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Grey SageArtemisia tridentata
Grey Sage

This smudging herb is great for ritual cleansing and protection. The Navajo smudged themselves with grey sage before long hikes or other acts of endurance to rid the body of undesirable or lingering things. The Paiute patted themselves with it during religious dances to ensure spiritual cleanliness, and they decorated themselves with its blossoms and leaves for a spring dance. Washo shamans decorated themselves with grey sage. The Kawaiisu threw its seeds into the fire during celebrations because of the firecracker sounds they made. Some people associate this plant with the Coyote spirit and the direction South (showing more than a bit of Mercury influence here). It helps in acquiring sacred wisdom, aids longevity through its ability to purify, protects, and drives away negative forces. You can pour a decoction of sagebrush into your bath to wash away past wrongs, for instance. Its leaves and flowers combine well with juniper and rosemary in smudges. While its imposing size amongst artemisias and its scent allies it with Jupiter, you can also use it for work involving Artemis or other deities representing virginal female wisdom. Its general usefulness in purification makes it a great addition to Pagan gardens. Because of this female association and because the other herb most frequently made into smudgesticks, white sage, is called Grandfather Sage, perhaps a good name for this plant is Grandmother Sage. Top

In Herbalism

Artemisia tridentata This herb is commonly thrown onto the fire in sweat lodges as a disinfectant, and many tribes smoke the house with it for cleaning purposes. An infusion makes a good disinfecting wash for floors and walls. Paiute pulverized dried leaves for talcum powder for babies, and the Shoshoni washed newborns in a decoction of the herb. The Paiute inhaled the smoke for headache; they used the decoction as an antiseptic wash. They also dipped blossoms in water and then combed them through the hair of someone who had fainting spells. The Thompson Indians of British Columbia crushed fresh leaves for smelling salts. Apaches flavored foods with it (although most sources advise against ingesting it or its tea), and the Kawaiisu roasted pine nuts over it (yum!). The leaves, buds, and stems together make a yellow to gold dye. Seeds are edible but fiddly (goldfinches and pine siskins love them). Navajos made brooms from leafy branches. Several tribes shredded the bark fiber for tinder for friction fires or swirled a dead stick from this plant as a firestarter. Some smoked hides with the wood or stuffed shoes and pillows with the bark fibers. The smoke keeps away mosquitoes. This is not actually a sage but instead related to wormwood and sweet annie. Like many artemisias, it is highly aromatic. Top

In the Garden

This tender perennial gets 3-10ft/.9-3m tall but is typically a 4ft/1.2m shrub. It is a tender perennial, hardy only down to -5F/-20C with good snowcover or other winter protection, but it will also suffer if temperatures are consistently above 85F/30C with no rain (the plant goes dormant and its leaves will fall off). In the right conditions it can live 100 years. It fixes nitrogen in the soil but does not like other plants growing nearby; it will send out chemicals to keep them away. The taproot of this plant is strong and can break through even clay caps covering hazardous waste sites. This plant prefers bottomland but can grow at high altitudes. It flowers in October; some people are allergic to the pollen. The plant will be more aromatic growing in drier habitats and poorer soil; it is also especially fragrant after a rain. Unlike most, the live seeds of this plant float. This plant is also known as Chamiso, Hendiondo, Ts’ah, To’shoea’chikia, Western Sage, Sagebrush, Big Basin Sage, and Bitterbrush.  Top

How to Grow Grey Sage

Surface sow any time from late winter to early summer. Soil should be moist but not sopping; don't let the top dry out. Some seeds will germinate in 1-2 weeks, but germination can be speeded up if you a) sow between wet paper towels and put in a plastic bag in the fridge, b) mix with a teaspoon of damp sand, put in a plastic bag in the fridge, or c) sow on pellets and put the whole shebang in the fridge for 30-50 days. Since this plant often uses snowmelt to germinate, you could try using the soaking method as a pretreatment--soak in cold water, changed for fresh daily, and keep in the fridge for two weeks. Then surface sow as usual. Or sow on Winter Solstice (see special directions on the Solstice Sowing page). Transplant to full sun and soil that does not get soggy. Give winter protection if your winter temps get to -5F/-20C. General growing info.  Top


Artemisia tridentata
Grey Sage
1000 seeds $3.75

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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Purification Rituals
Protection Spells
Smudging
Celebrating Spring
Honoring Trickster Gods
Gaining Wisdom
Honoring Artemis
Jupiter/Mercury Herb

© 2006, 2014 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction of any part without permission.