European Herbs to Use for Smoke Cleansing

close up of juniper berries

In European cultures, smoke cleansing often had more practical or medicinal applications than the spiritual practices of Native people. Here’s a list of appropriate herbs to use. 

smoke rising from a bundles of herbs

photo from Mother Earth News


Smudging is the spiritual practice of North Amercian Indigenous people of burning white sage, but using smoke cleansing with aromatic plants is something shared by almost every culture, throughout the world. This smoke can be used for spiritual, meditation, ritual, or practical home keeping.

As mentioned in my last post, I am not interested in smudging with white sage because it’s an at-risk plant and cultural appropriation. Being of European ancestry, I have been most interested in the plants that my ancestors may have used.

a clay chalice with burning incense

photo from Marisa Pfenning

Smudging verses Smoke Cleansing

The word smudging relates to the use of sacred herbs and is a practice that is passed down from ancestors and is part of a ceremony. Smoke cleansing is something that can be done with or without ritual and ceremony and is the more appropriate term to use for burning European herbs.

In European peasant cultures, smoke cleansing often had more practical or medicinal applications than spiritual. Smoke would be used for clearing of parasites and bugs from domestic animals and the home and to clear ‘bad air’. Fumigation by smoke would also have been performed as a medicinal practice. 

While the sticks or bundles may be the most familiar with us today, herbs were often dried as loose leaf and burned on charcoal or thrown onto fires.

Any aromatic plant can be burned, and those local to your area and to your ancestral people will likely be the most powerful to you. While I have not personally made any of my own European smudge bundles, I’ve enjoyed researching the herbs, and look forward to clearing and cleaning with them in the future.

sunlite sage and thyme in a garden

According to conversations with wise women and this source, here are some herbs to try:

European Herbs to Use for Smoke Cleansing

Juniper is said to be calming, protective and clears out negative energy. It also helps ward off viral infections and airborne illness.

Pine is said to be grounding, cleansing, purifying and helps to bring forgiveness. It helps to deepen the breathing and clear phlegm and strengthen the adrenal glands.

Mugwort is considered to be a messenger plant and help with lucid dreaming. It is especially cleansing and used to treat parasites. There are varieties of Mugwort native to both the Americas and Europe. 

close up of juniper berries

Vervain is said to be used for balance, inner strength, and peace. It is a nervine tonic which works on the liver and heart and digestion.

 Culinary Sage is not a native to Northern Europe but is commonly grown in the garden. It is associated with clearing, cleansing, fertility, healing, wisdom, mental clarity and longevity.

Rosemary is not a native either, but another common garden plant. It is said to strengthen the memory, helps with energy flow, binds the soul into the body, promotes fidelity and protects space. It also protects against airborne pathogens.

Thyme protects against airborne pathogens as well and is often combined with Rosemary in smudge bundles. It promotes courage and confidence and lifts heavy moods, bringing an increase in energy and vitality.

Lavender is native to the Medetrainean area, but another common garden herbs. When burned, it may impart relaxation and a sense of calm. It can be used to let go of trauma and grief and to help manage anxiety.

bundles of dried lavender hang upside down

Want to make your own smoke cleansing bundles? I’ll get it together and document the process one of these days, but until then- here is a good guide!

Any herbs you like to use? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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  • Reply
    May 20, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks so much for this! Been looking for this exact type of resource for a while. Bookmarked!

  • Reply
    May 27, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you very much for this post. I have a pack of white sage in a drawer and used it only once. Don’t know what i will do with the rest – probably burn it anyway since I bought it being non-native person and shame is already on me, it would be pity to waste it. I want to do smoke cleansing rituals with clear conscience in the future so I looked for a replacement growing in Europe and you helped a lot with it.
    There is something very fascinating and precious in First Nations way of connecting with Nature, something which culture of my country (Poland) lacks very much but I guess we can’t use their ways but need to create ours, maybe similar in spirit but not replicate someone else’s completely without secound though. Spirits of land probably wouldn’t like offerings made in so unwise way.

  • Reply
    June 5, 2019 at 1:34 am

    I love this post! I must say though, I personally feel no one ‘owns’ white sage, and burning white sage is not appropriating culture if it is done with good intentions and love in ones heart. Herbs are medicine and medicine is for the people. Now if you were to say you were a Shamanic practitioner when you’re clearly not or claim that what you are doing is connected to the Indigenous people’s sacred traditions when it in fact isn’t..then I’d say you have an issue with appropriation. Respect is always important and honoring others sacred rituals is important, I just think we’re going a little too far when we say we shouldn’t burn white sage because it’s from a certain region and is connected to another culture..it’s like saying you can’t burn rosemary because you’re not French or from France (where it’s country of origin is)..again I’m stressing respect and honor…speak to the plants, ask your higher self what you need most at this time..to throw away the wonderful medicine that is Sage because you’re afraid of disrespecting a people who would be happy to share such knowledge (I have never met a Native person who was mad about people burning Sage or Sweet grass, all healers want is to share knowledge and medicine for all!).

    • Reply
      June 5, 2019 at 1:37 am

      Oops, I think I missed the part where you mentioned it’s an at risk plant! Definitely don’t want to harm a species, maybe people could grow it in their gardens? I also see that you are aiming to focus on European plants, so obviously White Sage is something you’re not exploring..
      Thanks again for the great article.
      Much peace.

  • Reply
    Morgan Stevens
    June 15, 2019 at 10:02 am

    It looks like there’s potentially some plagiarism here. It’s important to cite your references, otherwise you are plagiarizing. I found this article from 2015, in my search about this topic-
    and there are some word-for-word passages that appear in the blog article above. It saddens me to not see a credit to the article from 2015 here. It makes this article seem unreliable, or at least appropriated. It is really important cite sources and give credit to others’ work, or maybe I just didn’t see the reference? Especially when we are growing our understanding of appropriation and how damaging it can be. Thanks

    • Reply
      Morgan Stevens
      June 15, 2019 at 10:03 am

      I’m not trying to be negative or a troll, just confused about the references, trying to do some of my own research on the topic and looking for lots of sources. Thanks for putting the article together!

    • Reply
      Melissa Keyser
      June 22, 2019 at 6:59 am

      Hi Morgan-
      Thanks for your comment. I did use that article for reference, and I do have it linked and mentioned in my post: “According to conversations with wise women and this source [linked], here are some herbs to try:”

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