White Sage Plant: Growing Guide, Smudging, and Seeds


If there’s any herb that has a long and storied history, it’s the white sage plant, also called salvia apiana.

Used heavily amongst California tribal people for centuries, this plant has many names given by the tribes who used it.

The Tongva, also called the Gabrielino tribe, called it kasiile and found it on hills around the area now known as Los Angeles. A similar pronounciation, qas’ily, was used by the Chumash people who lived along the current Santa Barbara coastline. The inland Luiseno tribe referred to this plant as qaashil. To Kumeyaay peoples who were in the area around modern-day San Diego, it was known as shlhtaay.

Viewed as a sacred plant, it was also used for food, medicine, and many other purposes.

While an individual salvia apiana plant can survive for many years in the wild if the surroundings are right, most people find it a bit more complex to grow in the garden. Yet it can be a beautiful and worthwhile plant to have on hand.

So please, read on for an in-depth gardener’s guide to this ancient herb.​ While we’re at it, we’ll discuss the best way to grow this plant both for use ornamentally and for collecting smudging herbs!

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White Sage Overview

Common Name(s) White sage, California white sage, sacred white sage, grandfather sage, bee sage, buffalo sage, and a number of traditional tribal names
Scientific Name Salvia apiana
Family Lamiaceae
Origin Southern California and parts of northern Mexico
Height Up to 6’ tall, can spread almost as wide but typically 3-4’ wide
Light Full sun, no shade
Water Extremely drought-tolerant. Established plants need minimal to no water.
Temperature Warm weather conditions preferred. Does not like temperatures below freezing, does poorly below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity Can tolerate humidity but may have disease issues
Soil Sandy, extremely well-draining soil
Fertilizer No fertilizer required. Likes low-nutrient conditions.
Propagation By seed or cutting
Pests Aphids, whiteflies, flat mites, spider mites. Also susceptible to powdery mildew, rust, and root rot.

What Is White Sage?

White sage in its natural environment
White sage in its natural environment. Source: scott.zona

Salvia apiana, often referred to as California White Sage, is a large perennial desert plant. It grows in spiky clusters in sandier soils, often in foothill areas of southern California and down into Mexico. Its name comes from the leaves, which have a grey-green tinge to them when fresh and which turn a greyish white when dried.

In the wild, white sage can often grow to heights of six feet tall and many feet in diameter. Its long stems come from a central root mass and last throughout one growing season before drying and dying back. As a desert plant, it likes hot, dry conditions.

It’s become a popular choice for people who are opting for lower-water gardens, and can be easily incorporated amongst other low-water plants for good effect. If you’re trying to conserve water, this might be the perfect plant for you!

A Short History of Tribal Sage Use

Before we can discuss the uses of white sage amongst tribes, it’s important to realize that it is not even close to the only type of sage which was used traditionally by tribal peoples. In fact, the use of white sage was only truly common traditionally amongst the tribes in the desert southwest, since it did not grow elsewhere.

A Diversity Of Sages

Purifying smoke at a naming ceremony
Purifying smoke during a ceremony. Two different kinds of sage are used here. Source: antefixus21

Amongst Californian peoples, white sage is occasionally referred to as grandfather sage, as it grows to be so much larger in its elder form than any of the other sages in California. And there are, in fact, other indigenous sages! Salvia melifera (black sage) and salvia officianalis (garden sage or culinary sage) are common throughout California and into Mexico, as well.

While in modern times, black sage is spreading northward and taking over the habitats where white sage once grew, it is not used in precisely the same way. Black sage has a more acrid and chapparal-like scent, and was traditionally used in very specific ceremonies, where white sage is used for most day-to-day use.

However, the two look similar, although black sage tends to be shorter and more grey than white when dried. The leaves of black sage are also a bit smaller and narrower than white sage.

There are also other plants referred to as sage which aren’t sages at all. The two most common of these are Artemisia cana (silver sagebrush, also referred to as Badlands sage or South Dakota sage) and Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush, desert sage, mountain sage, and many other names).

Artemisia cana is occasionally called Sundance sage because it is widely used by the Lakota and other tribes as part of the Sundance ceremony. This plant grows in the northern plains area of the United States, and is hard to find outside of that region. Its leaves are narrower than California white sage and have a distinctly different aroma.

By comparison, Artemisia tridentata is incredibly widespread, both in tribal use and in growing area. This little-leafed plant is used very similarly to salvia apiana ceremonially, but its scent can be described more as a dusty sage scent. It can be found across the western half of the United States in the wild.

There is one other Artemisia species that should be noted here: the white sagebrush, Artemisia ludoviciana. It grows in similar environments to Salvia apiana, and it looks quite similar to Salvia apiana as well. However, it can grow in partial shade instead of full shade. This plant’s aroma is more like the dusty sage scent of Artemisia tridentata. It’s used medicinally by tribal people.

Smudging or Smoke Cleansing

Eagle feather and white sage bundle
An eagle feather and a white sage bundle. Source: Keira Morgan

White sage was traditionally used for ceremonial or medicinal purposes. The most well-known of these uses is burning it to release its fragrant smoke. While the term “smudging” is often applied to this process, the origin of that term actually comes from medieval Europe. A more accurate term would be smoke cleansing.

The smoke produced was used to purify or cleanse objects by fanning it across the object. It was also used similarly to purify or cleanse people in a similar fashion. Tribal spiritual leaders might have special fans or feathers which they would use for this purpose, depending on the specific tribe’s religious views.

While it is easiest and most common to bundle the leaves and stems together and dry them for this purpose, they can also be burned individually. Crumbled or powdered leaves can be burned as a powdered incense too.

The smoke is used in many other traditional ceremonies. Ohlone people use it as part of the preparation for and during their bear dance, for example. The Cahuilla bird singers often use it before they sing the traditional songs. It is an integral part of many Californian tribal religions. Uses like these tend to be overshadowed in the public eye by the popularity of smudging with white sage for its cleansing purpose.

Food and Medicine

A tribal member harvesting white sage
A tribal member harvesting white sage. Source: Caveman Chuck Coker

Traditionally, white sage leaves were chewed by Californian tribes to freshen the breath and to stave off thirst on hot days. This might have been due to the high eucalyptol content in the leaves, which leaves a refreshing, almost minty coolness in the mouth after chewing.

That same eucalyptol content made it extremely helpful during times of sickness for clearing congestion. A common practice was to boil sage leaves for five to ten minutes in a small amount of water, then to breathe the steam from the container. This would help relieve congestion and ease cold symptoms.

Sage leaves and stems were boiled in water to produce a strong-scented liquid that would be used as a sort of shampoo and body wash. This not only eliminated body odors, but provided a slight antibacterial effect which helped with keeping the skin free from bacterial problems.

The leaves were used as a spice in cooking, but also offered medicinal value both as a poultice or a tincture as well. Roots were also used medicinally, and were believed to help strengthen women recovering from childbirth.

The seeds were gathered and powdered along with maize and other seeds and spices to form pinole, a flour-like substance that was an ingredient in many staple foods for tribal people.

The stems of white sage were seldom used medicinally, but were occasionally used in cooking for flavor. Young stems were sometimes utilized for making small items such as baskets while fresh and somewhat pliable.

White Sage Care

White sage in container garden
White sage in a container garden. Source: FarOutFlora

Growing white sage can be tricky for many gardeners because it goes against what we’re all accustomed to. In the wild, salvia apiana is a desert plant, accustomed to long spans of time between watering and extremely hot conditions — both things that we tend to forget about when we’re planting it!

But it’s not impossible to grow white sage, and it’s actually really worth maintaining this perennial plant in your yard. Here’s a list of some of the best ways to grow and maintain your plant for years to come.


For white sage, sun is life.

Salvia apiana absolutely demands full sun. It really does not perform well in shaded conditions at all. Pick the hottest and sunniest part of your yard to plant your white sage in, because it will thank you for it.

White sage does not like cold weather conditions. If your winter drops below 20 degrees consistently, you may have difficulties growing it there. It’s best in those conditions to transplant your sage and take it indoors to warmer temperatures for the winter, providing it plenty of light from a grow light.


White sage after rain
Young white sage leaves. Notice the reddened leaves, a sign of drought stress. Source: John Rusk

Once white sage is established, it does extremely well in very dry conditions. It puts down deep taproots to search for its own water supply.

For the first year after you’ve started a new sage plant or transplanted a young plant in, water it once per week. You do not need more than 1/2″ to 1″ of water per week. Gradually reduce the watering over time as the plant’s root system becomes established.

Once a white sage plant has been in place for a year or two, it’s likely going to find all of the water it needs on its own. You can choose to water it sparingly during periods of drought or in extremely hot weather, but once established, it shouldn’t need much water if any at all.


Sandy soils that are extremely well-draining are preferred by white sage. Think of the natural soil makeup of a foothill in the southern California region – dusty, sandy soil with lots of decomposing granite. That’s the ideal “flavor” of soil for your white sage plant. If this doesn’t describe the soil in your region, opt for a cactus growing soil blend.

If you have richer soils, it can tolerate those, but be sure they’re extremely well-draining as sage really hates soggy soil.


White sage doesn’t need fertilizing. In fact, it actually prefers low-nutrient soils as an adult plant.

If you want to give young plants a gentle kick-start, side-dress around your plants with a light coat of spent mushroom compost. This provides a tiny amount of extra nitrogen to help spur plant growth, but won’t overwhelm your plants.


This plant can grow to reach heights of 6′ tall, and can easily spread out over 3-4′ or even wider. Because of this, I advise not planting your plants closer than two feet, and if you’re really trying to cram them in, no closer than 18″. They need room for both the roots to expand and for the plant to grow!


White sage flowers about to bloom
White sage flowers just starting to bloom. Source: Melissa Berard

White sage can be propagated in two ways: from seed, or by cuttings. Read on to find out how to do these two forms of propagation!

Growing White Sage From Seed

Seed is the most common way to grow new plants. However, white sage seeds are notoriously bad at germinating. It’s not uncommon to have a germination rate of 20-30%. Because of this, you will need to plant far more seeds than you expect to eventually plant out.

When planting your seeds in the spring, it’s easiest to start white sage in seed starting trays or pots rather than direct-seeding it.

Sprinkle your seeds across the surface of the soil, and then mist them with a water bottle. Keep your seeds in a location that is in the 70-85 degree range. Provide full light from a grow light if growing them indoors, or place them in direct sun.

You will want to keep the soil lightly moistened initially for your young plants, and then wait until the soil begins to dry out before moistening it again. Once your plants have started to grow, water no more than once a week, but only if the soil feels dry.

Growing White Sage From Cuttings

If you have an established white sage plant that’s at least a couple years old, you can opt to take a young cutting and try to coax it to take root. This also has a low success rate of around 20%. However, if finding seeds is difficult in your area, getting a cutting from someone with an established plant may be easier.

Make a special mix of 1/3 perlite, 1/3 medium-grained sand, and 1/3 seed starting compost. Lightly moisten the mix and place it into pots. Then, take 4-6″ cuttings from the top of an established sage plant. Be sure to select cuttings with newly-forming leaves at the top, and cut just above a leaf node.

Dip your cut end into water, then into a rooting powder such as Bontone Rooting Powder. Gently tap the cutting against the side of the container to knock off any excess, then place it into your prepared pot. Try to have your lowest set of leaf nodes about 1/2″ beneath the soil’s surface, and press the soil in to hold the stem in place.

Until your cutting takes root, it’s best to keep it in a partly-shaded location on top of a heat mat that’s set between 70-85 degrees. The warmth will help promote root growth. Only water when the soil feels dry just below the surface near the cutting, and water sparingly just to dampen the soil blend.

After 4-6 weeks, gently tug on the cutting to see if there’s any resistance. If there is, it has formed roots. Remove rooted plants from the heating mat, as the warmth is no longer required. Keep your plants in partial shade for a few more weeks, then carefully transplant them into a pot of well-draining, sandy garden soil or cactus blend.

At this point, it’s time to get your plants accustomed to sunlight. Slowly increasing over 2-3 weeks’ time, give your white sage plants more sun exposure until they’re out at all times. Once they’re hardened off, maintain them until fall and transplant them then.

Transplanting and Repotting

Planting white sage
Planting a white sage transplant. Source: Suzies Farm

Transplanting a white sage plant is best done in the fall, as the fall through early spring months are the months when white sage growth tends to happen. The plant goes dormant during the drier summer months of the year, so transplanting it in the fall gives it the best chance to establish hardy roots before the heat comes.

Your sage plant should have at least 2-4 sets of true leaves, but I actually prefer to start seeds in the spring for plants I plan to transplant in the fall, as it gives them more time to develop.

To transplant, simply prepare your bed with a sandy, well-draining growing medium or cactus potting blend. Place your white sage plant in the ground at the same depth that it was in the pot. Be sure to gently open up the base of the roots if they’ve gotten rootbound, so that they can stretch back out in the soil.

Lightly water your new transplant in, and give it a little extra water initially, but no more than 1/2″ to 1″ a week. Don’t water if rain comes, as it will get plenty from the rain.

If you’re simply replanting white sage in a larger pot, the process is essentially the same as transplanting. Try not to put multiple plants any closer together than about 18″ so that they have plenty of room to grow. Remember, white sage can get to be a huge plant when it’s in the ground, but it’s restricted a bit when it’s in a pot. You’ll almost never achieve maximum size in a pot.

Traditional Growing Methods

Tribal people would harvest the seeds of the white sage by cutting off the dried seed pods and putting them into a pottery container, then tightly closing or covering the top. They would then shake the pot to cause the seeds to break free of their pods. Once this was done, they could pour the seed and pod mixture onto a piece of cloth or leather, remove larger bits of pod, and lightly blow the chaff away.

Any seeds which were to be replanted would be taken out to a place where people had been harvesting sage. After offering thanks to the plants for their bounty, a small handful of seeds would be cupped between the sower’s hands and rubbed together. This lightly abraded the surface of the seeds to allow them to take on water during the next rain.

The seeds would then be broadcast across the area and left to sprout. While it’s likely that seeds would be carried off by wildlife, enough seeds would sprout to keep the plants growing in the area.

Companion Planting

Most gardeners just grow white sage on its own, but it companion plants well with the following plants:

  • California Buckwheat
  • Black Sage (just be careful it doesn’t take over!)
  • Hollyleaf Cherry
  • Sugar Bush
  • Lemonade Berry
  • California Sagebrush​ (keep them separate so you don’t confuse them)

Harvesting and Storing White Sage

A harvested white sage plant
A slightly over-harvested sage plant – always take less than a third of the plant. Source: briweldon

There’s a few tricks to keep this plant around, both in storage and in the world around us. Read on to learn when and how you should harvest your sage, how to dry and store it properly, and how to make sure we don’t lose it forever.

When To Harvest White Sage

Plants would not be harvested until they were at least a couple years old. This ensured that the plant would be able to handle the trimmings without adverse reactions.

Traditionally, harvests would take place at different times of year depending on what the plant was to be used for.

If the plant was meant for cleansing smoke purposes, it would be harvested after a period of drier conditions. This allowed the plant to use up much of its water stored in its leaves, making the oils in the leaves more potent. Ideally, the leaves would still be pliable and there would be young growth, but they would have a strong, pungent scent when rubbed.

For medicinal or food purposes, white sage could be harvested at any time of year, but its flavor or medicinal properties would vary. Again, this is related to how much water the plant might have stored in its leaves. Drier conditions made more pungent food herbs or resulted in stronger medicines, where wetter conditions tended to mellow these out and might require larger amounts to be harvested.

How To Harvest White Sage

It is important to cut white sage cleanly with a pair of bypass pruners or snips. Try to avoid crushing the stems, as that can lead to disease.

Never take more than a third of any plant at a given time, as that can cause the plant to go into shock. Only cut from the younger, fresher plant tips, leaving the older and woodier stems intact. Cut just above a leaf node, as that will cause the branch below to send out new branch growth from the nodes and bush out more.

Be sure that when you are harvesting your sage, you select a day when it has not been raining, and that you harvest at mid-day or in the early afternoon when all morning dew has already evaporated. This ensures that your leaves will be dry at the time of harvest, reducing the likelihood of mildew forming on them later.

To harvest white sage seeds, wait until the plants have flowered and the flowers are beginning to dry. Take paper bags and put them carefully over the flower stalk, using a rubberband to secure them in place. Then allow them to continue to dry. Occasionally shake the bag to see if you hear rattling inside. Once you do, the petals are falling off, and you can cut the stalk just below the bag and remove it. Shake the bag to free the seeds from their pods.


Once you have harvested your sage, it is essential to dry it quickly. There are two ways to do this: either loose, or in bundles.

Loose sage leaves can be dried simply by laying them out on a mesh screen in an area with low humidity and low light. You should be able to easily crumble a leaf between your fingertips when it is dry. Store loose leaf sage in an airtight storage container. You can add a moisture-absorbing dessicant packet if you would like to keep it dry.

To create sage bundles, be sure that your harvested sage leaves are completely dry to the touch. Take multiple stems of sage and group them together, tying a piece of cotton string around the stem ends to gather them together. Then, grasp the stem end with one hand, and carefully gather the leaves up against the stems with the leaf ends pointing towards the top of the bundle.

Wrap your string around the bundle multiple times from base to tip to secure the leaves in place, finishing by tying off the string at the stem end. Leave plenty of extra string to create a loop, and hang your sage bundles in a dry, dark location to completely dry out. It’s helpful if you can have a fan lightly blowing on them to reduce the moisture in the bundles more quickly.

Place your dried sage bundles in a box for storage. Cardboard is actually really good for this purpose, as it can absorb any residual moisture the bundles might have.

One note: please do not use heat to speed your sage drying process, as this will give it an unusual and unpleasant aroma. Dehydrators, ovens, all of those methods are not good for this plant. Air drying is best.

A Note About Wild Harvesting White Sage

Wild white sage plant
A wild white sage plant. Source: scott.zona

Since white sage has become extremely popular for smudging purposes, there’s been an ever-increasing number of people picking it in the wild. This is not always people gathering it for personal use. Often, it’s being collected for resale purposes, and there is no effort at reseeding the plants or encouraging their continued growth.

As a result, salvia apiana is rapidly becoming an endangered species in its natural environment. Because of this, I do not recommend wild-harvesting white sage if you can avoid doing so. Since it naturally flourishes in areas where it’s also extremely popular, this has depleted stands of white sage to the point where it’s becoming difficult to find in unprotected areas.

If you do find yourself needing to harvest wild white sage, take some time to spread sage seeds around where you’ve harvested from, and perhaps take a pump-sprayer full of water and lightly mist the area to encourage germination. Try to encourage new sage plant growth where you harvested so that the plant will continue to thrive there long after you’re gone.

But I really recommend opting to take a few cuttings or seed pods and growing it yourself. Once your plant is established, you will have a neverending source of sage at your disposal!

This video offers some insight from the traditional tribal peoples of California as to why wild gathering may be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a fascinating bit of insight into the current Native culture and how they’re trying to sustain these plants.


While I’ve gone over the most common problems already in the above sections, there’s still a few other things to be aware of. Let’s go over those now.

Growing Problems

Since white sage is indigenous to southern California, it’s more difficult to grow it in regions where the weather gets colder. Anywhere there’s regular temperatures below freezing, you may find your plant suffering.

Younger white sage plants should be carefully dug up and transferred into a pot during those cold weather months. Be sure to keep it in a warm location with a grow light to provide it all the light it needs.

Older, established sage plants, especially large ones, are much more difficult to move. Once your sage plant is over 3 years old, chances are you’re not going to want to try to transplant it anymore so you don’t risk transplant stress. At this point, it’s a good idea to mound sand up in a thick pile over the base of the stems of the plant. While you may suffer some stem damage, keeping the base warm should allow the plant to regrow later.


Aphids will thrive on sage plants. After all, the white sage stores its extra water in its fleshy, leathery leaves, and that makes it a delicacy for the aphids! You can use neem oil to repel these pests and keep them at bay. However, if you’re planning to harvest for burning purposes, avoid using neem oil for seven to ten days before harvest.

Whiteflies are another pest which can wreak havoc on your white sage. These also like to suck the plant sap from the sage leaves, but thankfully, the same neem oil you’re using to prevent aphids will also prevent these pests, both inside a greenhouse or outside.

The red and black flat mite (Brevipalpus phoenecis) is another sap-sucking pest who could infect your sage, as is the omnivorous flat mite (Brevipalpus californicus). Both of these are considered “false spider mites”, and they can cause browning or reddening of leaves, patchy spotting of leaves, and other issues. Thankfully, neem oil is also effective against these, too!

And, of course, there’s always the spider mite itself. While these are less common on white sage than they are on other less-pungent sages, they still can take up residence, especially during the drier months of the year. One more time: use the neem oil!

Really, neem oil is a great preventative for nearly any pest problem that salvia apiana may develop. If you have worsening conditions from any of these pests, you can opt to use an insecticidal soap with neem oil blended into it and coat all surfaces of the plant. This should eliminate your pests for good, and regular applications of neem oil will keep them at bay.


The most prevalent disease of white sage is powdery mildew. Since sage likes hot conditions, any humidity that accompanies that heat can spawn an outbreak, as can moisture that remains on the leaves. Thankfully, the same neem oil that will defend your plant against pests is a good preventative for powdery mildew as well.

Rust is another disease which can impact your sage. The Puccinia and Uromyces species are particularly risky. These start out as yellowish or whitish spots on the top of your leaves, but the underside of leaves may develop an orangish rust in the same locations. Remove any affected material as soon as you notice it, and avoid watering the leaves of the plant. Ensure it has plenty of airflow to allow leaves to dry out.

Root rot is another problem which white sage is susceptible to. This is usually caused by one of a number of fungal agents that’s active in overly wet soil. To prevent root rot issues, simply don’t overwater. Your sage will thank you in multiple ways!

Frequently Asked Questions

White sage plant
Happy little white sage plants. Source: FarOutFlora

Q: Why are my white sage leaves turning red?

A: White sage leaves and stems turn red, purple, or mauve as a result of drought stress. This actually is not a problem for the plant, as it will continue to survive even if the lower leaves and stems are starting to redden. It can actually be quite beautiful!

If you start to see reddening leaves, you can give the plant a little assist with a light drizzle of water at the base of the sage. That should perk it right back up.

Q: How much sage can I get off one plant?

A: This is a tricky question to answer, because it depends on the size of your plant and how long you’ve been trimming it to encourage more branching out. Older, heavily-branched sage plants may produce quite a lot of sage, but younger plants may only produce a couple bundles’ worth.

Plants under a year shouldn’t be trimmed, and in fact, the second year, you should be careful not to take too much.

Q: Where can I get white sage seeds?

A: There’s a number of places online to order white sage seeds, and you may actually be able to find white sage plants at local garden centers if you’re in California. While no white sage seeds are going to have a phenomenal germination rate, I’ve found the salvia apiana seeds from West Coast Seeds to be relatively reliable, as are the seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Both of those businesses are based in California, and have access to wild growth plants.

Do you already grow white sage? Are you thinking of adding it to your garden? Let me know in the comments below!

Share this with any gardening friend you know who would find it valuable!

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu

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62 thoughts on “White Sage Plant: Growing Guide, Smudging, and Seeds”

  1. Great article Kevin! I’d like to add one thing (if it’s not mentioned in the comments already), the germination rate of white sage improves a lot if you smoke prime the seeds this is because the plant’s co-evolved in the Californian wildfire ecology.
    Here is a video of how I smoke prime the seeds, obviously I’m using white sage leaves for this.

    • While many trees evolve to require wildfires to germinate their seeds, and some plants like the poodle dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) need extremely high heat like that produced by fire to help the seeds germinate, Salvia apiana is not one of the plants which requires wildfire conditions.

      Salvias are not pyrophytic (plants which require fire to germinate). Good examples of pyrophytic plants include closed-cone coniferous trees like the Bishop pine or the Sargent cypress. Among some of the chapparal plants (such as manzanita), the intense heat which the fire produces going over the soil will provide enough residual soil warmth to spur germination of underground seeds.

      Very few non-tree plant species require wildfire to germinate. I mentioned the poodle dog bush earlier, and it’s a perfect example of a pyrophytic plant. Eriodictyon parryi will scatter its seeds into the soil layer. The plant may then effectively vanish from the landscape, as it doesn’t compete well with other chapparal plants. Decades later, when wildfire comes through the area where the seeds were scattered, those seeds will come back to life, and it’s often the first plant to appear after the ashes cool. It’s gotten a reputation amongst fire ecologists as being a “nursery plant” of sorts, as the thick growth of Eriodictyon parryi can protect very young sapling conifers until they’re large enough to stave off nibbling from deer or other wildlife. Once the plant has matured and outlived its purpose, it’ll again spread copious amounts of seed and go dormant in the region, lying in wait for the next fire.

      Salvia apiana may not be pyrophytic, but it requires considerable heat to germinate as a desert plant. Providing soil temperatures of 75-80 degrees will help speed its germination and can be easily done with a seedling heat mat. You’re in effect getting similar warm temperatures from your smoke treatment for a short period of time, which may bring the seed out of dormancy… but it’s honestly a lot easier to just provide the right warmth in the soil that the plant’s seeking.

  2. Hi Kevin, thanks so much for this very informative page and all the work you put into this website! I was a little surprised to see no mention in the text of Artemisia californica, our own California Sage. It’s a favorite of mine, both for smudging and for just scenting my hands and clothes as I hike past them here in the coastal hills.

    • Artemesia californica, also known as California sagebrush, is a very different plant from California white sage (salvia apiana). In fact, it’s not even in the same family as white sage — it’s part of the mugwort family, where salvia apiana is definitely part of the sage family.

      While it is used by various tribal groups, especially amongst the Cahuilla and Tongva (Gabrieleno) tribes, its traditional use was medicinal rather than as a smudging herb. Most of the alternative sage or mugwort family references in this particular piece were focused on the plant’s use for smudging rather than medicinal usage. However, that’s not to say that Artemesia californica is in any way poor for the purpose — it just isn’t as widespread as salvia apiana, the primary focus for this piece!

      Hopefully at some point in the future we can do a piece on Artemesia californica, or at least an overview of the many different varieties of sages/sagebrushes in California. I believe there’s some 25-30 different plants in California which could be covered in a piece like that, and it’d be a fascinating topic!

  3. I accidently ordered more white sage smudge sticks than I wanted, How long do they last? I want to know if i should keep them and store them or return them because they will turn bad.

    • It really depends on how you store them.

      Dry storage is best. If you keep them in an airtight box so moisture doesn’t get in, they’ll last for quite a while. If you plan on using any of the leaves for culinary or medicinal purposes, use them within a year’s time. For burning, they can last for years if stored properly, but the aroma of the smoke may not be as pungent on older bundles.

  4. I live in north central Texas, and have sand and clay. Will my sage plants be successful? I made the mistake of transplanting directly to the ground in early summer, so I hope they make it through the winter. Thank you!

    • Sandy soil is fairly typical for white sage. Clay may pose a problem as young roots are trying to get established, but sage tends to be fairly robust once it gets established. If they were doing well throughout the summer, chances are they’ve developed good enough roots by now!

    • The difficulty with buying cuttings is that you really need to start them in the soil the day that you take the cutting for best results.

      I’d actually recommend purchasing white sage seeds. They have a spotty germination rate, so you’ll want to start more seeds than you expect to actually grow. However, you should be able to get a good, healthy plant that way. You can then take cuttings from your healthy plant to start others.

    • Seeds are definitely easier. If you hit them with a fast blast of fire from a lighter you’ll get a better germination rate (almost all of my seeds germinated with this method). Another method is to soak them in liquid smoke, but I haven’t tried this method so I can’t comment on it. They rely on the California wildfires to germinate. Without the fires/heat, very few will germinate. Once you heat treat the seeds, mix ash (from twigs, leaves, etc) into the soil and around the seeds to better mimic the natural environment and to fertilize it some. Good luck!!

      • There are a number of pyrophytic plants in California, it’s true. Probably the best known of these is the lodgepole pine, although the poodle dog bush which grows around pine and cedar groves is another great example.

        However, salvia apiana (white sage) is not pyrophytic. In fact, it’s more likely that the excessive heat from a wildfire remaining on the seeds for long will sterilize or destroy them. A few swipes from a lighter is no more dangerous than sticking your finger in the flame’s path briefly – it’ll be warm, but you’re unlikely to burn yourself, and so there’s not enough time to harm the seeds themselves.

        What does help with germination is having the right soil temperature. Aim for a soil temperature between 70-85 degrees, as that will speed the germination process. While it’s possible that a fast-moving wildfire might heat the soil up to the right range to spur germination, it wouldn’t be as effective as consistent heat would be.

        Liquid smoke would not have any effect on germination whatsoever. It is actually a distillate from combusting wood called pyroligneous acid, and it provides no stimulus to seeds.

        As for blending ash into the soil, that is a great way to reduce the acidity of your soil. If my soil acidity’s too high, I mix clean wood ash from the fireplace into it to bring it back to a neutral range. Be careful when doing this, however, as too much ash will make your soil alkaline, which also isn’t good for plants!

  5. Hi Kevin, My daughter is getting married in June 2018. We are making Smudge Sticks of White Sage and lavender. I plan to grown the sage here at my house in Santa Ana, CA. I already have lavender and some rosemary growing. Any way, do you think the White Sage will grow well here in Orange County and that I can plant seeds now at this time of year for a June wedding coming up? Do you have a list of seeds suppliers that perhaps be on Amazon or not. And do you recommend plant seeds first indoors and transplant the seedlings? Thank you.

    • I’m hoping I’m not too late in responding and that 2018 was a typo! White sage grows very well in Orange County, and I’ve got friends who grow it down in that area. However, a one-year-old plant is not ready to be harvested, so this is a long-term preparation.

      It should ideally be 2-3 years old before you harvest from the plant, and you should never take more than a third of the plant at any time so you don’t cause severe damage. If the wedding is 3-4 years from now (and wasn’t this year!), you should be able to grow multiple sage plants and supply some of the sage for your own smudge bundles.

      Something else to consider is whether you have enough room for multiple white sage plants. By the time these reach 2-3 years of age, they can be fairly sizeable. I’ve had plants reach 3 feet across before they are harvest-ready! If you’re planning on gifting the bundles to guests at the wedding, you’ll need a bunch of plants even if you make them small.

      In the FAQ on Kevin’s white sage article, there’s a few seed suppliers who are good sources for good-quality white sage seeds. Be sure to plant more than you need, as white sage typically has a poor germination rate and you won’t get anywhere near as many plants as the number of seeds you sow. I personally prefer to grow from cuttings as it’s more reliable.

  6. Hi Kevin and all at Epic Gardening,

    I am a newbie gardener with a keen interest in lithops, succulents, airplants and white sage…. but it seems I’ve chosen quite a challenging range of plants to nurture.

    I live in Dubai and for most of the year, the weather can be pretty brutal. Today it is 105F with 29% humidity. I brought my California White Sage Plant back from LA recently (it has been home now 10 days). It seemed to have travelled well…. I left it for a couple of days in the original pot that it grew from in the nursery and then transferred it to a bigger with a draining tray attached. I used some sweet sand (thats what they call it here) and potting soil.

    It has been indoors as I was worried that it was too hot and humid outside. I am watching it avidly and have noticed some little shoot-type protrusions at the base of the leaves on the stalk which has gotten me quite excited. However, the stalk which was a uniform green has now developed small giraffe style patches. I came across your blog just today and am reading that you encourage us to keep the plant outside in the hottest and brightest part of the yard.

    Obviously Dubai is not California… does this is still apply? I am really keen to help my sage baby as much as possible. I hope you have some words of wisdom for me.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Dubai is tricky because it’s extremely hot for extremely long periods of time. While Southern California (where white sage thrives) does reach similar temperatures, it’s not for long periods of time, although humidity levels are similar (30% is the norm during the summer months in SoCal, with 40-50% humidity during the damp months).

      If what I’ve heard about Dubai’s climate is true and that you tend towards the 100+ degree range for weeks on end, your sage will require more regular watering if it’s outdoors. It can be slowly acclimated to your higher heat (just do it gradually), although your plants might like a little afternoon shade for a cool-down period during the hottest part of the day.

      The giraffe-like patches are what concerns me more, as that sounds like your plant may have developed a case of rust. I would consider pruning off the segment which is showing those symptoms and be on the lookout for any spreading.

      • Dubai will be a great climate for these plants! They can definitely take the heat and hot sun! Just give them a lot of water… every day even!

        The giraffe patches are nothing to worry about; this is the young green stalk turning into an older mature woody trunk! This is something to be happy about!

        • Like I said, with additional watering, they should do alright in Dubai!

          As for the giraffe patches, yes, the stalk does slowly start to shift its coloration as it becomes a woody trunk. However, that’s also when some forms of rust will strike. Rust typically doesn’t affect the older growth, but it can in fact be a major issue for young growth in transition.

          Without seeing an exact picture of his giraffe-like patching, it’s hard to discern whether it’s a symptom of rust or one caused by maturing branches. However, one can tell by feeling the texture of the wood. If it’s maturation, it’s likely to have a slightly rougher texture than the rest of the wood around it (not bark-like, but slightly textured). If it’s rust, it will still feel smooth like the young shoots do.

          Rust also may have a red or orange tinge rather than having the darker grey-brown coloration maturing shoots do. It’s not super-common, but it is something to be mindful of, especially in an environment where it’s consistently hot and dry.

  7. Hello!
    I have two plants , I have had them for three or four months planted in the ground, clay soil, very hot and dry. I water them once a week but both are turning purple and then after a while the leaves fall. Other part of one of the plans, however look like is drying and leaves are falling. What am I doing wrong ? I live in San Diego.

    • Leaves that are turning red or purple usually indicate signs of drought stress. Drying leaves would also be a good indication of that. Chances are that you need to water a bit more often to perk up your plants. During the hot season, try bumping up your watering to twice a week.

  8. Hello Kevin, I am most impressed with these writings and your background in horticulture, at least on the many varieties, germination and care of sage plants. I am very spiritual and would like to wild-craft the variety of sage that when burned smells like a mix of sweet cannabis and camphor. I will be reiki charging and making smudge sticks once the leaves are cured/dried. Please share the variety of seeds to purchase and any specific care instructions for the plants, not listed here? Thank you!

    • Hi Lauren! I assisted Kevin with the white sage piece, so I’m gonna pop in here to help.

      It’s a tricky question you’re looking to have answered! If you ask five people what cannabis smells like, you’re likely to get five very different answers. I admit freely that I’m not an expert on that aroma, so I can’t help with that aspect.

      However, the camphor smell you may be experiencing from some varieties of sage is actually a form of terpene. Terpenes are a wide array of chemical compounds that form naturally in plants. The specific terpene you’re referring to is called borneol, and it causes a camphor-like aroma in a number of plant types but is commonly found in many Artemisia species.

      Probably the most borneol-laden of the Artemisias is Artemisia tridentata, “big sagebrush”. It’s also been called desert sage or mountain sage, although neither of those names is descriptive enough to easily identify it.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t grown Artemisia tridentata personally (I’ve always wild-harvested that as it’s in abundance in the California mountains, as well as in Arizona and New Mexico), so I’ve never gone looking for seeds for it. Unlike white sage, big sagebrush is not in short supply in the wild, as it’s not as popular.

      High desert locations are a common area to find Artemisia tridentata, but it can be grown throughout the western US and up into southwestern Canada. In areas with lots of water, it can grow to reach 10′ heights, but usually is 2-3′ tall.

      While it is similar in most regards to the care instructions for white sage, it’s woodier and more shrub-like than white sage, and tends to develop hard, permanent branches. Pruning can be a bit more difficult, and it’s recommended to take soft growth rather than to try to harvest any of the woody structure.

      Artemisia tridentata has much smaller leaves than salvia apiana, and is a direct relative of the wormwood, although it is still considered a sagebrush.

      Hope that helps you out!

  9. I grow many herbs here in NC. White sage is a variety I have yet to try but have wanted to. You mentioned that it did care for cooler temperature zones, but not specifically what zones. I have winter but not heavy winter here. I am in zone 7 (7a). I grow inside as well so moving it in would not be an issue. Just wondering if it may be tolerant of my growing zone. Wonderful, detailed source of information!

  10. Please do provide your recommendations re: how to manage the bolting season. My plants are several years old (the oldest is at least 15 years!), and every spring I worry over whether and when to trim the bolting shoots. Some of the shoots are already more than 7 ft. tall, and it’s very early in the season.

    My experience inn past years has been that if I leave them alone until the shoots and seed pods dry out, it seems to take so much out of the plant, and they look terribly spent when the dry shoots are gone. But if I cut them too early, I just get more smaller bolts.

    What’s best for the plant?

    Thanks so much for your good information.

  11. My gardeners have what I can only describe as a fetish for cutting my plants, all of them, to the ground every year. They cut down my purple sage and it took 2 years to come back, some of the others never returned. Since I’m starting my white sage from seed, I’m super protective of the seedlings (2 out of 10 actually broke through). Should white sage be cut to the ground or left alone? I’m in zone 10a, 15 minutes from Los Angeles. Thanks!

      • Fantastic, thank you!

        Just to add a tip also: I hit my sage seeds with a quick blast of fire from a lighter to mimic the wildfires we get out here and then sprinkled the seeds on top of soil in seeder trays. I did not cover the seeds at all in any way, just left them on the surface. I put the seeder tray next to my aerogarden (the light hits the seeds about 12-15 hours a day). I read treating the seeds with fire or organic liquid smoke mimicks the natural wildfires we get out here and helps increase the germination rate, but I only had a lighter.

    • In the case of white sage, stop them from taking it down to the ground. Black sage tends to do really well that way, but white sage has a hard time coming back from it. I’d personally suggest trimming out the dead flower stalks, and pruning it back to shape it. It tends to be a leggy and sometimes sprawling plant, but you want enough of it there that it continues to grow in subsequent years.

      • Ok, thank you for the tips. I’m babying my sages, and they’re so big after just 95 days (10×4). I had to give most of them away due to my house only having very limited sunny spots (almost all of my seeds made it to 4in tall), but my realtor mother-in-law said they made excellent housewarming gifts for her clients. The sages have a “do not touch” sign with them now. Do you by any chance know if spearmint is a good companion plant for sages?

        • I would hesitate to plant spearmint in and around sage, but that’s more because of how rapidly spearmint can spread. To me, any of the mint family needs to be placed in a segregated area to prevent it from taking over the garden entirely.

          There’s also the issue of the soil that sages prefer. Typically they prefer sandier, desert-like soil. Spearmint can live in that on occasion, but it will be heavily competing with the sages for the limited water supply.

  12. I too live in New Zealand and two years ago grew about 8 plants from seed. They have done really well in a climate that is cold ( frosts) in winter and humid in summer. The plants are now about 2 m high but they have never flowered so no seeds. My supplier no longer stocks the seeds. Can you tell me if these plants should flower annually? I am familiar with most members of the sage family but this one is new to me.

    • It can take up to three years before a white sage plant matures enough to put up flower stalks. After that, they should flower annually. Be careful with those flower stalks, though! The stem of the flower stalk is hollow and they can easily be knocked over by pets or kids. If you want them to produce seed, keep the stems intact until well after the blooms have faded.

  13. Hi Kevin
    I don’t have a green thumb. My white sage plant is potted, it has grown to 5 feet. I love the scent of her flowers. Your information is fantastic. My plant is four years old, I think but it’s the first time that it has flowered.
    Warm regards
    Victoria, Australia.

  14. Hi Kevin, I live in New Zealand and have been fortunate enough to have been able to successfully grow white sage and make smudge sticks. The last plant I had was about 5 feet tall and a prolific healthy quick growing plant, however I left that property 3 years ago and when I had somewhere to start a new garden and when I went back hoping to retrieve my beloved plantit had been destroyed. I was pretty gutted as my seed supplier can no longer get white sage seeds. But I remembered I had some seed heads stashed away – I have found them, they have been dehydrated (dried) and I am endeavouring to grow them. What are my chances of getting them to grow, what is the best way to do this and how long should they take to germinate please? Thank you. Love your website.

    • If it’s been years, the germination rate will have dropped. I’d give them standard seed starting environment of moisture, heat, and good soil and pray that some of them germinate. Good luck – I really hope it works out for you!

  15. Thanks, but I’ve read that if I cut only the top of my white sage, new growth will start from ground and so wondered how far down is safe, and from what you said, I guess I can cut all the top ones? It has never yet made flowers. There are lots of brown leaves below the green which always seems the case and has never looked like the big sprawling one pictured. Should I leave the long brown leafed stems as is? And how long should I expect this one to live? I know sage likes to grow in families, but this one’s buddies got offed by landlord and weed whacker! AIEEE! Glad I protected-with chicken- wire this one incense sage and my rosemary, a pink one, which is not doing so well, few stems and straggly. Advice? I so want them to be all they can be.

    By the way, we love to let the mint run wild–spearmint, though I have many others. And, I have chickens too and they love it. We use it for all sorts of things and don’t mind the smell if stepped on! And they don’t mind being stepped on! Spearmint is not the bully that pineapple sage is! Or say the giant yellow gingers-magnificent bullies!
    Does anyone know how to protect, organically, blackberries from the horrible Asian fruit fly? We have The best blackberries that taste like blue berries, huge and prolific. But years ago now, that Asian fruit fly ended our blackberry fun. This blackberry is a bully I love, and so worth it! That whole yard area smells like blackberry pie much of the year and at least feeds birds, but dang, we want some! Miss them. Can anything be done?

  16. A couple of years ago I started two white sages from our most excellent nursery. I’m in Berkeley, CA and more than 8 summers ago, we used to have warm/hot summers, now, often cold! This past summer had a handful of real warm days. My main plant left is maybe <three feet tall with numerous stems growing straight up. It is placed for the most sun possible given our redwood tree. Thing is, the bottom leaves always turn brown. Thanks to you, I now know to cut from the top which I've been afraid to do and have taken none, fearing a naked plant. It could be that I did not water it enough. Also unsure of what nutrients it might want. If I collect all of the top growth, it will only make a small bundle. Then what? Naked stems? I love sage so much and this makes me nervous, unsure. Never have dealt with cultivated sage before. Do grow many mints which all do well, really well. Clue me in please! Thanks! R

    • Sage will come back the next year if you cut it back, and you definitely need to harvest some and use it anyways! Mints also grow really well, in fact so well that I advise you plant them in their own pot or else they’ll overtake everything!

  17. I live in Grants Pass, Oregon. It gets pretty cold in the winter time.my question is, How do I take care of my beautiful white sage plant while it is cold. I don’t want it to die. It is a very nice size plant. Please help!!!

  18. Greetings,
    What months of the year is best to pick Sage?
    I live in an area of California that this Beauty-Filled Plant grows wild.

    • Hey Jan – generally I would harvest on an as-needed basis from mature leaves and stems. Late fall (so at the time of me writing this) is a great time to harvest, as growth will slow down over the winter. Make sure you follow the harvesting tips section though to ensure bushier growth and more leaves next year!

  19. I found beautiful white sage seedlings at a local nursery this year. They have grown well in large pots against a south facing brick wall and have done well in the high desert heat here in southern Idaho. I am getting ready to harvest and dry the end growth and will need to let it over winter inside.

  20. Hi, Thanks for the great information. I planted one white sage plant in my garden this year. it has remained fairly small, about 18″. I live on the east coast in Delaware and will most likely have to bring it in for the winter since it gets really cold here by January. Is there anything special I need to know before I put it in a pot and bring it inside? Thanks for your insight!

    • You’re welcome Jackie. I would make sure not to disturb the root system as much as possible. If it’s only 18″ you shouldn’t have TOO big of a root ball, so you should be able to transplant well. Just make sure you get a big enough pot and some high-quality potting soil and you’ll be fine!

    • In my experience its just the opposite! You dont need to be careful at all! Once the seed pods ripen and dry on the plant you can just harvest them all into a bucket or big big bowl, bag, etc and rub them in your hands to separate the seed from the hulls. This is a classic and generic seed collecting method. There is no skill or care needed at all. The seeds will be sitting there amongst all of the chaff and plant material. Even if you dont winnow your seeds and just sprinkle this whole mess onto some soil they will germinate. Youll have an even better time though if you winnow them … youll have to write to me or google it to learn how to do that.

      Good luck!

  21. I have a white sage plant. It’s i sunlight and I water it when the dirt on top looks dry. The leaves are turning red. I can’t seem to find anything online that can tell me why the leaves are turning red. Can anyone help me with this?

    • Red / yellow leaves can be the result of many things: over/under watering, rust disease, or even a nutrient deficiency. I’m sorry that doesn’t narrow it down, but hopefully it’s helpful!

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