Native Sun News: Sage Remains a Special Plant for Native Peoples
Sage is all the Rage
Native plant remedies, uses, and harvesting
By Aly Duncan Neely
Native Sun News Correspondent
MANDERSON –– Peji hota or prairie sage (artemisia ludoviciana), one of many native herbs of South Dakota and the Great Plains, is growing prolifically in Manderson. What is so special about sage? Prairie sage has many uses, besides what many consider common, such as a flavoring for chicken dishes, an aromatic smoke (smudge) for ceremonies, and in the Dakotas, as a method of curing meat.
One traditional medicinal use for sage along with another herb, great mullein (verbascum thapsus, known as lamb’s ear, naturalized to the US), includes a blend to help overcome nagging mouth pain. Those suffering from fever blisters can place one clean sage leaf and a part of a clean fresh mullein leaf on the affected area to reduce swelling.
Mullein acts as an astringent and emollient to sooth the mucus membranes, while the sage counters inflammation, thereby reducing pain. Mullein tea can act to sooth the mouth, gums and throat. The inhaled smoke from mullein flowers and sage leaves can be used to relieve coughs.
The pleasant, non-toxic smoke from sage can repel insects. In addition a poultice (mashed leaves in a paste) can be made from both or either of these and applied topically. Both sage and mullein can be used for natural dying, giving a nice yellow tint to fabrics.
Prairie sage can be found all over the badlands and the Black Hills, usually in well drained, dry, sunny areas, whereas great mullein grows easily in disturbed lands and well drained areas all over the US, Central Europe, and Asia.
There are three main varieties of sage that grow in the Black Hills region and are used for different aspects of ceremonies. Sage brush has been used to line the floor of sweatlodges. The tall sage, which has fluted-edged leaves, is sometimes used in Sundance ceremonies to make wreaths worn on the heads of the sundancers and bracelets to wear around their wrists. Prairie sage is often made into bundles and burned during ceremonies to send ones prayers to Tunkasila (Grandfather).
It is important to remember when harvesting any herbs to use the general rule, pick one, leave seven. Since the sage plant grows from an underground rhizome system, do not pick the plant by the roots, but cut the stem a few inches above ground, leave the roots so that more will grow the following year.