Smudging: Burning Herbs Can Purify The Air

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At some point or another, you’ve probably heard of smudging, what we call the ceremonial practice of cleansing and purifying the air using a selection of bundled herbs that are ignited. The smoke the herbs put off is said to cleanse negative energy and spirits, and even people and tools. Smudge smoke, like washing hands before eating food, was used as a way to cleanse people and places.

Smudging was commonplace in traditional societies. It has been used for thousands of years and even pre-dates Native American culture. The burning of incense also goes far into our past. We can see some of the first instances of incense burning as far back as 1530 B.C.E. in Egypt and Israel.

Of course, with any spiritual practice, we have to look at it with critical eyes and be somewhat skeptical. Science has recently looked into the ritual to see if it goes beyond mere superstition. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers administered herbal and non-herbal remedies in smoke form. Their findings?

“The most frequent medical indications for medicinal smoke are pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%). Other uses of smoke are not exactly medical but beneficial to health, and include smoke as a preservative or a repellent and the social use of smoke.”

They found the smoke to be air purifying and highly effective at it too. Another paper, published a year later, found that medicinal smoke reduced airborne bacteria.

The authors state: “This study represents a comprehensive analysis and scientific validation of our ancient knowledge about the effect of ethnopharmacological aspects of natural products’ smoke for therapy and health care on airborne bacterial composition and dynamics.”

A long list of pathogenic bacteria were found to be absent in an open room 30 days after a smudging treatment.

“We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space,” write the researchers.

These are all very fascinating developments and of course requires still some healthy skepticism and further research. What we can say is that it’s starting to look like burning sage and other herbs does a little more than make your house smell nice.


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