Smudging is the ritual cleansing of the mind, body and spirit. The above picture depicts a Medicine Man with his smudging fans. Originally the herbs were placed in special herb bowls and burned. The dried herbs were then tied into easily portable bundles called 'Smudge sticks' and were included in the contents of Medicine Bags. The Smudge Sticks used in Native American smudging rituals include herbs such as Indian tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar (often referred to as Juniper).
Smudging Rituals and Ceremonies
Smudging is a traditional Native American Indian method of burning herbs to produce a smoke cloud which is used in various cleansing or prayer ceremonies and purification or healing rituals. Cleansing rituals involving smudging often initiates healing sessions. The process of smudging enhances sensitivity and in some instances alters the state of consciousness enabling a Shaman, or Medicine Man, to assess and treat an illness. Smudging were an important place in Native American Spiritual Healing. The smoke was believed to disperse impurities allowing the healing process to commence. As the smoke rose it was believed that prayers would also rise to the Spirit World and negative thoughts and emotions were lifted away. Most of the herbs for smudging have antiseptic qualities and the process of burning herbs really does purify the air. Smudging rituals and ceremonies include rites of passage such as the Vision Quest and precursors to ceremonies such as the Sun Dance. The smudging rituals and ceremonies that involved healing were used in conjunction with various Native American Herbal Remedies.
Herbs for Smudging
The Native American herbs for Smudging included tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, sagegrass, yarrow and cedar (often referred to as Juniper).
Sage: White Sage (Salvia apiana) & Sage (Salvia officinalis) are used as healing herbs and in Herbal Remedies. The word 'Salvia' derives from the Latin "salvare" which means "to feel well and healthy, health, heal" referring to the herb's healing properties. Sage was used for smudging sacred space.
Sagebrush: Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) is an aromatic herb used to treat wounds in healing. Sagebrush was also used to treat headache and colds by burning sagebrush and inhaling the smoke
Cedar: Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) is the cleansing and purifying herb. Cedar was frequently used to line the floor of a Sweat lodge and can also used for smudging. It was used by the Medicine Man to exorcise evil spirits and to purify sacred objects
Incense-cedar mistletoe: The cedar tree is also host to the aromatic Incense-cedar mistletoe (Phoradendron libocedri)a parasitic plant of the sandalwood family which can often be found hanging from the branches of the cedar tree
Sweetgrass: Sweetgrass (Hierochloe oderata), aka Sweet Grass or Holy Grass, is traditionally used for blessings and in some healing ceremonies and Smudging Rituals. Sweetgrass does not produce an open flame when burned but produces a sweet-scented smoke similar to some incenses
Yarrow: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) an aromatic herb and intensifies the medicinal action of other herbs taken with it. Yarrow helps eliminate toxins from the body during the smudging process
Nicotiana (Tobacco - N. tobacum and N. rustica): The earliest form of tobacco was called kinnikinnick and consisted of the inner bark of red dogwood referred to as 'red willow. The smoke from the burning leaf was used for smudging sacred space. Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) and Rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium californicum) and Basswood roots were also used
Sweet Gale: Leaves of the Sweet Gale (Myrica Gale L.) and Sweet Fern (Myrica asplenifolia L.) were used by some tribes to throw on the fire to make a smudge to keep away mosquitoes
Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) was used as a smudge in the hunting rituals of some tribes
The main Native American herbs used for Smudging were also supplemented by the addition of strong aromatic herbs which had strong cleansing, purification properties and many also had healing properties - refer to Herbal Herbs. Burning wood, or herbs, was a method of aromatherapy used by Native American Indians in Smudging rituals.
Herbs for Smudging - Essential Oils
North American Indians used aromatic oils for smudges, Smudging Rituals and aromatic plant based herbal remedies. These herbal extracts are now referred to as 'Essential Oils'. Essential oils are the "oil of" the plant from which they were extracted usually by the process of distillation which involved purifying a liquid by boiling it and condensing its vapors. The aromatic herbs used in smudging included the following:
Mugwort: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) The mugwort plant contains essential oils (such as cineole, or wormwood oil, and thujone). Dried mugwort keeps a fire smouldering for a long time. Mugwort is used as a sacred smoking or smudging herb for protection or divination
Desert Lavender: Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi) is an aromatic herb used in smudging and cleansing rituals. The English word lavender is generally thought to be derived from Old French lavandre, ultimately from the Latin lavare (to wash)
Yellow Birch essential oil is made by steam distillation of the bark of a tree and used in Smudging Rituals
Carrot seed essential oil is steam-distilled from the dried seed of the wild carrot
Cedar Leaf essential oil (also called Thuja Oil) is steam-distilled from the fresh leaves and twigs of the Thuja occidentalis, a slow-growing, narrow conifer.
Balsam Fir essential oil is steam distilled from the needles and twigs of the northeast American balsam fir tree and used in Smudging Rituals
Juniper Berry. The scent is distilled from the ripe berries and used by native Americans for smudging, purification and healing
Bitter Orange: Bitter Orange essential oil is cold-pressed from the peel of a tree. help uplift moods and relieve stress in Smudging Rituals
Peppermint. The cool, clean smell of peppermint is distilled from the leaves and top of the herb and used in Smudging Rituals
Spearmint essential oil, which is steam distilled from the fresh flowering tops
Wintergreen essential oil is steam-distilled from the wild-crafted leaves
Wormwood. Wormwood essential oil is steam-distilled from the dried leaves and flowers of the plant. It has a high thujone content