The Benefits of Burning Sage

Bowl of rocks with burning sage.

 Getty / GS Pictures

Sage (Salvia) is an evergreen perennial shrub that is often used for culinary, medicinal, and ornamental purposes. It is used as a spice and 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 to heal, protect, increase wisdom, and boost defense against disease.

Illustration of woman sitting on the floor

 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.

Some of the purported benefits of using sage internally:

  • 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

Note that while there is some research evidence to support these benefits, it remains preliminary. Many of these findings have not been observed in studies with human participants; more research is needed.

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.

Some research suggests that active compounds in sage protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

A 2021 randomized, placebo-controlled trial had participants who consume Cogniva, a proprietary sage extract, for a 29-day period. The result indicated that participants experienced significant benefits in terms of working memory and task accuracy. 

Benefits of Burning Sage

Burning sage 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 alternative medicine practitioners 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. Practitioners of complementary and alternative medication suggest that burning sage is believed to:

  • Remove bacteria from the air
  • Repel insects
  • Improve intuition
  • Purify specific objects
  • Improve mood and reducing stress and anxiety

Recap

Sage may have certain benefits and has long been used in traditional medicine and spiritual practices. However, there is not yet enough evidence to recommend its use to treat any medical or mental health condition.

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.

How to Burn Sage

While there is a relative lack of evidence supporting this practice, a few drawbacks are associated with burning sage in your home. Burning sage is relatively cost-effective as far as mental health practices go. It may be a helpful practice to help create a relaxing, pleasant atmosphere that can be used alongside other helpful practices such as meditation or mindfulness.

Where to Find Sage for Burning

To start 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 can 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.

If you want to burn sage, be sure that you rely on ethically sourced material. While not currently considered endangered, experts are concerned about the future of white sage due to overharvesting.

Sage Burning 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 Note on Cultural Appropriation

It is important to note that using Palo Santo, white sage, and other sacred herbs in smudging practices is often considered a form of cultural appropriation when performed by non-Indigenous people. It is essential to consider the cultural history and understand the effects of such practices on the oppression and erasure of Indigenous people and cultures.

A Word From Verywell

Burning sage has a long history and may help start a spiritual practice or make 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.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lopresti AL. Salvia (sage): a review of its potential cognitive-enhancing and protective effectsDrugs in R&D. 2017;17(1):53–64. doi:10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5

  3. Hamidpour M, Hamidpour R, Hamidpour S, Shahlari M. Chemistry, pharmacology, and medicinal property of sage (salvia) to prevent and cure illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, depression, dementia, lupus, autism, heart disease, and cancerJ Tradit Complement Med. 2014;4(2):82–88. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.130373

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  6. Castillo SL, Heredia N, Contreras JF, García S. Extracts of edible and medicinal plants in inhibition of growth, adherence, and cytotoxin production of campylobacter jejuni and campylobacter coli. Journal of Food Science. 2011;76(6):M421-M426. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02229.x

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  8. Los Angeles Times. Poachers are wiping out SoCal's wild white sage to make smudge sticks. You can stop them.

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."