Native American medicine picking: The experience of picking sage

Native American medicine picking: The experience of picking sage

sage Merritt BC

Sage in Merritt, BC

Hello all!

Wow is it ever a gorgeous weekend on the Canadian West Coast! Grandfather Sun shining, blue sky and perfect temperatures. Loving it! If you have seen my site’s Facebook page, you know that I had the privilege to go medicine picking yesterday. I went with my healing circle as the Elder and facilitators go every year and know the area well. It was so nice just to relax and look at the scenery on the way there (as I am normally driving and miss out on all that is around). A perfect Saturday! I even got back with one hell of a sunburn on my back (as the one thing I had forgotten was sunscreen…).

So let’s talk about Native American medicine picking πŸ™‚ In this case, picking sage in Merritt, BC.

Why pick medicine?sage bushes

Yes I know that it is a weird question to ask but let’s look at it anyways. The name of this site is Traditional Native Healing. Meaning that I want to explore with you traditional ways of healing. With me so far? πŸ˜‰ What is more traditional than picking medicine from Mother Earth? It was the way of the ancestors. Did they have ready made oils, lotions, balms, etc? No they did not. They made everything by hand and it would all start with picking the medicine themselves.

So picking medicine is part of the traditions and ways of life that our ancestors passed down to us. It is a way to reconnect with Mother Earth and all that she offers. It is a way to look at all that is available to us, which we take respectfully. Our ancestors used the land respectfully, they braved the weather to get the medicine they needed to get better, to heal, to keep going. There were no drugstores back then. They had to use what the earth provided them.

sage, sage and more sage

sage, sage and more sage

For me, picking medicine is about honoring our ancestors, as well as the land we are on. It is about acknowledging that, in my case, I am on unceded territory (one that was never sold, but rather stolen) and to honor and respect what that territory has to offer. It is a healing task for me. To be amidst bushes and bushes of sage, I felt so honored and thankful to be there. To see so much medicine all at once. However, it is not because there is a lot of medicine that we can just go about and take it all. So let’s see how I have learned to pick sage.

white buffalo sage

White buffalo sage

How to pick medicine

Once again, I want to reiterate that this is how I learned it. Others might have learned it a different way as we all have our teachings. This is how I learned from a West Coast Elder as well as a Dakota traditional man.

The first “rule” I would say, is to be and act respectfully. To be respectful of Mother Earth and of the sage pickingmedicine. Therefore, we offer tobacco to the earth before picking. Tobacco is sacred medicine and is often placed on the ground as a sign of respect and as an offering (to read more about tobacco and the medicine, see this post). Thus, yesterday, I held tobacco inΒ  my hands, and prayed to the 4 directions (East, South, West and North) as well as to the 5th and 6th direction (Father Sky and Mother Earth). My prayers were about being thankful for the opportunity to be there picking medicine, thankful for Mother Earth and her medicine, for guidance while I pick sage and for forgiveness for taking the medicine. As yes, you are a guest on the land and need to ask for forgiveness for taking something away. While on the topic, also, never leave anything behind. If you are on a different territory, when you are not home, do not leave anything of yours behind, as it will change the order of things. Leave the land as close to how it was before you arrived.

Once you have made your prayers and asked for forgiveness, go to a medicine bush (in this case, sage) and offer the tobacco by laying it at the base of the plant. You can also sprinkle it on the bush. Then leave that bush alone! Do not pick the bush where you put tobacco down. Pick the one beside it or another one further away.

sage Merritt BC

Sage everywhere!

To pick the sage, just run your hand along the branch (from the bottom up) pulling the sage as you go. Like you would get thyme off a stem for example. Be gentle, do not pull too hard. If you break the branch because you pull too hard, you can offer more tobacco as an apology. Don’t forget that plants are alive, they are our relations. We need to be gentle with them and respect them. So do not pick too much out of the same bush. Pick a little then move on to the next one so you are not “cleaning a bush dry”. As you pick, you can also sing songs or continue to pray. For me, picking medicine is a time to meditate, to be in my own little world, to enjoy the beauty of Mother Earth. It is a time to recenter myself. And I really much appreciate having had that time yesterday.

sage picking

a friend lost in the bushes πŸ™‚

What to do with the sage

Ok so now I brought home an incredible amount of sage but what am I going to do with it? Well first off, I gave half to my healing circle. Because they organized the whole day and have helped me so much. Out of respect and appreciation, half went to them. The sage will then be used to make medicine to burn when we smudge. I will do the same at home for myself. First off though, one needs to dry the sage. The way I was taught by the Elders when I worked in prisons was to lay the medicine flat on newspapers for example. Just spread it well and let it be for a few days to let it dry out. I would not put it directly in the sun as it might actually dry too much. As the Elder explained to me yesterday, if you have lots, you can also dry it in a cardboard box. By placing layers in between newspapers. It will then take a few months to fully dry.

my sage

part of the sage I picked

So today, I will lay down newspapers and spread my sage on them. It is a dry and sunny day so I think I will place it on my balcony (not a good idea if it is windy though…). Once it has dried, then you can crush it to a fine consistency to make smudging medicine. I think that with the amount I have, I will be set for quite some time! You could also, if you picked a few branches too, make a smudge stick by packing a few branches tight together and tying them with a string. Then dry them. That will be my project for next year πŸ™‚ Below I have included a few examples of smudge sticks to buyΒ  if you cannot pick your own. Or you can order them on Etsy (love Etsy) here. I have ordered those sticks before and I was satisfied.



So what are your thoughts? Have you ever picked medicine? If so, any advice? If not, would you like to try it? Comment below and I will answer you πŸ™‚

All my Relations

Quarter of what I picked

A quarter of what I picked

Sage bushes, Merritt, BC

Sage bushes, Merritt, BC

22 thoughts on “Native American medicine picking: The experience of picking sage

  1. Laurie

    Thank you for posting this. After reading your post yesterday I was very interested in the aspects of picking sage and how to properly be respectful. I own land in the Black Hills of Wyoming, near Devils Tower and I have a great deal of sage on my property. This may sound odd to you but I have never been a very religious person when it comes to what I call organized religion, but I am very comfortable with the beliefs of the Indians. Just makes so much more sense to me. I have tipi rings on my land and evidence of artifacts present themselves to me from time to time. I often give offerings of tobacco and always say prayers of thanks to Mother Earth for this beautiful land. I’ve been enjoying your website and FB page, through it I hope to learn and understand more of the beliefs of your people.

    1. Emily Post author

      Thanks so much for stopping by Laurie! The Black Hills are sacred land, I would imagine artifacts and sage are plentiful. And I do not think what you are saying is odd at all. I completely understand. It seems like you are respectful of the land. Keep making tobacco offerings as we are all guests on this land. We belong to it, not the opposite. I am glad you are enjoying the Facebook page πŸ™‚

  2. bob Clato

    Sage is good stuff.
    I do not quite know all the qualities of that plant yet, bu it sure has a nice aroma, and is good for seasoning Fish.

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Bob
      thanks for stopping by. This is different than culinary sage. This is used as medicine and is sacred.

  3. bob Clato

    How can I tell the difference?
    what should I look for in the plant?

    I long to make a peace pipe and pack it wit some of our special vegetation.

    it is also a useful plant for us.
    I don’t know If I had ever seen sage In Jamaica before I left there in 1978.

    You know, we used to have Taino people a loooooooong time ago. Thanks to God above, some still are alive in the Caribbean, more so in Venezuela.

    But please, Tell me more about sage. How you good people use it.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi again
      I think I included a link in the article about the medicine. But it is used often for smudging, cleansing yourself if you will. To get rid of negativity. You use the smoke of the sage to “wash yourself”. I do it every morning and every night. I am familiar with the Taino people, the people of the Mountains, they are called. Beautiful culture.

  4. Rawl

    Well, my father and grandfather were part Cherokee and my great grandfather full Cherokee. And although I wasn’t raised with any Cherokee traditions my father did believe in natural healing with the earth’s natural resources. My father didn’t really trust Western medicine so he would find other ways to heal us when we were ill or had a cut.

    I’ve never been on a spiritual walk to pick medicine as yours unless you include walking to the backyard as a child and picking aloe vera from our aloe plant and sage from our sage plant my parents planted. We didn’t offer tobacco before picking them; but, my parents would pray over the plants when we planted them.

    I like the respect you pay to the earth acknowledging its power and what it gives us. Some may think it silly, but without the earth we couldn’t survive.

    Thank you.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Rawl!
      Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It touched me. Praying over the plants, for their life and what they give us is good. I think it is just about respect. Respecting our relations and Mother Earth instead of just taking taking and taking. It was an awesome experience. πŸ™‚

  5. Wolfwoman

    I have picked sage for many years. One of the ways that I dry (and I do use a great amount over the year) is I place it in a paper bag & hang it to dry. Yup often my closets can really smell – but when possible I hang it outside to dry. Love the information that you share

    1. Emily Post author

      awwww thanks so much for sharing your experience! I remember doing that as a kid, hanging herbs and plants to dry πŸ™‚ At the moment, the house is full of sage on newspapers so it does smell good! I had it outside but it became too windy! Putting it in closets is a great idea too!

  6. Yvonne

    Hi Emily,

    What a wonderful experience it must be to hand-pick herbs yourself. I would love to be there too. To be surrounded by the beauty and abundance of nature.

    I’ve used dried sage for cooking before but I understand that these are different. How does this sage smell like? Is it only used for medicine?

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Yvonne
      it was a wonderful experience indeed. There was just so much sage! Everywhere you looked, there it was. This sage is not made to cook with, it is only for medicine. If you look at the leaves closely, they are a different shape than the ones on cooking sage. The smell is similar for sure but also a bit more earthy. Almost as though this sage was mixed with rosemary odor wise.

  7. Garen

    Hey Emily,

    I have never been medicine picking, but than again I guess it never really crossed my mind to do so. I am very big on essential oils though. I do own sage as an essential oil and really do feel it has a lot of good properties such as its antifungal antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, etc.

    Thanks a lot for the tips on hunting sage. I did have a question though? How long is sage good for after you pick it though. Should you freeze it and is there a way to preserve it? I have freezing sage gets rid of the potency of it.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Garen
      Nice that you have sage oil! It does have many properties. As for fresh sage you would need to dry it (in the process of doing that now), then ground it with a mortar and pestle. Once it is grounded, it can last for years. I have sage medicine that was given to me over 2 years ago and it is still good and wonderful.

  8. Deidre

    Hello Emily, I love your wonderful website.
    I learned to pick plants by first offering them some water, asking if it is ok that i take some flower or leaf (to offer to God on my altar or as medecine, then listening! thanking them if it responded yes, and offering the picked part back to the earth first(by resting it down on the ground).
    Then we are able to use the leaf/ flower, in offering or as medecine.
    I am in N. America, My godfather showed me as he learned from Native Americans (s.america)

    Also I tried to email you, but it bounced there a different email address we can write you?

    Thank you.

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Deidre
      Thank you for sharing your teachings with us. I really appreciate it. Asking permission and forgiveness is truly important before we take something from the earth. I will send you an email to the address you left here.

  9. linda j lacey

    I found your article very helpful and interesting. I learned a great deal. do you have any advice on how to use it on healing my daughters cat. he has 2 deep scratches on his shoulder that are getting infected .we are looking for a natural way to heal him. something that will draw out the infection and help it to heal. could you please help or direct us to a web sit for help. thank you

  10. Rob Tanner

    Although I’m a white man, when I was young I felt lust like natives for the land and for mother earth.
    I am now 78 and I have a deep connection with this beautiful planet and have attended many ceremonies
    performed by local natives here in Southern B.C. I had the privilege of picking sage in the Modoc National Forest of Southern Oregon recently and picked it as any native except I did not offer tobacco. It is beautiful I think, white buffalo sage and is my favorite. I would like to offer it to any native who will use it to heal the natives in Ontario where the teens are committing suicide or any purpose the person may want.
    I am deeply hurt that natives are so treated as they are here and wnat to be a part of the healing in whatever way I can
    Rob Tanner

    1. Emily Post author

      hi Robert
      that is very generous of you. such a tragedy all the young deaths in Ontario. Such trauma on the reserves. If you know someone who performs ceremonies, you can offer it as a gift if you attend one or if you know they are having one. Or to someone conducting healing circles.


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