Updated: May 9, 2019
Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria; study cited is not about the Native American practice known as smudging.
Misleading articles like this one in Oprah Magazine titled, "The Benefits of Burning Sage Include a Better Night’s Sleep (no wonder it's an ancient ritual)," continue to be cited at meetings, online, and across social media by laypeople and professional health care providers alike to prove the efficacy of burning White Sage (Salvia Apiana) to remove pathogens from one's person and space. This practice is more commonly referred to as smudging and has its roots in Native American ceremony in both the U.S. and Mexico. The study does not include White Sage nor smudging in its methodology and protocols.
As a cultural practitioner, I neither need nor require Western validation of our customs; our practices are based on hundreds of years of the empirical knowledge of curanderas and curanderos (and other spiritual persons and medicine people) who, by trial and error, profound spiritual vision and, knowledge, found what worked. Even so, I’m glad when I read substantive articles that appear to be catching up with ancestral knowledge.
However, the study referenced in Oprah Magazine, and other similar articles, such as this one at Uplift Connect called, The Science Behind Smudging, or over at Power of Positivity and their article, How to Make Smudging Sticks to Clear Negative Energy Around You, have one thing in common: the study they cite, found at Science Direct, "Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria," originally published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, does not include white sage or herbs used in the Native American ceremony known as smudging. Additionally, the manner in which the Indian medicinal herbs are administered is different.
The study, "Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria," used woods and herbs used for ceremony in India: “We have observed that 1 h treatment of medicinal smoke emanated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri = material used in oblation to fire all over India), on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 h in the closed room.”
What is Havan Samagri?
“Made from ayurvedic havan exotic herbs, Black til, Jo, 30 types of dhoop, Bhimseni kapoor, rose petals, sandalwood powder, lobaan, ghee, chandan, Nagkesar, Tagar, Agar, wala, Red Sandal powder, Nagarmotha, Lotus seeds, Jata masi, Batriso Dhoop, Kapoor Kachri, Satavari,Tumeric." —Shvedi Traders
"The Havan Samagri is the food for the deities. Havan is a sacred fire ritual done in the Vedic Hindu tradition. Havan is a technique given by the Rishis and other Enlightened Masters to create a specific desired effect in our lives. The way in which the desired effect is made and the strength of the effect makes Havan a unique component of Vedic tradition." —Source: Shvedi Traders
Persons who are interested in cleansing their space of pathogens, and especially those who are over harvesting and using White Sage because they have not been taught in a traditional manner, or are learning how to make white sage smudge bundles from online articles instead of from its community of origin, and are citing the study, can instead use Havan Samagri (also raising other questions about the ethics of using ceremonies that are sacred to cultures not our own).