View our page about how to create a Native American Medicine Wheel Garden, and read about the use of sacred herbs.

Smudging rites involving the burning of sacred herbs like white sage or resins, is a ceremony practiced by some Indigenous peoples of the Americas. While it bears some resemblance to other ceremonies and rituals involving smoke from other world cultures for spiritual cleansing or blessing, the purposes and particulars of the ceremonies, and the substances used, can vary widely between tribes, bands and nations, and between different world cultures.

When specific herbs are burned ceremonially, this may or may not be called "smudging", depending on the culture. Traditionally, when gathering herbs for ceremonial use, care is taken to determine the time of day, month, or year when the herbs should be collected, e.g., at dawn or evening, at certain phases of the moon, or according to yearly cycles.

In some First Nations and Native American ceremonies, certain herbs are traditionally used to purify or bless people and places. Some cultures use the smoke of burning red cedar as part of their particular purification and healing ceremonies. Sometimes this is done in hospitals to "cleanse and repel evil influence." It is noteworthy that the same herbs that are burned by one culture, may be taboo to burn in another, or they may be used for a completely different purpose.

Other than the smudging herbs, nine herbs were used over and over again in tribal religious ceremonies. Mugwort, plantain, nettle, fennel, watercress, chamomile, viper’s bugloss, sweet cicely, and sumac. Some tribes used the following herbs and included pollen: corn pollen, mugwort, plantain, yerba santa, peyote, bear medicine (osha root), roses (petals and hips), juniper berries, mullein and chamomile.

"Kinnikinnick" is a mixture of herbs sacred to the individual using the herbs.  The name means "mixed by hand". Each tribe, family and group made their own. Most blends contained barberry, sumac, red osier dogwood, willow bark, arrowroot, laurel, and/or mullein. The blend recipe is kept secret. It was smudged, smoked, or given as gifts and offerings.

Historic Indian traditions also used many plants and herbs as remedies or in spiritual celebrations, creating a connection with spirits and the afterlife. Some of these plants and herbs used in spiritual rituals included Sage, Bear Berry, Red Cedar, Sweet Grass, Tobacco, and many others.

Using psychoactive plants, shamans had the power to enter trances, combat evil spirits and disease, communicate with ancestors, prevent famine, and control weather (rain dances). Within the plant-induced visions and trances, the shaman was able to comprehend the spirit world and the real world and maintain balance between the two. Prayers were offered to the spirits to whom these holy plants belonged. For some, the plant itself was god or provided a way to god.

Psychoactive plants, particularly those that alter perception, were and continue to be considered sacred in many societies. They are often referred to as plants of the gods, plant teachers, or magical and healing plants. These plants are sacred because they allow the living to contact and commune with gods (entheogens) or drive out evil spirits. Many cultures believe these plants to be sacred because of the spirits that dwell within the plants themselves. Religious and spiritual leaders use these plants, their compounds and mixtures to bring balance to the physical and spiritual world, heal mind and body, and provide for spiritual awakening.

Native American Prayers to Great Spirit and Mother Earth-->