Preserving Palo Santo and White Sage for Posterity
The wellness industry in the U.S. is rooted in the concept of self-care. But, when we look beyond our own wellbeing, it’s clear how detrimental this approach can be to other communities. One popularized practice is the act of smudging, an Indigenous spiritual ritual to cleanse the soul and space around it (Huffpost). Many people use Palo Santo or white sage, which are medicinal, ceremonial, and sacred plants. As smudging moves its way into the mainstream, the demand for Palo Santo and white sage grows – negatively impacting the Indigenous communities from where the practice originates.
•Consider: How do your wellness practices honor – not appropriate – their ancestral lineage?
While the practice of smudging began with Native ceremonies and traditions passed down from generation to generation, companies are now using the practice as a way to spread ideas of yoga and wellness (Beauty Independent). Back in 2018, fragrance brand, Pinrose pulled back their “Starter Witch Kit” from Sephora after receiving backlash from activists about the appropriation of Indigenous medicinal practice in commerce (Refinery 29). Urban Outfitters sold smudge sticks and marketed the product on social media with the caption “cleansing your Insta of negativity” (fashionista). These instances of major retailers profiting off of smudging perfectly demonstrate the definition of cultural appropriation. And, while some Indigenous people believe that selling smudging products is fine, they’re still concerned about whether mainstream consumption will erase its significance (Huffpost).
“We are in a battle of keeping the sacred, sacred,” says Ahsaki Chacherie, the founder of the Ah-Shi Beauty. “And it hurts because it’s not being used for its true purpose.” Chacherie isn’t the only Indigenous person to think so. Palo Santo originates from Indigenous peoples in Central and South America. Translating to “Holy Stick” in Spanish, shamans used Palo Santo to offer grounded and clearing energy (Mitú). Native shamans used Palo Santo to aid the dying on their spiritual journeys to the afterlife (Yoga Journal). Some Indigenous people believe that this wood should be given to you only by a shaman to ensure it’s being used appropriately (Refinery 29).
White sage is native to the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It was used by Indigenous communities native to those lands to cleanse, purify and ward off negative energy. Many Indigenous groups performed thoughtful rituals, which have been all but abandoned in their modern-day use. The ceremonial burning of white sage begins when participants ask an elder’s guidance to properly gather the plant. This ensures the harvest is sustainable, never taking more than necessary. These plants are not merely used as tools; they’re considered respected relatives that deserve gratitude and intention (Beauty Independent).
The demand for white sage and Palo Santo also contributes to a growing environmental issue. As beauty and wellness brands continue to gentrify the practice, these endangered plants are being overharvested (Beauty Independent). According to the United Plant Savers Medicinal Plant Conservation, there are less than 250 mature Palo Santo trees (Bulnesia sarmientoi, a species that grows in Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia) in the wild (Triluna Wellness). There are even instances of illegal harvesting of white sage (Daily Bulletin). While Indigenous companies harvest Palo Santo and white sage sustainably, consumers rely heavily on larger chains for the plant. Regulation for proper harvesting is proven difficult (Yoga Journal).