White Sage & Palo Santo

“Am I cultural appropriating if I buy white sage or palo santo?” Here’s your guide:

From the day I started this company, I have recognized my place in the spiritual community as a white woman. Appreciation of history, religion, culture, and fair trade ethical codes are all of utmost importance to both my company’s protocol and my personal beliefs. A key element of Garden Fairy Co.’s ethos as a business entity is to be an ethical example, as spirituality without ethics in mind is a corrupt, nefariously earned, quick-and-easily dollar. You cannot have one without the other, so I am happy to expand on this topic! 

Cultural appropriation tied with spiritual practice has many complexities that start at ethical spiritual tool procurement, range as far as the initiatives taken to further support the economic development and livelihood of indigenous lands, and indefinitely end at the personal, sacred objective of using smoke cleansing which will directly govern either the respect or flippancy of sanctified energy cleansing. There is no quick or easy answer to the question, “Am I cultural appropriating if I buy white sage or palo santo?” but this guide will help you form your educated opinion.

Where to begin?

When you adopt an element from someone’s culture or religion, it is first important to thoroughly educate yourself on the why, when, where, how and who. To start, the act of “smudging” is very sacred to Native Americans and there is some cultural sensitivity behind the practice, as it was illegal for indigenous peoples to practice their religion until 1978 (Ruth Hopkins, Dakota/Lakota Sioux). 1978! (Let it be known, this is only a tidbit of information on Native history. There is so much information to dive into and your learning can start on Google.com.) For this reason, non-indigenous people should refrain from practicing “smudging” and instead engage in “smoke cleansing.” The latter is a practice that has been utilized in countries and cultures all over the world since the dawn of time. Smoke cleansing involves the burning of sacred herbs and plants to expel negative energies and/or call in positive energies, a practice often used in new homes, before a ceremony, after an argument, and so on. Using appropriate terminology is the first step in being respectful towards tradition and those who initially practiced these traditions. Another way to consciously avoid appropriation is to support Native Americans in all kinds of ways, not solely monetarily by buying their products. As allies, admirers, and supporters of Native Americans, let’s make an effort to patron Native owned business, follow Native influencers on social media, and support Native causes.

Where should I spend my dollars in the spiritual space and what does it really mean to be “ethically sourced”?

The emergence of trendy New Age spirituality has put pressures on wild harvested California White Sage, as some sources are almost depleted or are depleted, leaving indigenous peoples without a source to their own medicine. As such, it is extremely important that you refrain from purchasing white sage from just any source. Do not buy it from Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, TJ Maxx, large bookstores or any big corporation that does not supply information on their sustainability practices. Capitalizing on wild harvested sage, which usually takes place on native land in California, is exploitative and unfair. Big companies prey on opportunities such as this because the profit margin is strikingly high -- there are little to no expenses when you rob “free” indigenous lands of a native plant. When purchasing smoke cleansing tools, find businesses that do not wild harvest and instead maintain sustainable sage farms while giving back to surrounding communities. Garden Fairy Co. is proud to work with a white sage supplier that ethically and sustainably grows sage on a private farm and actively plants white sage in indigenous wild harvest areas in California, a beautiful act of reparation. 


Garden Fairy Co. has also created relationships with smoke cleansing providers that source palo santo sustainably, ethically, and fair trade. Within the past two years, concerns that purchasing palo santo is a progression towards deforestation of the tree have spread like wildfire. Claims that palo santo should never be used can be found all over social media. While we recognize that these claims have good intentions, there seems to be a need for clearer information. Bulnesia Sarmientoi tree, a type of palo santo, is endangered due to overuse. Garden Fairy Co. sells Bursera Graveolens, another type of palo santo tree, which is not endangered. The production and sale of Bursera Graveolens by Garden Fairy Co. and other ethical companies is actually contributing to reforestation and sustainable livelihoods in the arid hill-country of coastal Ecuador. In a sad twist, the misguided call to boycott Bursera Graveolens removes opportunities for sustainable livelihood in Ecuador, which actually then encourages forest clearing for cattle grazing and other land-degrading industries, while it does nothing to address the overconsumption of Bulnesia Sarmiento in Argentina and Paraguay.

Additionally, the sale of Palo Santo by GFC has never resulted in cutting down even ONE palo santo tree! The tree branches lay dead on the forest floor for 4-10 years before they are collected. This practice also allows the naturally occurring aromatic resins to develop. Our fair trade palo santo provider employs many indigenous families in Ecuador, paying them fair wages which provides economic incentive to keep these practices alive. Even further, in the last ten years, our palo santo provider has planted over 80,000 additional palo santo trees in wild harvest areas.  

Sourcing these materials fair trade and from indigenous people economically supports their culture. Beyond smoke cleansing items, every item in our “Fair Trade” section at GardenFairyCo.com is ethically sourced and fair trade from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Central America, Tibet, Nepal, India, and the USA. All 30+ product in the Fair Trade section are eco-friendly, artisan made, and organic.

Appropriation and Spiritual Misuse, An Evolving Self Reflection

Two important notes: it is imperative to keep in mind the purpose behind why we smoke cleanse. Spiritualists smoke cleanse because there are intrinsic plant spirits within the smoke cleansing tool. That’s why it works. When these materials are not gathered in a respectful, sustainable way, why would they work? If white sage is disrespectfully ripped from the ground despite Native tradition being that we should leave an offering and plant more sage in return, why would the sage spirit help us heal? We must give back to the Earth and treat it and its inhabitants with loving respect, and we can do so by using ethically sourced white sage. This act is one step towards appreciation and correct consumption, not appropriation. 

And moreover, when we are evaluating if an action is involving appropriation or appreciation, we must look at the impact of said action. Purchasing wild harvested sage from big businesses exploits the sacred practice and results in endangering medicine on Native land, depriving  indigenous people of access to their own healing tools. It’s new age colonialism. Purchasing ethically sourced will not only provide healing energy cleansing ritual for you, but will give back to indigenous peoples and economically support their culture. Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.  Appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it solely for your own personal interest (greenheart). The impact of cultural appreciation results in cultural harmony and thereby, peace.

Garden Fairy Co. urges the smoke cleanser/fair trade product user to do some self reflection as to WHY you want to smoke cleanse/use the fair trade item. Are you smoke cleansing just so you can take a picture and post it to social media or seem cool/trendy/hip to your friends? Or are you appreciating this beautiful ritual in order to gain authentic religious or spiritual rumination? Do you have a genuine interest in Native, Shamanic, Pagan, Roman, or Egyptian culture or do you merely want to burn a bundle of plants for aesthetic value? Remember, one of the telling signs of cultural appropriation involves cherry picking one element of another culture without genuine interest in culture in its entirety.

At the end of the day, your spiritual practice should never, ever, ever (did I say never?), NEVER insult or oppress any disenfranchised group of people. Educate yourself on the history and intention behind the practice as well as the ethical, sustainable systems set in place by the business who is selling it. Always look for the words “fair trade” and “ethically sourced,” and when possible, obtain spiritual products from indigenous peoples or businesses that work with indigenous peoples. Find ways to support the culture you are learning and self-developing from, even more than monetarily. The only person who truly knows WHY they are engaging with sacred tradition and plant energies is you. Make sure your intention is pure; it’s a matter of respect.

If you feel uncomfortable burning white sage or palo santo for any reason, there are many other fantastic smoke cleansing tools that are widely available. Cedar, lavender, rosemary, juniper, pine, rose, peppermint, aspen, lilac, and even herbal pre-rolls are some great options. Salt has cleansing properties as does selenite, black tourmaline, room sprays, feng shui, sound healing, and incense. If you are of European descent, many of the herbs I listed may even connect with you in a stronger way because they will spiritually “click” with your DNA and deep-rooted ancestral knowing. In the spiritual space, always do what intuitively feels right for you.