Smudging is an ancient practice of using the smoke from burning herbs as a way to cleanse the body, objects, or an area of any negative influences surrounding it. These same herbs can be used in warding and banishing ceremonies as well, if used properly. The three types of smudge material I use the most for are sage, cedar, and sweetgrass.
Salvia, or the herb sage used for cooking, comes in two major varieties: S. Officinalis, commonly known as Garden Sage, and S. Apiana, commonly known as White Sage. The Salvia varieties have been used as healing herbs for hundreds of years. Artemisia is commonly considered ”Sagebrush”, and is more common in the wilds out here in my native California. There are two major varieties to the Artemisia : A. Californica, or Common Sagebrush, and A. Vulgaris, or Mugwort.
There are many other varieties of both Salvia and Artemisia, and all are effective in smudging. In my Cherokee/Sioux heritage, sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits, negative thoughts and feelings, and to keep any negative entities away from areas where the ceremonies are held. In a traditional Plains Sweatlodge, the floor is generally covered with sage leaves so that those participating have them readily available to rub all over their bodies during the sweat.
Sage is also used in keeping sacred objects such as pipes or Peyote wands safe from negative influences. In the Sioux nation, the Sacred Pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs. I also protect my ceremonial crystals the same way.
Some Junipers are also called ”cedar”, which complicates things a bit. Some Juniper varieties ARE indeed cleansing herbs, especially J. Monosperma, or Desert White Cedar. But for smudging, the best is Western Red Cedar and/or California Incense Cedar. Cedar is burnt while praying to the Great Spirit or diety of choice while meditating.
Cedar properties work in two ways; to purify and to attract GOOD energy in your direction. Cedar may also be used to bless a house before moving in. It is usually available in herb stores in a chipped form, which I sprinkle over a hot charcoal disc. You can also use mesquite charcoal if you are out of discs.
Sweetgrass is very important to the Cherokee and Sioux nations. We braid the sweetgrass in the same fashion as hair braids. We then burn it by lighting the end of it, and smoking the area, item or person needed. You can also shave the sweetgrass and use a charcoal disc or mesquite to burn it, which helps you use less.
Sweetgrass is burnt AFTER smudging with sage, to welcome favorable influences after the negative influences have been driven out. Sweetgrass is pretty hard to find these days as there is not an abundance remaining. The good news is that there are plains cultures who are protecting what is left so it may still be obtained.