Salvia officinalis.

Benefits of Sage Supplements

Dried sage leaves can be used in cooking as a spice. Sage can also be taken internally as a liquid, spray, lozenge, capsule, or tablet.

The phenolic compounds in sage may have an antioxidant effect and reduce free radicals. Rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid are two compounds in sage that are particularly associated with an antioxidant effect.

There are several purported benefits of using sage internally. Note that while there is some research evidence to support these benefits, it remains preliminary; more research is needed.

  • Relieving headache and sore throat pain
  • Reducing oxidative stress in the body
  • Protecting against free radical damage
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Protecting against bacterial and viral infections
  • Supporting digestion
  • Protecting against memory loss
  • Reducing depression or improving mood

Using Sage for Mental Health

Overall, not enough research has been conducted on the use of sage for its proposed mental health benefits. However, based on preliminary research, there may be support for the use of sage for mood and memory.

A 2005 study showed that common sage oil improved memory and cognition (thinking ability). In addition, increased dosages were related to improvements in mood and feeling alert, calm, and content. Other research suggests that active compounds in sage protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

Benefits of Burning Sage

Burning sage, also known as smudging, involves burning sage leaves and letting the smoke purify the air in your home. The purpose of burning sage differs slightly from the reasons for taking it internally.

Poor air quality may be linked to various health conditions. In this way, burning sage is seen as a cost-effective way to help purify the air. This is because sage is thought to have antimicrobial properties that help kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Keep in mind that burning sage creates smoke, which can cause health problems for individuals who are prone to asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Some practitioners of alternative medicine believe that burning sage, or taking it internally, can help release negative energy. In addition to burning sage, some people use sage cleansing sprays in their homes. Benefits of burning sage are believe to include:

  • Removing bacteria from the air
  • Repelling insects
  • Improving intuition
  • Purifying specific objects
  • Improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety

Sage Safety

Sage has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a spice or seasoning. In general, the use of sage for health purposes is recognized as safe. But if you plan on using sage internally, it is important to let your doctor know (just as you should with any complementary medicines you take).

Some species of sage contain thujone, which can have an effect on the nervous system. Twelve or more drops of sage oil is considered to be a toxic dose.

Some potential side effects of extended use of sage include restlessness, rapid heart rate, vertigo, vomiting, kidney damage, seizures, and tremors.

As far as burning sage is concerned, it is generally safe to do so, even around children and pets. Just be aware of any possible respiratory conditions they might have. (They may not like the smell of burning sage.)

How to Burn Sage

While there is a relative lack of evidence supporting this practice, there are also few drawbacks associated with burning sage in your home. Burning sage is relatively cost-effective, as far as mental health practices go, and the benefit of trying something new cannot be denied.

Where to Find Sage for Burning

To get started with burning sage, you will first need to find a source of sage. You can purchase sage for burning online, in a health store, or from a traditional healer or shaman.

You can also grow your own sage and dry it for burning. Trim the sage rather than pulling it out by the root. Do not cut stems from the plant until you are sure that it is able to sustain itself and will not die after you cut it. After cutting the sage, gather it in a bundle, tie it, and hang it in a dry place. It is dry enough when it crackles when squeezed.

Traditional users of sage believe that intentions matter when burning sage and, therefore, usually suggest purchasing sage from a trusted seller. As a beginner, your best bet is to purchase a pre-wrapped bundle or stick of white sage.

Smudging Step-by-Step

To begin, you will need something in which to burn the sage. This could be an incense tray or a bowl to catch the ashes as the sage burns. You could also purchase a sage burner. Fill it with earth or sand. Don't use a flammable container, and keep water on hand.

  • Open a window or door before you start burning the sage. This allows the smoke to exit your house.
  • Put the sage in the burning container and light it. Let it burn for several seconds and then blow it out so that it keeps smoking. If it stops emitting smoke, try lighting it again.
  • If you are using the sage for spiritual purposes, set an intention for what you are doing. For example, you might say "Let this be the day that changes start to take place."
  • Walk to each room you wish to purify and let the smoke enter it. Do not allow any space to fill with too much smoke. Avoid inhaling the smoke directly.

A Word From Verywell

Burning sage has a long history and may be helpful for starting a spiritual practice or making another life change. It may be helpful if you are struggling with a transition or kicking off some positive changes for your home or physical health.

However, if you are living with symptoms of severe mood problems or clinical anxiety, it is unlikely that burning sage will help. It is important to consult your doctor in addition to engaging in a complementary health practice such as burning or consuming sage.

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