Smudge sticks are tightly bound bundles of dried woody, resinous herbs, that are slowly burned as a way to purify and cleanse the air. While the roots of burning a smudge stick, or smudging, is in North American Native purification rites and ceremony, they can be used by anyone to bring the woody smell of the outdoors inside.
If you have a garden, chances are good that you have enough ingredients to make at least one smudge stick. The traditional and most popular herbs used in smudging ceremonies are white sage (Salvia apiana), Cedar (Thuja), Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). However, in my travels I have noticed that the smudging sticks available vary by region and there seems to be a lot of opportunity to branch out (so to speak) with other woody, resinous herbs including, but not limited to:
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), lavender, yarrow, juniper, pine, mullein (Verbascum thapsus), rosemary, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), mint (Mentha), Bee Balm (Monarda), and catnip (Nepeta cataria) to name a few.
On Growing White Sage in a Cold Climate: The other day I harvested a large white sage (Salvia apiana) plant that I have been growing in my garden’s sandy, dry bed. This plant is on the cusp of hardy in my area (I am in zone 5-5bish and its hardiness begins at zone 6), but this year I decided to free it from life in a pot to see how it did in the ground. Unlike the specimens I saw growing wild in Northern Mexico, my plant grew gigantic leaves, most likely the result of the wet season we’ve had. Still, it has a very strong, medicinal odour typical of the plant. I’ve left enough in that soil that should we have a mild winter, it just might live through to the next season.
When Choosing and Harvesting Herbs: Please be careful as some herbs — even the culinary types — don’t lend themselves well to burning and can be toxic or set off dangerous allergic or asthmatic reactions in some people. I have often seen common garden sage (Salvia officinalis) used to make smudges. Years ago I tried to burn some and did not like the smell. I have since read that this is not a safe herb to burn despite its safety in a host of other applications. When in doubt, burn a very small amount outdoors, in order to test the smell and indicate whether you might have a problem with a particular herb. I also have a dangerously strong negative reaction to yarrow, so again, please use caution with this herb.
Harvest herbs on a sunny and dry day. Moist herbs will grow mouldy inside the bundle where there is very little air. Pick herbs on the day you plan to use them; resinous herbs tend to dry very quickly and are nearly impossible to wrap tightly once dry. A final note that when harvesting from the wild please leave enough plant behind that it may live on happily and healthfully. Use a sharp knife or clippers to cut stems and never dig up the root.
Choosing String: Remember that anything you use to bind the bundle will eventually burn so it is advisable to stick with natural materials that will not give off a toxic fume or compete with the smudge smells. I try to use as little string as possible to avoid creating a strong burning string smell. I suggest using thin, organic cotton string when you can. Embroidery floss separated into 4 threads (they typically come as 6 threads) is strong enough. Use a single color of string or experiment by mixing colors. I like using a simple color to bind and a subtle colour that compliments the foliage to make the handle. Red is a common colour for ceremonial usage, which is why you will see many commercially sold bundles bound with it.
How to Bind an Herbal Smudge Stick
The key to making a successful smudge stick is in binding tightly. I liken it to cigar making in that a tight bundle of leaves burns more slowly. I also find that the plant materials shrink as they dry and a loosely tied bundle is more likely to lose bits and pieces along the way or fall apart completely. With that in mind, grasp plants firmly and give the string a tight yank each time you turn or tie.
- Step 1. Clip herbs into similarly sized lengths. Don’t skimp out — thick bundles smoulder slowly and are better looking. Pluck off any diseased or ugly leaves. Arrange the stems into a bundle and tie a tight knot around the stem end to secure. Wrap the string around the stems a few more times and then tie another knot to secure.
- Step 2. Grasp the bundle with one hand and begin winding the string on an angle up to the tip of the bundle. Try to use as little string as possible and pull tightly as you go. I find that large-leaved herbs don’t need much binding, while very thin leaved herbs, especially conifers require more winding to prevent the leaves from falling out. You can leave the foliage loose at the end or fold under to keep everything tight.
- Step 3. Turn the bundle around and begin winding down back to the start, creating a criss cross pattern overtop the first strings.
- Step 4. You can choose now to either go back up and down again, retracing the path you took with another layer of string, or you can bind off and complete. I find that the pass tends to create a tighter bundle and is a good way to pull in and secure any pieces that got away the first time around. Wind plenty of string around the base of the bundle to create a handle. You can use as much string as you want here since this part will not burn. Tie off and clip any loose strings to create a neat and finished look.
- Step 5. Set the bundles aside somewhere dry and dark where there is good air circulation. You can hang them using thin wires or Holiday tree ornament hooks wedged underneath the handles. You can also lay them out flat to dry, but here I suggest setting them on top of a screen or very loosely woven basket that is raised up off of any solid surfaces so that air can flow underneath and around the bundles.
Wait until your bundles are completely dry (this usually takes a few weeks at least) before burning them.
How to Use a Smudge Stick
Holding the “handle” of your smudge stick, light the end (a candle works best), being careful to avoid flyaway ends and falling embers or particularly combustable herbs. Hold the burning end over a clay bowl, ashtray, or other non-flammable container at all times. Allow the stick to burn for a few seconds and when it seems like it is going, carefully, gently blow or wave it to put out the flame. Allow the stick to smoulder for a few minutes; never leave its attendance. To extinguish, smother or crush the smouldering end until it goes out. Try to avoid using this water as this can ruin the stick for further use.
Include directions for use if you plan on giving bundles away as gifts,
The Lazy Lady’s Guide to DIY: Hanging Herb Garden
At some point near the middle of March, I always decide that I’m “done” with winter. The sweaters and jackets get pushed to the back of the closet, the flip flops come out, and I inevitably freeze my butt off for several weeks until the weather catches up with my warm-weather state of mind. Likewise, my cravings for fresh herbs and veggies are always a little ahead of the season.
Growing your own herbs is a great way to save money and avoid buying too much at a time and letting most of it go to waste. If it’s still too cold to plant outside where you are (or if you’re short on space!) this hanging herb garden is the perfect project to get you in gear for spring.
What you’ll need: Tin containers with snap-on plastic lids (tea, cocoa, and coffee cans are a good bet), coat hangers, pliers, scissors, herbs (I bought basil, rosemary, dill, and cilantro for about $2.50 each), masking tape, coffee filters, a nail, a hammer, X-acto knife, scrap fabric or paper, and glue or spray adhesive.
After you’ve emptied and cleaned your cans, remove the bottom of the can with a can opener. Using the hammer and nail, punch 10-15 holes near the center.
Slide the bottom inside the can, holding it up from inside. Tape the bottom in place about an inch from the outer edge of the can. (You could also use a hot glue gun.) After you’ve got it good and stuck, punch two holes on opposite sides of the can about a quarter inch from the edge. These are the holes for the handle.
Flip the can over. Gently press the plant into the can. This part can get a little messy, so you might want to do it over the sink or outside.
Once you’ve got the herb in the can, take your coffee filter and cut a small diamond in the center, with a slit extending to the edge on one side.
Fold the coffee filter around the herb and tape the edges together. Tape it to the can so that the top of the filter is tight. This will help prevent leaking and soil from falling out when you turn the can over.
Using your x-acto knife, cut a hole about 1-2 inches in diameter in the center of the plastic lid. The size of the hole really depends on the size of the plant. Too big and it will leak, too small and you might not be able to get the plant through it. When in doubt, go smaller.
This part is tricky: Carefully feed the plant through the hole in the plastic lid. The best way I’ve found to do this is to grasp the center of the plant, gathering all the leaves together, and gently twist it until it’s in a rope-like shape and isn’t poking out everywhere.
Once you’ve got the lid snapped on, you can glue or tape it in place if the plant is especially big or heavy. Mine wasn’t, so I just left it snapped. Next, cut your fabric or paper into strips long enough to wrap around the can completely with a little overlap. Cut it wide enough so that there’s about a half inch extra around the top of the can (what used to be the bottom). You should probably have a cat hold the fabric in place for you.
Hold the fabric so one edge is even with the bottom of the can, where the plant is poking out. Tape or glue the vertical edge of the fabric to the can, then wrap the fabric tightly around the can. You can use spray adhesive, glue, or clear tape to secure the fabric. Next, fold the extra half inch of fabric or paper inside the top of the can and glue or tape it in place. Be careful not to cover the holes for watering!
To make the handles, use your pliers to cut about 6 inches of wire from the hangers. Bend it into a curve, then use the pliers to bend about 1/4-1/2 inch off the end into a right angle. Poke the ends through the holes you hammered out earlier, then use the pliers to squeeze the ends upward to secure it. I also made hooks for mine to make it easier to get them down for watering.
You can hang your plants from curtain rods, hooks in the ceiling, or just about anywhere that gets plenty of light. I hung my herbs over the sink in my kitchen so they would be within easy reach while I was cooking. So far I haven’t had any problems with leaking, but you may want to avoid hanging your plants over hardwood floors or other surfaces that don’t take kindly to being dripped on.
This project could be tweaked in hundreds of ways. I originally planned to cover my cans in wood veneer and stain them for a more natural look, but had a hard time finding it locally. Sheet metal, wallpaper, wrapping paper, collage, or paint would also be great materials to use on these. And of course, you don’t have to grow herbs: you could also use these to grow hanging vines, flowers, tomatoes, peppers… the options are endless.
Burdock root as an herbal remedy offers a variety of health benefits. This herb has been known for its healing properties for many centuries and was commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat numerous illnesses.
About Burdock Root
The burdock is a plant found in the continents of Europe and Asia. It is easy to find and identify, as it generally grows along fences and roads. In Asia, the taproot of young burdock plant is harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. It has a gummy consistency and is sweet to the taste. It is rich in calcium, chlorogenic acid, flavonoids, iron, inulin, lactone, mucilage, polyacetylenes, potassium, resin, tannin, and taraxosterol.
Traditional Uses for Burdock Root
In folk medicine, the seeds of the burdock were compressed to make a mixture that provided relief for measles, arthritis, tonsillitis, throat pain, and viruses like the common cold. Burdock root can also be used to treat gout, rheumatism, ulcers, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Folk herbalists use it to treat snake bites and those that are afflicted with rabies. They also used dried burdock as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and a blood purifying agent. It purifies the blood by getting rid of dangerous toxins.
Remedy for Scalp Problems
The burdock root oil extract, or Bur oil, is used in Europe as a scalp treatment to help treat dandruff and prevent hair loss. Since the burdock oil is rich in phytosterols and essential fatty acids, it is also said to improve hair strength, shine, and body by helping maintain a healthy scalp and promote hair growth. It combines an immediate relieving effect with nutritional support for normal functions of the sebaceous glands and hair follicles.
The leaves of the burdock can be used for pain management and to help speed up recovery time in burn patients. It is said to impede bacterial growth and acts as a barrier against moisture.
Today, burdock root is used in oncology for its cancer-curing properties, particularly in Russia and India. Many herbalists say burdock root can stop cancer cells from metastasizing. Preliminary research has demonstrated that burdock root has certain protective properties that may explain its cancer benefits.
About the author
Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more: