Updated: Jun 23, 2021
There is a problem, and that problem is over-harvesting of wild plants for herbal bundles.
I am a firm believer that we need to take care of the plants.
While we are here, they take care of us, so we need to be respectful.
In the wild, white sage and palo santo are being over-harvested. In most cases, from a lot of stores (Amazon, Walmart, even FIVE BELOW! and the list goes on) we don't even know where that sage or palo santo comes from. It's for sale - and that is literally all we know about it. If you don't know your grower or you don't know their practices - don't buy from them! It should not be hard to understand that if you want to use an herb for ritual cleansing or burning, those herbs need to be grown with good intentions from the grower. You need to know the ethics and values of who you make your purchases from. If you can make your own herbal bundles, that is the best solution! If you can't, buy from a small family farm where you are aware of who the growers are and how they harvest. I honestly strongly suggest finding alternatives to white sage and palo santo, or growing your own plants for herbal burning. I think it is very important that Native Americans still have access to their native plant medicine for their use. I don't think they should have to worry about Walmart debasing their plant population and misusing these wild allies, or Abercrombie and Fitch wild-harvesting all their sage. What has the world come to where we are trying to be "spiritual" in our practices - but ignoring a most important part, our ethics?
“We do not sell white sage. If you need it as a medicine and we have it, we’re going to give it to you. We discourage selling medicine plants, spiritual plants, because we don’t know if the person collected them in a good way, with a good heart. But if you have white sage growing in your own back yard, you would know because you would be taking care of it.”
– Barbara Drake, Tongva Elder
There are so many herbal substitutes for white sage.
Look for native plants that grow in your area profusely!
Here in Missouri, I can easily grow the following plants:
Prairie Sage (Artemisia ludoviciana, not a true sage, but a member of the Daisy family)
Common Garden Sage
Mint (Apple Mint, Chocolate Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, etc.)
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia, A favorite of mine - it's a native of Central Asia, and smells sage-like, but it's not a true sage)
The list really does go on and on. Historically, the Scottish people used a type of burning of cedar to cleanse their homes, called saining. More about that here in a great article that explains it in-depth. If most of us burning these herbs are white and have a European ancestry - shouldn't we go back to what our ancestors used, or try growing some of the plants ourselves so that we have a connection with them? Try growing some plants that grow well in your area and are native species. I do believe that if you feel called to work with a certain plant like white sage - that you should be able to work with it, but you need to look for ethically harvested sources for this plant. If it's in danger - you need to look for alternatives first. I am not sure that certain plants = cultural appropriation. If you are using it in your personal spiritual practices that you are attuned to, why shouldn't you be able to use it? I think that is going a bit far.
As for smudging - we don't even know how to smudge properly because it's a complete ritual. What we have been doing is smoke cleansing, not smudging. Even referring to the herbs we use as "smudge" isn't accurate.
If you don't want to make your own herbal bundles, I do sell some items here in my shop. They are grown by me personally, with the use of no pesticides or chemicals. I make sure to treat my plants well, to use ritual and astrological times when I harvest, and I respect the plants. I think that makes all the difference.
Links for further reading on this topic:
Places to purchase ethically harvested herbs for smoke cleansing:
Herbal Bundle tutorials: