While we have discussed the scarcity of white sage many times across different channels, many people are still unaware of the 'at risk' status of white sage. It is something that we need to be aware of when making conscious purchases, especially online where you don't really know where something comes from. It is easy to look past this when every new age, health food store and insta-hippie sells these online. They seem like they are everywhere so it must be growing prolifically right?
White sage is a plant native to Southern California and parts of Baja California. It also grows in other Southwest regions of the US and Northern Mexico but its range is very small and often scattered. White sage is traditionally used by Native American and some Native Mexican people. It is a sacred plant that is really only used in very small amounts. Burning just one leaf at a time can be all you need for one person to cleanse themselves. While I won’t be getting into discussions on who should be allowed to use this plant, I am just giving a historical perspective so you know the basis of where the rituals originated from. (plus there are TONS of other uses for white sage that are rarely discussed)
If you don't live in these regions, it can be easy to assume that wild harvested white sage just grows like crazy and is always ripe for picking. You dont get to see the dry, shriveled little plants that exist in what is technically a desert region. You forget that Southern California is essentially desert when you think of beaches, warm weather and tropical landscapes. We are actually in a desert, where water is scarce. Not to mention the drought we have been in since I can remember. While sage does tolerate dry climates like this, that doesn't mean it doesn't need water, and that in times of water scarcity it doesn't grow smaller in stature, its stems remain woody and dry and its leaves shrivel to half their normal size. Plants react to the climate, the season and the availability of water. Not to mention all the wildfires California has every year that destroy the sage’s habitat, and growing population that will bulldoze native white sage land to build houses!
Every year, every season, we return to the same lands over and over to observe the plants. We keep a file of what the weather was like, what the plants looked like, etc. When the plant is ready to give of its leaves, you will know. If you could see what the plants looked like now, you would know the plant needs to conserve everything it has to survive. You would know you were doing something iniquitous by ripping away its precious leaves.
While we aren’t here to say whether you should be wild harvesting plants or not, this is just one plant that is not ready to be wild harvested. Until we have a sustainable, cultivated source of white sage, I would say we shouldn’t gather at all from wild sources. Unless this grows on your own land, or you are able to grow it in your own garden, you should refrain from using and buying sage until you can find a readily available source. There are so many, and I am talking hundreds of varieties of sage that can be substituted. Black sage, sagebrush, great basin sage, culinary sage etc. Also cedar, sweet grass, rosemary, lavender; you can grow so many of your own herbs for cleansing purposes. Also many small farms or existing companies are beginning to grow their own cultivated sage for sale. We hope to be doing the same thing in the near future.
If you want to try your hand at growing your own sage, I suggest trying seeds. Propagating from a cutting is a little more tricky. It doesn’t always work, it can take a long time and you might get discouraged going this route. Growing from seed is no picnic either as they have a low germination rate. To give you a better idea, I set up 5-6 trays of seeds and only about 2-5 out of 100 sprouted per tray. But it is well worth your effort! You can either gather the seeds yourself or buy seeds. I like to get mine HERE.
So next time you see that photo of the enormous white sage wand online think twice of where that came from, ask questions, stay informed and be mindful. We all need to make a conscious effort to help keep this plant alive for many generations to come.