The Benefits of Burning Sage

Bowl of rocks with burning sage.

 Getty / GS Pictures

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) has been used in traditional medicine as a spice and also as a way to improve health. It has a long history of use in Egypt, Rome, and Greek medicine, as well as within Native American healing traditions. As far as burning sage is concerned, dried sage is burned as a possible way to heal, protect, increase wisdom, and boost defense against disease.

Girl burning sage
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Types of Sage

What are the different types of sage? Sage is also known as common sage, garden sage, true sage, Spanish sage, and Chinese sage. The botanical term for common sage is Salvia officinalis.

Benefits of Using Sage Internally

Sage is used today for numerous purposes depending on the method of use. Sage used internally may be taken for any of the following purposes. Burning sage, also known as smudging, involves literally burning the sage leaves and letting the smoke purify the air in your home. Sage can also be taken internally as a liquid, spray, lozenge, capsule, or tablet.

Note that while there is some research evidence to suggest the benefits of sage for each of these uses, it remains preliminary and more research is needed to define the benefits of sage for each of these purposes.

Overall, it is thought that the phenolic and flavonoid compounds present in sage are helpful in terms of having an antioxidant effect and reducing free radicals. This is further thought to relate to the presence of rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid in sage.

Below are some of the purported benefits of using sage internally.

  • pain relief
  • reducing oxidative stress on the body
  • protecting against free radical damage
  • reducing inflammation
  • protecting against bacterial and viral infections
  • treating minor illnesses
  • as a dietary supplement for digestion
  • sore throat relief
  • protecting against memory loss
  • reducing depression or improving mood
  • preventing obesity
  • for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer

Benefits of Burning Sage

The purpose of burning sage differs slightly from the reasons for taking it internally. The burning of sage is a historical spiritual ritual also known as smudging.

Poor air quality may be linked to various health conditions. In this way, burning sage is seen as a cost-effective way to purify the air (to an extent). This is because sage is thought to have antimicrobial properties that help kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. That being said, it's important to keep in mind that burning sage will create smoke, which can cause health problems for individuals who are prone to asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Just as with taking sage internally, Some practitioners of alternative medicine believe that burning sage can help to release so-called "negative energy". In addition to burning sage, some people use a cleansing spray in their homes.

Some of the purported benefits of burning sage include the following.

  • removing bacteria from the air
  • repelling insects
  • improving intuition
  • purifying specific objects
  • improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety

Research on the Use of Sage for Mental Health

Overall, not enough research has been conducted on the use of sage for its proposed benefits as they relate to mental health. Because of this, there is not clear support for its use for any mental health condition. However, based on preliminary research, there may be support for the use of sage for the following mental health-related purposes.

One area in which there is specific preliminary support for the use of sage is that of mood and memory.

A 2005 study showed that common sage improved memory and cognition (thinking ability). In addition, increased dosages were related to improvements in mood, and feeling alert, calm, and content.

It has been suggested that sage has a protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, because of the active compounds it contains.

Safety of Using Sage

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.

However, some species of sage contains 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.

If you plan on using sage internally in addition to burning sage, it is important to let your doctor know (just as you should with any complementary medicines).

As far as burning sage is concerned, it is generally safe to do so around children and pets, just as long as you are aware of any possible respiratory conditions the might have. Plus, they may not like the smell.

How to Start Burning Sage

Would you like to start burning sage in your home? If you're not yet dissuaded by the relative lack of evidence supporting such a practice, rest assured that there is little likelihood of any drawbacks associated with burning sage in your home.

In other words, if you feel this practice might benefit your physical or mental health, then there's little reason to avoid taking part. Burning sage is relatively cost-effective as far as mental health practices go, and the benefit of trying something new cannot be denied.

So, to get started with burning sage, or "smudging" as you might also hear it called, you will first need to find a source of your sage.

Here you have a few different options:

1. You could purchase sage for burning online or in a health store.

2. You could purchase sage from a traditional healer or shaman.

3. You could grow your own sage with the purpose of drying 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.

As a beginner, your best bet is to purchase a pre-wrapped bundle or stick of white sage as this will be easier to handle. Traditional users of sage believe that intentions matter when burning sage. For this reason, you should always purchase sage from someplace or from someone you trust.

Regardless of which route you choose for obtaining your sage, the basic steps for burning sage in your home will be the same.

Steps for Burning Sage

1. 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.

2. Open a window or door before you start burning the sage. This allows the smoke to exit your house.

3. 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.

4. If you are using the sage for spiritual purposes, set an intention for what you are doing. This is kind of like saying that you are starting a new beginning. For example, you might say "Let this be the day that changes start to take place."

5. 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 to you for starting a spiritual practice or starting fresh. It may be particularly helpful if you are struggling with a transition or wanting to feel good about the positive things you are doing for your home or physical health.

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

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