juniper white sage incense

Holy smoke

Lately, I’ve been too restless to get anything useful done. In my mind there are these lists of things to do. Newsletters and website updates and blog posts and dealing with traffic tickets (*cough*) and parking tickets (*cough*) and returning phonecalls. I think it’s the coming spring; I want to be outside so much that all this other stuff makes my brain short-circuit. The words all swim together and stop making sense. Cursors blink on white pages and minute hands tick by and become hour hands and I’ll type a sentence and delete it then go to the kitchen for another snack and a cup of tea. On Wednesday, instead of repeating the process, I went to the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica with Carly. Early. While it was still cold, and while the day was still yawning awake. I’m giving her cooking lessons, so each week she’s armed with a list, and each Thursday night we get together and I unleash my inner dictator while she does exactly as I say*.

As we were picking some very handsome carrots, she mentions that she wants to buy some white sage to ‘cleanse’ her apartment, and asks if I believe in that stuff. And it got me thinking. Because although there are plenty of people who see these things the way I do, my opinions aren’t necessarily the most popular in a city where people talk about ‘energy’ like everybody should understand what it is. But Carly was obviously asking me because of my superior intellect and rational thought process. So I did what any normal human being would do with an opinion that might counter that of others: I’m putting it on the internet. So, a bit more about smoke, smudging, incense, clearing bad energy, and all that stuff…

Smoke is sacred. Look at the way smoke from incense curls through the air, fluid, like water or fire, shapeshifting and changing and bringing that scent with it. It’s hypnotic, it reaches into stagnant corners, it can alter minds and intoxicate senses. But when it comes to ‘clearing bad energy’ as an isolated function, I think this is a belief that has rolled over into our time from the dark ages**.

To understand this, we have to know a bit more about what this ‘bad energy’ is, what needs to be cleared in the first place. Back when pathogens were unheard of, sickness was often thought to come from ‘evil spirits’. Great ceremonies were made to get rid of said ‘evil spirits’ and herbs were often burned to aid in the process. Fast forward 2 thousand years and people are burning herbs to ‘clear energy’ in houses and such or to perform appropriations of Native American ceremonies without fully understanding what’s going on. Evil spirits, back then, were airborne pathogens. Burning aromatic plants is fantastic for killing these airborne pathogens. If you’ve got a bunch of people in close quarters, smoke is great to have around- burning frankincense in a church, for example, or hinoki wood in a temple. Palo santo, that treasured Ecuadorian wood, myrrh, white sage, juniper, mugwort. The list is long, and effective. Having these herbs around to burn when someone’s coming down with something is really useful. Having them just to burn in general because they smell good and because smoke is pretty is fine as well. And yes, you can use them in ceremonies to ‘clean’ the energy of a space, but it doesn’t need to be a specific type of herb, or something that someone else has deemed ‘sacred’, and it doesn’t even need to be smoke in the first place, if that is your purpose.

Ever walked into a place and it just felt weird? Ever had something horrible happen in your house and you just want to clear the walls of those memories or the space of lingering horrible-ness? When it comes to getting rid of that kind of thing, few things beat salt. Plain old fashioned salt, a little sprinkled in the corners, will get ‘bad energy’ out of a place quicker than you can say BOO. Open all the windows and chase out the stuff you don’t want with a broom or by clapping your hands but most of all with your intention to get rid of it. Then, close the windows and sprinkle salt in each corner, intentionally (whatever your intention is). Let me be clear- I did say that you can use smoke, but the smoke in itself isn’t what’s going to chase out the stuff you don’t want. YOU are. The smoke isn’t powerful, the person guiding the smoke is powerful. Clearing a space is an active endeavour, not something that happens by default because stuff is burning.

White sage is overused. Even in this area where it actually grows it’s overused. Walk down Hollywood boulevard or the Venice boardwalk and you’ll see stoners selling piles of smudge sticks for people to buy, bring home, clear the energy of their houses, and do their own ceremonies with. White sage itself IS sacred to one tribe in our area (it has a very small growing range) and its so sacred that they burn one leaf at a time, not massive smudge sticks. Sacredness, with plants, is something that happens, not because someone else deems it so, but because of the connection you have to that plant. The fact of the matter is that any plant can be sacred, any ceremony can be meaningful. You can burn rose petals and have an effect on your space just as much as you would with sage leaves.

When it comes to a sick room, however, smoke excels. On its own. As a force in itself. Those compounds that smell so good are often antiviral and antibacterial and in inhaling them, you breathe them directly into your respiratory tract, which then goes directly into your blood stream, and before you know if you have all these little fighter compounds in your blood and in your lungs. When one of us is sick at home, we’ll burn a combination of things- my favourite is white sage and juniper (which grow around here and thus are easier to come by, cheaper, and more sustainable), but frankincense smells pretty darn amazing too. There are tons of other burnable resins available commercially, and other things you can try with what you have around. My recipe for sage and juniper incense is ridiculously simple- it’s not a complex scent or kyphi, but a simple mix of herbs with medicinal properties for the purpose of killing airborne pathogens and keeping folks healthy. But, as I’ve mentioned before, medicinal doesn’t need to mean gross, or single-purposed. You can burn it anytime, for any purpose, it’s all about the intention.

Also, for more information about sacred smoke and making your own incense, please see Kiva’s recent article. I’ve been lucky enough to try her hand-made incense and it’s mind-alteringly intoxicating. That right there, is sacred stuff…

 White Sage-juniper incense

charcoal discs

1 part juniper berries

2 parts white sage leaves

1 part pine resin (I get mine from the tree in my front yard which is an araucaria not actually a pinus)


In a pestle and mortar, grins up the juniper berries. Add the sage leaves and pine resin, and grind it all until it’s a pretty even consistency.

Light a charcoal disc and wait for it to be hot, then sprinkle your incense over the top. Inhale. Walk around the house letting the smoke get into the corners. If someone is sick, let them inhale the smoke, brush it through sick person’s hair, then leave it for the smoke to fill the space.



*I think I missed my calling. I’m a very good dictator. You can refer to me as The Chairman from now on.

** Speaking of which, did you know there’s a flat earth society?

  • KristenM

    As an Orthodox Christian, I burn incense in my home every day. So, I understand the potential sacredness of smoke. I really enjoyed reading about the health benefits, though. I’d always assumed that inhaling smoke — any smoke — was bad for us. But I enjoy seeing the holy in my frankincense, myrrh, and sage enough that I routinely dismissed such thoughts. It’s eye opening to realize that some smoke may actually be cleansing. And, of course, it makes good sense. I can’t wait to research more about it.

  • Scott Smith

    Ah what a fantastic blend and a great post. I found you through, “All Disease Begins In The Gut” ala Facebook page. Most excellent.

    Double cheers for LA peoples! Woo Hoo!

  • Steph

    Burning aromatics in a room does one thing that salt doesn’t do: it changes the basic odor of the place in a lingering way. Since smells carry memory strongly, if you’re used to feeling awful in a room, and you change the way it smells, you can sometimes reset that. If you use a specific set of aromatics when you mentally focus on ritual and the concept of sacredness, then you’ll get a reminder of that every time you walk into a room scented with them.

    Logic says that the opposite should be true as well. If you burn a bunch of aromatics every Wednesday while thinking about paying the bills, they should lose their power. I don’t know if that’s what happens, but it’s a good motivation to use incense carefully and pay attention while it burns. (also good for not burning your house down, I gather)

  • Butterpoweredbike

    One of my ex’s is Sicangu Lakota, and the smell of burnt white sage is what I remember most from those years with his family. Now, in the same way that I still call burners “hobs” as a strange remnant of my years In England, I will still burn a leaf of sage over pillows, around my phone, in doorways. But an equally important part of that tradition was always to burn sweetgrass afterward, to fill a person or space with vanilla-soaked positive smoke.

  • Jen

    I have burned white sage in every new place I’ve lived for many years now. And because white sage is pricey to me and I don’t want to waste it, I have burned it one little stalk at a time. It chases out the odors of other people unknown to me, and sets in an aroma that is mine, the same way a cat will walk around a room or yard and rub its cheek and jaw on everything, marking its scent. I have also damn near gotten high and otherworldly on some stuff from India that I burned about 5 sticks of at once…wow! I agree, the smoke itself isn’t sacred, it’s the intention of the heart and mind that is sacred.

    I’m glad I found this blog (through Rosalee de la Foret’s FB page) and thank you for the reverse contrast comments box :) So easy on the eyes.

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  • chez

    I LOVE sage incense, and have started to grow some over here in Oz. I grew up in San Diego and I resonate with Hopi Indians and have had the pleasure of visiting them. I have two questions: 1) Is the charcoal ok for your lungs, etc. I was trying to find a way to do hand rolled on sticks that did not have an additive not so good for the lungs. 2) I have bought some super hit that had mould in it. I have heard that the mould spores are NOT killed by the heat and therefore also enter the lungs. Anyone have any help with either of those two questions. I obv threw away the contaminated packet and am thinking possibly spraying a bit of clove oil may help with mould.

    • BeccaJ

      Tea tree oil will take care of mold

  • leather backpack

    What’s up, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this article. It was practical. Keep on posting!

  • Namaste

    Thank you for this informative article. I agree the intention must be clear and present before burning the sage or whatever you choose to burn.. I must add from my own experience. I was being haunted at least 2 times a month with random spirits, lost spirits, pyschic vampires etc. So I finally had enough about 7 months ago. I learned to meditate protection fields around my energy, take regular epson salt/lavendar baths and cleansed my house etc. I have also been lighting sage incense every single night since. And, I’ve only experienced one spirit come whom was harmless because she was my mothers friend from work when she was in our realm. So, my point being, sage definitely is beneficial, with good intentions, of course. You can also lift burning sage (smoke) to the corners of the house, and as long as a window is cracked the bad energy will clear.