Smudging: A Sacred Native American Ritual

Posted By PowWows.com May 19th, 2020 Last Updated on: December 1st, 2021

Smudging is a Native American ritual that links smoke with spirituality in remarkable ways.

This is a common ceremonial ritual among indigenous people, held closely within these cultures to purify, spiritually cleanse, rid physical spaces of negative energy, and bless. So, whether you are a Native American yourself, or simply want to know more about Native American culture to expand your horizons, then continue reading.

In this post, we'll cover what smudging is, why smudging rituals are conducted in Native American culture, the best herbs to use for smudging, and how to smudge. 

What Is Native American Smudging?

In order to fully grasp the concept and perform this sacred ritual yourself, it's important to first take a look at what exactly the practice of smudging entails. By definition, smudging is a ceremony that consists of burning plant herbs and resins in either a clay or shelled bowl while prayers are being done. This results in a smoke cloud formation that is believed to cleanse the air and those within it.

Smudging is, in fact, the most popular ritual used to clear people and places of negative energy they would rather not surround themselves with. As a whole, smudging is used among many Native peoples within the western hemisphere and has played an active role for centuries.

Why Are Smudging Rituals Conducted?

There are several reasons why someone would choose to smudge, but in general, it is to better the lives of people and the places they live. Smudging is the bridge between mortal life and higher realms, bringing in good spirits and eliminating any negative, stagnant ones. This ceremony lifts away any sadness, impurities, anxieties, and remediates poor health, leaving nothing but peace and harmony for both individuals and the environment after the cleansing. 


What Are The Best Herbs To Use?

Before getting into the act of smudging and learning how it is properly done, let’s go over the actual herbs used for smudging so you are fully prepared to either try it yourself or obtain the big picture. For reference, most of the herbs that are used to smudge have antiseptic features, meaning that when burned, they legitimately do purify the air.

This smudging kit includes two white sage smudge sticks, two palo santo sticks, an abalone shell bowl and a rose quartz crystal. 

  • Sage – Sage, both Saliva Apiana (white sage) and Salvia Officinalis (common sage) are healing herbs used. The term “Salvia” comes from the Latin word “salvare,” which means “to feel healthy and well and healing.” Both white sage and common sage are also used to offer strength, clarity, wisdom, and often represent the maternal lineage of women.
  • Cedar – Cedar is popular for cleaning and purifying, eliminating the evil spirits within people and objects to remediate balance. Burning cedar is also used to promote positivity and deeply connect humans to the spiritual world.
  • Sweetgrass – Known as the hair of Mother Earth, resembling kindness, and widely used by all Native Americans, sweetgrass is believed to carry prayers into the spirit world. The smoke from the herbs is said to take the words and transition them over. It is also known as “holy grass” and when it burns it does not produce an open flame, but a sweetly scented smoke.
  • Tobacco – Tobacco is a highly sacred medicine in many cultures and is firmly believed to be the ideal bridge between the human and spiritual worlds. It does not need to be smoked, but is still able to provide spiritual benefits. The use of this acts as a human commitment established and supported by the spiritual world, showing gratitude for the beauty in life.

Though these are the most common herbs used to begin, conduct, or conclude a smudging ceremony, there are some essential oils that are used as well. These include:

  • Mugwort
  • Desert Lavender
  • Yellow Birch
  • Carrot seed
  • Thuja Oil
  • Balsam Fir oil
  • Juniper Berry
  • Peppermint
  • Wormwood 

How to Smudge

Now that the main elements have been gone over, it is time to gather your herbs and other items for smudging and begin the process. To start your group circle, or private session, gather up the following items:

  • A large clay bowl, clamshell or an abalone shell
  • Herbs of your choosing, but be sure to remove the stems
  • Wooden matches
  • Decent-sized feathers or smudge sticks to wave the smoke (you can also use your hands)

Once you have this all set in place, it is time to begin. If this is the first time you are doing this, then I recommend trying to do a session on your own to really get the hang of it and the feeling it delivers. There are several ways you can conduct this sacred ritual by yourself, but here is a simple one that you can do right at home to practice with.

  1. If you are partaking of this ritual inside, make sure to open up a window to have a steady airflow. Remember, smoke is the point, but you do not want to get sick from it or set off your smoke alarms!
  2. Make sure you are fully present and focused. If you are distracted in any way, it can make the smudging process ineffective or not perform as well as it could have.
  3. Using the match, ignite the herbs inside your bowl and let them flame up for 20 to 30 seconds before you extinguish the fire by holding your hand above it to deprive the oxygen (using your breath to blow it out is not proper).
  4. Smoke will begin to rise from the herbs in the bowl. Use that to smudge yourself first with the feather or smudge sticks (head first to your feet) and then move to your surrounding space. Make sure to do this slowly and relaxed and cover very corner and item.
  5. Once you are finished, bring the ashes from the herbs outside and return them back to the soil. This signifies the energy being given back to the earth and shows respect.

As you can see, burning herbs such as sage and cedar holds so much more meaning than simply forming a cloud of smoke while saying a prayer.

Historical Native Americans believed that the power of herbs and healing are the optimal solutions to rid the body or environment of unwanted thoughts, feelings, spirits, and negative energy to promote a higher state of well-being. The respect of Mother Earth and using the gifts that the earth has provided to heal and promote positive influences is something strongly tied within indigenous cultures. Though times have changed and the world has become more modernized than ever, smudging is still a vastly performed ritual that is integral to Native American culture today, deserving the utmost recognition and respect.

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » Smudging: A Sacred Native American Ritual

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Osiyo, Please find a real web designer. Because of all the ad overlays, this site is impossible to read on a mobile device, and almost unbearable to view on a PC. This is just extremely poor site design. Cluttered, obnoxious, and a rude affront to the visual senses. I know – SMUDGE the site! lol. I’ve seen others make the same comments so I know it’s not just me. Wado.

Paul G

Those ads were just temporary. Thanks

Tracy Marquez

Hello Paul, thank you for posting this. My nation is Lakota, but I was never brought up knowing the Lakota ways. My mother and grandmother passed a while ago. I have been learning little by little about the our ways. Learning to smudge is one I keep getting directed to. I have been smudging, hoping that I am doing it correctly and not offending anyone. I appreciate this article to help guide me. Thank you.

Ian Mitchell

Another really great article here at Powwows.com. I had some interest in Native American life, but I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for Powwows.com. My father was an old Berkeley folk musician, and used to take us to the protests at Inspiration Point that took place after the occupation of Alcatraz.
I have really enjoyed reading the articles here and I feel it’s put me a back in touch with the some of the activity of the Native American community which I really appreciate. Thank you all and keep up the excellent work.

Catherine Saxton Valenzuela

I am also Native American and unfortunately our elders are leaving us one by one! unable to pass this on to me. I am thankful for this to share with my children 5 grandchildren 16 and great grandchild 1!

I would like to ask permission to use this to teach others as its the most informative I have found!

Many Thanks!

Last edited 7 months ago by Catherine Saxton Valenzuela
Paul G

Please contact [email protected] for that information.


What if ur allergic to Cedar do u have to use it. Are is it OK to skip it

J buffalo

Your not supposed to expose our traditions to just anyone. Take this post down and never to that again. I’m a plains cree man, and my ancestors told me to only teach our family and relatives the ways of native American culture. Take this down

Paul G

I appreciate your feedback. I was taught differently about smudging. It was to be shared.


I’m Native American and this really did help me so I can learn about my culture! Not everyone one has the opportunity to learn about their heritage/culture!

Justin raver

I’m Cherokee have census roll numbers to prove it, why does it bother you so much do you want your tradition to fade away

Kathryn McCoshum

I also would like to know also

Claudia Fairless

And I believe only other natives and even interested in it. I have found my ancestors. I am a proud Cherokee. Thank you for sharing with me, I have been wanting to know the correct way so as not to disrespect it. Much love brothers and sisters,

Mary Margaret Pogue-Tamulis

I have been told that my mother’s family had a Choctaw woman back just a few generations and the Native American blood can be seen in our features…however, I have been unable to find her in searching on Ancestry.com. I feel a connection to this Choctaw woman and do you know if it is possible to connects with me? I find strength in her presence, is that possible…??

Anna Venrick

I believe it is very possible from my own experience. We have always been told by my grandmother on my moms side that there was Cherokee blood a few generations back and specifically “dodee indian a splinter off the cherokee tribe.” My grandfather had black hair red skin and high cheek bones and tou can definitely see it in me as well yet I cannot even find any references to a dodee tribe anywhere when I’ve tried to research it. Also nothing shows up in the ancestry. How can that be? I’ve always felt a strong connection like I’m not in my true element. Sad. I dont know if this makes sense to anyone else out there?


Its a handed-down oral tradition. They did this even more so after white man broke their faith bond within a few months of being here. The Elders were informed by the peoples who were trying to teach the white brothers and sisters.
Seeing they were gathering information for the wrong use the Indians began banding together in coded language. It wasn’t long after that the white Brothers became angry and impatient.
The elders in all nations started hiding small bands of the tribes in case of annihilation. Thus, a lot of the oral traditions were lost.
The lost tribes are coming together now and so are the old oral traditions. They just need to believe in themselves and each other again. ALL NATIONS KNOW THIS!!! THE GREAT ONE WHO WALKED THIS EARTH LONG BEFORE WHITE MAN TAUGHT THIS! BELIEVE IN YOURSELVES! BELIEVE IN EACH OTHER! LOVE IS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT HE TAUGHT!!!

Zindy Hall

I truly do love Powwows.com!!! There is such a large variety of different things to learn and do.
I truly do appreciate all of this being shared publicly. Especially for free.
Chi Miigwech! Sincerely…Zindy Hall
Zeba, Michigan

Robyn Mulholland

I thank you greatly for sharing this with me.. I live in Sequim, Port Angeles, Washing by the 7 Cedars Cedar Casinois .. Does the Tribe do any of this if so could you let me know. Thanks Robyn Mulholland


I love to smuge my home it makes me feel ein soul and in mind


i will second thank. Thank you

Martin DeLeon

I have been smudging for years I get a good feeling I feel more positive about the things I do I feel it is medicine because it it really helps.


Where can you buy the proper things for Smudging? Several places sell them online, but they are not Native American, and if I do it, I want to do it right! Thank you!

Zindy Hall

Pow Wows (when able to run again) are my number one places to get just about anything Native American that I want or need.
Enjoy and God Bless!
Zindy Hall

Karen Nowakowski

Try the “shop native” tab above on the right.

Karen Nowakowski

Also check out Facebook group powwowtradingpost

Martina Klingsmith

PLEASE HELP ME. I need my home smudged/cleansed…there are some very bad things and energies happening right now. It has effected our moods energy and MY HEALTH and mental state in a VERY visual and negative way. I live in Sherman, Texas. I’m about 20 miles from the Oklahoma boarder, Choctaw Nation is not far from me. However I have no contacts or know how to contact anyone. You are my one and only shot in the dark at some form of hope. Please, this is NOT A JOKE. Please contact me, Thank You for your time and I hope you have a blessed and healthy day.

Christina Smith

Martina, I am new to this site, but wondering if someone reached out to you? How are you doing?

Norma Caplin

Very helpful and knowledgeable.

Kathryn McCoshum

I also would like to know also

Free Email Series: What to Expect at Your First Pow Wow