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More on Aboriginal Healing
The Peace Drum
Drumming unites the people who are united in a common beat. It creates harmony and peace.
Tune Your Ear to the Earth
A common love of the earth unites people of the most diverse cultures.
Guardian of a Sacred Trust
The story of how I gained the knowledge of their most powerful secret remedy for poisons, burns, and infection, including for the ever invasive poison ivy.
Smudging for Health
by Traute Klein, AKA biogardener
Native North American smudging is reminiscent of burning incense, but besides its ceremonial uses, it has health benefits associated with the medicinal herbs which are used in the smudging.
The Natives of Manitoba
This article is part of a series of articles on what I have learned from my association with the aboriginal people of Manitoba. The other articles are linked below.
The Practice of Smudging
I do not pretend to understand the principles of smudging, but I understand how it has affected me in the short time that I have been exposed to it. So let me share with you what it means to me.
In all my experiences, a dried medicinal herb is placed in a clamshell, or an earthenware bowl, and lit. When the smoke develops, the container is carried to every person in the circle and the smoke is allowed to pass over the face, hands, the clothes, and any other item as each participant sees fit.
The Problem with Smudge
I have been in churches where incense is used in worship. Two years ago, I sang in a group, which presented a Christmas Eve midnight mass in an Anglican Church so filled with incense that I could barely see the congregation. It did, however, not bother me in the least, although I certainly was not used to it. Other singers, on the other hand, had such problems with dry throats that they refused ever to sing in that church again. Likewise, the smoke from the smudging has never bothered me, although I have severe allergies which mainly manifest themselves in breathing problems.
I have heard people say that they will have a problem with the smudge. They have always been given a choice of leaving the room, but if I remember correctly, no one has ever left and no one has ever shown a reaction to the smudge. It therefore appears that the problems did not materialize even though they were expected. None of the smudges I have attended have ever used tobacco, though. To that I know I would have a terrible reaction. I cannot even touch any part of the nicotine plant without severe reaction. But then it is a member of the poisonous nightshade family.
The Four Basic Smudge Ingredients
In Manitoba, smudging employs four different plants either alone or in combination with each other. All of them are recognized to contain powerful medicinal properties.
- Sweetgrass, sarastana odorata, AKA Mother Earth's hair, holy grass, seneca grass, or vanilla grass. It is a native North American plant which I had not previously encountered. The grass grows in marshy areas to about 2 1/2 feet. When harvested, it is braided and the whole strand is lit for the smudging. I have only smelled its smoke once and did not find it particularly pleasant. Possibly I don't like it, because it is reminiscent of the sweet smell of vanilla which I don't like either. Sweetgrass is known to natives all over North America.
It is used in ritual cleansing, it unifies the people in the circle, it raises a heavy heart, dispels negative thoughts, and gives strength to a dispirited person. I therefore expect that the herb is invested with these medicinal properties. One precaution is in order: Pregnant women are advised to stay away from it.
- Cedar was previously known to me as a source of cleansing, healing, and strength. It is a source of vitamin C in the wintertime when that vitamin is hard to come by. Its strong smell repels unwanted flying insects such as moths. That is why we line our clothes closets with cedar wood. Only the dark green dried leaves are used in smudging and the smoke gives off the qualities which I have described. I have never heard of anyone having a problem with this plant or its smoke.
- Sage, as known to aboriginals, is not the sage plant we use as a cooking herb, although the aroma is reminiscent of it. Only the white sage of California is a true sage. In the rest of North America, other plants are called sage. The one used in Manitoba is an artemisia similar to wormwood, and varieties grow wild in all parts of North America. I enjoyed its pungent aroma when camped on a desert field west of Kamloops, BC, one hot summer night. It gave me the soundest sleep of any camping night. In the morning, I saw that the entire field was covered in short wormwood-like plants which the people of the area call "sage." Its medicinal properties are too numerous to mention here. This is one of the herbs which can be used by women at any time in their menstrual cycle and even in pregnancy.
- Tobacco is a medicinal plant, but its properties are not healing, because it contains poisonous elements. The tobacco which is traditionally used in native ceremonies, however, comes from a different plant which I do not recognize, one which is entirely healing without negative effects. It is offered as a sacrifice, a thank offering and is credited with linking the earth and the spirit world.
Smudge as a Healer
In this article, I am not so much concerned with ceremonial smudging, but with the medicinal properties which may be used apart from ceremony. When the smoke of a herb is inhaled, the medicinal properties enter the blood stream faster than through the digestive system. I learned this through personal experience in early 2001. I was just getting over the most horrible flu which had ever struck mankind in my lifetime. I came to the drumming circle totally exhausted and barely able to breathe. As I breathed in the smoke from the smoldering sage, my breathing improved noticeably and remained steady throughout the evening. It highly recommend the healing properties of sage smudging.