Smudging & The Four Sacred Medicines

Smudging & The Four Sacred Medicines

Many things have been placed on the earth for our use. One of the major tools given to us are the plant medicines. 

Certain plants give up their lives so that we can use their smoke for prayers and cleansing, and the aroma produced by these plants help us place ourselves in a different state of mind thus bringing us into a deeper part of ourselves. Then, as we concentrate on what is happening, the scent may inspire memories, awaken the soul and give a sense of direction.

Many cultures and religions use sacred smoke made from the plant medicines. This is called smudging in Native America. Often incense is burned during rituals, both for purification and to symbolize the prayers of the worshipper, which are then carried to the Creator along the smoke.

While much is written on the use of smudging to cleanse negative energy, one of its main purposes is to bring vision, aided by the sense of smell.

Besides producing visions, smudging is used to purify tools and people before an important spiritual ceremony. It is also used to clear sacred space and open the soul before calling upon the Spirits and their healing powers.

The Elders say that the Spirits like the aroma produced when we burn sacred medicines.

It is always recommended to smudge a room or oneself after heavy healing work or a bad argument. This is to remove any negative energy that may persist just like disinfecting a place full of germs.

Healing powers of plants and herbs is universal and across all continents, the only difference is that not all plants grow in one region. People usually utilize the plant or the herb that is abundant in their region

There are four major medicinal plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar that we natives use frequently in ceremonies.


Sacred tobacco is used to make smoke and is one of the most sacred of plants for Native people. It is said to be the main activator of all plants. It was given to us so that we can communicate with the Spirit world and when you use it, all things begin to happen. Tobacco is always offered before picking medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them. 

Tobacco is used first as an offering for everything and in every ceremony. 

Going to ceremonies you would offer tobacco to the Elder leading those ceremonies along with an honoring gift. This announces your intention and the Elders may ask you of your intentions with this offering.


Sweet grass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth; its sweet aroma reminds people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people; this is why Native people pick it and braid it in 3 strands representing love, kindness and honesty. Sweet grass is used for smudging and purification of the spirit. When sweet grass is used in a healing or talking circle it has a calming effect. It is said that it attracts the good Spirit, so use it to call in the Spirit.


Sage is used in many different ways; it helps the people prepare for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweet grass, it tends to be used more often in ceremonies. It also has physical healing properties - you can boil sage and drink it as a tea. 

Sage is for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy, it is used for cleansing homes and sacred items. There is male and female sage.


Like sage and sweet grass, cedar is used to purify the home. It also has many restorative medicinal uses. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire, it crackles. This is said to call the attention of the Spirits to the offering that is being made. 

Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection. Cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian Spirit and chases away the bad Spirits.

Since it is believed, in many cultures, that the plants we use to burn and purify ourselves provide us with access to their soul and power, it is essential that we ask their permission before gathering these plants. Take only what we need without damaging the plant and give thanks for what we have taken. If you did not pick these plants yourself, know that someone else did that for you and that you could still give thanks for the life of those plants and the people who picked them.

The format of smudging in today's rituals varies from culture to culture, as do the plants and herbs used for sacred ceremony. 

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