Smudging is cultural appropriation? Maybe.

Oh, nothing has made us go at each others throats more than being bored at home. If someone in the distant future reads this, it’s the week after Easter 2020, there are 2 million + confirmed Covid cases. Not the 4/20 we expected.

Disclaimer, nothing I say in here is advice, especially if I mention other traditional herbs used for “smoke cleansing”. Burn stuff at your own risk.

Tough Conversations

One thing I miss in this viral mess we are now in (COVID), is sitting down with people to have difficult and challenging conversations. Some people who may find this article probably will be mad at me just for writing about it. The truth is though, it is better to get it all out in the open. It is better to talk about this stuff. It is better to learn and evolve. Just like with diet and nature, diversity makes us strong – and so do tough conversations.

The other day, on facebook I was part of a conversation that must have been deleted by the original poster or a group admin. Too bad, because it made me go down quite the rabbit hole. As usual, a learning experience.


I will go about this backwards and give you my conclusion first.

RESPECT IS KEY! I will say it again, we all can love each other, love other cultures, mimic each other and respect each other. There are an infinite amount of cultures and subcultures. We can go on and on about who stole what from who. Start with respect and love. Keep that tone in mind while reading this.

“Smudging” is not cultural appropriation because “cleansing with smoke” has been performed by humans globally since before written word and perhaps as long as humans have been cooking with fire. The same goes for bone broth! Smudging is the Anglo-Saxon term for smoke cleansing.

However, if a person calls out their culture for being appropriated it might be! Society is a great mirror and consider your actions. The second thing that must be considered is – IF that culture is being appropriated, how can it be appreciated instead?

As soon as I read this post about a person angry about a group of earth loving nature enthusiasts “cleansing their homes” with smudge sticks, my first thought was “what is the etymology of the word smudging”. Turns out that smudging is from the 1860’s. It means to make a smokey fire. Which is perfect because it is cleansing with smoke.

Lastly, I also have a bone to pick with this whole smudging trend to begin with, because it is wasting resources, precious herbs and trees in some cases. So, let’s talk about it and some alternatives, use local herbs!

What is cultural appropriation?

Let’s not get all philosophical and deep here. Let’s say it simply.

Cultural appropriation is when another culture mimics another culture with negative consequences.

This can be especially hurtful when a crony capitalist goes to a less developed region of the world, buys goods for insanely cheap, exports those goods and sells them for a huge profit (coffee anyone?). That’s just good business though, right? Boo!

Then there is cultural appreciation vs cultural appropriation. How can we spot the difference? It really seems to me that once someone cries appropriation it can never be appreciation!

Here is an article that said it really well:

“Appreciating another culture looks like cultural exchange. You’d have consent to participate in someone else’s culture, and both sides would mutually benefit and gain understanding of each other.

On the other hand, appropriating another culture includes taking from a marginalized group without permission, and usually without respect for or knowledge about their culture.”

You’re taking my culture!

I joked the other day to a Polish colleague when I found out the Polish term for “Broad Spectrum” CBD, guess what, it is “Broad Spectrum”. I have a hard time even hearing a Polish person pronounce it in my brain. I laughed, mostly from frustration because I am trying to learn Polish, then I said “Stop taking my culture”, and winked. After all, there are Polish words for “broad” and “spectrum”. Broad spectrum, has become part of the global professional nomenclature in the cannabis industry and I am happy that it is! Broad Spectrum, BTW, means that it is a whole cannabis plant extract but the THC has been removed. Which is perfect for athletes.

I think that there are plenty of legit examples of cultural appropriation:

  • Tattoos
  • Racist Sports Team logos
  • Sacred Symbols
  • Halloween costumes
Makes me feel gross just looking at it.
Hitler stole this and ruined it…

Stupid Retro NFL Helmet

What is the difference between yogurt and the United States?
If you left yogurt alone for 200 years it would grow a culture!

I was told this by a Polish person, and since I grew up in Ohio and have heard every dumb Polak joke there is, I appreciated it.

I think that cultural appropriation is not always easy to spot either. I would say (and I don’t know the statistics) that there are more American white people that own yoga studios in the USA than immigrants straight from India. That’s technically cultural appropriation, but many of them travel to India, study for a long time, impact that local economy directly, learn about that new culture and immerse themselves deep into the whole experience of becoming a yoga teacher, I would not call them a yogi! That term is earned and not earned in a short time. Ask anyone from India. If you don’t know anyone from India, find someone! I have never met a person from India that I did not like. The people I work with from India are all dedicated, hard working and kind. Normally more kind than Americans.

I know in Poland there are plenty of taco trucks with ZERO Mexicans in them. The food is still good of course but I still dream of the homemade Mexican food from my childhood. I have been trying to recreate that flour tortilla recipe for years and I think it’s impossible!

Should I use a smudge stick?

The short answer is yes! The science is pretty clear, not all smoke is bad! Some smoke can clean the air and even help repair your lungs. What is bad though, is our buying habits! Creating pleasant smoke goes so far back the term “perfume” as in “per fumum” meant “for smoke.” Describing pleasant smelling smoke. Now we don’t associate perfume with smoke at all!

Also, I think that is is safe to say that most people don’t just jump on the bandwagon, buy some sage, set it on fire, then run around their house to “clean the energy”. I would say that most people (especially with smoke alarms) enter into the idea of smudging with curiosity and respect. Smudging after all is about bringing peace to your space. One can assume that the type of person who cares about such a thing is respectful. I remember that my first exposure to it was on television on the discovery channel when a psychic was trying to get rid of ghosts. Spooky.

If you aren’t Native American, why don’t you come up with your own herbal blend and ritual? Alternatively, why not nerd out about it completely and support Native Americans? In order to nerd out get a book! I read Sacred Smoke: The Ancient Art of Smudging for Modern Times. It’s about $8 and it’s legit. It is direct from actual North American tribal knowledge. So, you support a small business and Native People. That’s a win!

What about smoke cleansing in other cultures?

This was a shower thought for me. I really dive into some big question for the day and well, this general theme of ritual smoke cleansing was my topic. So, if humans have been ritually using smoke all over the world what are some of the plants, oils, resins and minerals used in those rituals? Some cultures make sticks of incense, some sit in a sweat lodge and put the herbs on hot rocks. I find all of this so interesting!

Smoke around the world:

North America – Sage (Salvia officinalis) and Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) and at least 150 others!
Catholics – frankincense and myrhh
IndiaStar anise, Sandalwood, Turmeric, Clove, and Patchouli
China – Cannabis, Harebell (Dianella ensifolia), Juniper (Juniperus) and at least 90 others!
Japan – Agarwood (Aquilaria sp.)
EuropeThyme, Angelica (Angelica archangelica), Willow (Salix Sp.), Mugwart (Artemisia vulgaris)
Poland – Mistletoe, for bee keeping (seriously)
Central America – Palo Santo

This short list shows that you can make a ritual for yourself from local materials. There is science to back up most of them and do not forget about intention as well, if you want to be woo woo about it. Next, I would like to talk about two plants in particular that, odds are, are not native to your biome (region of the planet).

White Sage

Years ago, I used to live in Southern California. Life was good. I did a lot of hiking. I mean a lot! A short hike was ten miles. On said hikes we would forage. It was common to stumble on abandoned citrus, fig or avocado plantations. Even more common was white sage (Salvia apiana). I wish I had pictures from this time in my life but what a magnificent plant. My buddy and I would always look for some sage that was dead (nice and dry), make a bundle with some hemp wick, light it and just enjoy that amazing smell as we walked. We never took too much, never damaged the bushes, and we never picked it (wild crafting) and sold it.

hiking and sage
The good old days, and some sage.

In fact some people got caught with 400 pounds of sage and got arrested. According to the article they were picking sage in a nature preserve. First of all that is not cool. Second, how can you cleanse your space with something that was not sustainably harvested? I don’t think you can.

In fact, you can grow your own sage! White sage is hardy in zones 8-11. Sage prefer sandy soils, but will grow in richer soils too. Because it grows well in sand that means that it likes to have good drainage. If you have a lot of clay that could be an issue. If you want to know more about growing sage, head over to Shop Aquarian Soul.

Palo Santo (Bursera Graveolens)

There is a great article written on the website Forage and Sustain on why we need to stop using Palo Santo. For anyone reading this that knows me you know that I do not like to waste wood. A bunch of westerners burning this seems like a waste to me. Especially when there are so many local alternatives.

These trees take 50-70 years to mature. Traditionally, Palo Santo sticks should only come from a tree that has died naturally and laid on the forest floor for 4-10 years. This allows the oils in the heartwood to build up properly for incense. If you have ever seen a tree cut in half the heartwood is typically darker and in the center of the trunk. Opposite the heartwood is the sapwood, this is the outer wood (not the bark) that normally has pronounced growth rings. My point is, not even the entire tree is used. Researchers think there are less than 300 left in the wild.

How can I help?

As I keep saying, if you want to smudge, understand what it is for, make your own ritual, buy sustainable materials, or better yet go forage, respectfully and legally, for some herbs of your own to make a smudge stick or some incense. If you really want to be stellar try to support indigenous businesses.

After skimming through a few books and listening to a bunch of old white ladies with fake Native American names I found this website. I am not affiliated with them in any way. They seem to be to an indigenous business. So if you really, need some sage check them out >

Indiginous Business Directories

United States

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