Protect White Sage

White Sage is Being Stolen from National Parks and Ancestral Gathering Grounds

If you ever bought a smudge stick, did you ask the vendor where it came from? Most people don’t, including those in Indigenous communities. Unfortunately, in the past few years, it has come to our attention how white sage is often taken from our land and the land of our Southern California Native neighbors. White sage smudge sticks and products, unless otherwise labeled as “farmed” are often poached from wildlife reserves in Southern California. Scroll down to see how you can be an ally and how poached white sage harms the environment, the Indigenous people of the American Continent, and the body.

a handful of poached white sage that sat in the heat of the sun in a tight duffle bag for too long. The leaves are shriveled and dried and growing black with mold.
A handful of the 300lbs returned to a local Tongva family in 2021. Some of the white sage had fermented in the heat of the densely packed duffle bag that was confiscated.

Poached Sage harms immigrant communities

Coyotes (a smuggler typically of South American origin) are often used to poach sage. When they’re caught, they’re taken to prison, deported, or fined upwards of $3,000. The middleman who will profit from the sage has no accountability. Poaching white sage harms our Indigenous neighbors from South America. 

Poached Sage is never ethically gathered

Because white sage can make a good profit, when white sage is poached, the whole plant is taken, often killing the sage plant. The health of the plant and the season are rarely taken into account, reducing the survival of the sage further. 

Poached Sage cannot give blessing

The stress and harm done to grandmother white sage when she is poached is so stressful to the plant that it can no longer give blessing. Ethical gathering should only be done to a sage plant that has been loved and tended to, and should NEVER kill the plant. Sage poaching does both of these things. 

Poached Sage Harms Indigenous Communities

Indigenous Southern Californian tribes are no longer allowed to gather our own sage from Mother Earth if we don’t have land to grow our own. Poached sage is brought to us, mangled and fermenting, after it has been confiscated by park rangers. It is heartbreaking. Our grandmother white sage and our mutualistic relationship with her is disappearing because of the thousands of pounds poached every year to meet the demand that overlooks our own.

Poached Sage ferments and cannot be safely inhaled

When Coyotes poach sage, they stuff duffel bags as compactly as possible to reduce the number of trips into the wildlife areas they’re poaching from. The sage plant stays crammed in a duffel back with very little ventilation, in the California heat, for hours or days before it is bundled by other migrant workers (who are also exploited). This sage begins to ferment and mold almost immediately, reducing the quality and medicinal benefits substantially. 

Inappropriate use of sage is cultural appropriation

Although we understand white sage has become an integral part of meditation, the use of an abalone shell and/or a bird feather is cultural appropriation to our ceremonial practices. This is a continuation of the harm of colonization and Indigenous erasure. 

The best way to help… 

Is really simple. All you have to do…

A bright green young white sage plant in the sunlight.


  • You can find sage plants in Southern California at your local Botanic Garden and native plant nurseries 
  • You can buy seeds online, and germinate them using our growing guide or the additional resources we have linked below. 
  • If you have sage you think is poached crumble it and return it to Mother Earth, bonus points if you do it somewhere you really love, like your garden or favorite fruit tree 
  • If you’re a business that has poached sage, it’s not too late! Put up a sign for final sale of white sage due to climate and poaching issues. If you can afford to, consider giving away the rest of the sage in your possession to your community. 
  • White sage plants grow largest outside in direct sunlight. If you’re growing a healthy sage plant, that means you can grow a healthy sage practice by just drying what you trim every year before summer! 
  • For the reason above, smudging is not a closed practice however, smudging with abalone shells and hawk feathers is. Enjoy the fruits of growing your friend white sage, but don’t appropriate ancestral practices. 
  • You can help by sharing white sage with your friends and family. Let your community know you’re sharing the blessing. 
  • Growing white sage helps native pollinators and ecosystems. Consider growing other native plants with your white sage for lots of hummingbirds to visit your yard!  

screenshot of the many bulk buy options for smudge sticks online with unknown origins.

We are not closing this practice because we want you to help Southern California ecosystems by growing your own.

You can’t just buy a $5 magic wand and expect it to solve all your energy problems. If you’re not using it for spiritual reasons but because it smells nice, you still contribute to the poaching of a living thing. Growing white sage helps the land, creates relationship with a plant, brings pollinators to your yard, and it smells wonderful. When it’s small, it can easily be grown in a sunny windowsill or in a pot on a patio. If you’re not in the Southern California or other desert area, consider growing sacred plants from your ancestry or the ancestry of the land you live on!

Sage is a Gift, not a Purchase

The best way you can smudge with sage is if you build a relationship with the plant! If you live in or around Southern California (or equivalent climate), you can grow your own white sage. White Sage is a gift from mother earth and medicine that should be shared, but buying it is not the answer! 

Traditional smudging cultural items for Southern California Indians. This ceremony kit includes a sacred hawk wing fan, a handwoven basket filled with tobacco and white sage, and an abalone shell with a white sage smudge stick burning inside.

Don’t appopriate a culture that is not yours. 

We understand that sage has become a popular way to cleanse spaces for non-Southern California Indigenous communities, but we ask you to please refrain from any other part of the practice unless you are actively involved in a tribe whose Native territory has white sage. Do not use abalone shells or bird feathers (especially hawk) in your smudging practice. If you are indigenous to other areas of America, we suggest researching your native tribe’s traditional smudging herb (such as sweetgrass) to receive stronger ancestor blessings and connections to your culture. Instead of shopping, grow your own or reach out to someone who grows sage. 

Planting White Sage in Southern California 

  • Plant in late fall/early winter 
  • Sprinkle the seeds onto soil with a little soil on top. 
  • To stimulate seed growth, you can mist the top with liquid smoke or burn pine needles over the top of the soil. 
  • Mist soil until damp every morning, seeds should sprout in 2-3 weeks 
  • Keep the seedlings outside in direct sunlight, water every morning or when the soil is starting to look dry. 
  • Place in the ground as soon as the stem is about the thickness of a pencil, or continue transferring to larger pots until you find a place you’d like to put your sage. 
  • We recommend keeping only keeping your white sage in a pot for a maximum of 5 years before planting somewhere with lots of sun. 

White Sage Seed and Sprout Resources

More info on White Sage

ABC7: Here’s how you can help stop the poaching of white sage …

La Times: How to save wild white sage from poachers? Grow your own

CNPS: White Sage Protection | California Native Plant Society

Signal Tribune: Mother and daughter from Gabrieleno/Tongva tribe fight to …


The Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy is committed to protecting our plant relative by spreading awareness about and planting white sage. Your donation directly helps our community by giving us funding to continue our work.

We are currently only accepting monetary donations online. If you have white sage bundles or fresh white sage, please give it away to your local community and spread the word about Protect White Sage!

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