White sage, or Salvia apiana, is a hardy, fragrant herb in season from May through September that grows throughout North America. The plant is particularly prolific in North Dakota and Minnesota. It flourishes in arid climates in full sunlight. The color of the plant is silver and green and its flowers are white or purple. Native Americans have used sage for medicinal and ceremonial purposes for centuries.
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Traditional Medicinal Uses
Native American tribes in California traditionally placed white sage seeds in their eyes at night to collect impurities. Native American women drank white sage root tea after giving birth to encourage the expulsion of the afterbirth and promote healing. The smoke from the white sage plant used in sweat houses released volatile oils that relieved symptoms of the common cold. The plant's leaves functioned as a hair cleanser and to inhibit the development of gray hair.
Native Americans valued white sage as a ceremonial plant. They placed sage in ceremonial locations, such as the sweat lodges and altars, positioning the flowering side of the plant facing the fire. They used white sage as an incense to cleanse and fend off evil spirits, sickness and negative feelings. The plant's purification properties also cleansed inanimate objects, such as utensils, weapons and living quarters.
Chumash Healing Herb
White sage was an important healing herb for the Chumash Native American tribe in California, according to a 2005 review by researchers at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. According to the report, the Chumash gathered the plant carefully, praying and taking only the minimum amount needed. They dried any excess leaves for later use. Chumash healers initiated medical treatment by burning white sage, purifying the patient's central nervous system. The patient drank water infused with sage leaves. The plant destroyed harmful pathogens, soothed sore throats and reduced inflammation. The principal active ingredient responsible for white sage's medicinal effects is cineole.
Native Americans in California used white sage seeds as food. They collected and dried the seeds and ground them into meal. They used the meal to create batter for cakes, biscuits and porridge. The tribes collected and stored extra seeds for use during the winter. The Chumash tribe also used white sage leaves and stems as culinary ingredients.