Native American medicine picking: The experience of picking sage
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 🙂 In this case, picking sage in Merritt, BC.
Why pick medicine?
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? 😉 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.
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.
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 medicine. 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 in 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.
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.
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.
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 🙂 Below I have included a few examples of smudge sticks to buy 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 🙂
All my Relations