White sage in danger – The Santa Barbara Independent

It is likely that many have encountered “bundles of smears” made from the leaves and twigs of various plants that, when burned, produce aromatic smoke that is used by some Native American peoples for ceremonial purification and purification. Since the 1960s, when hippies wanted to imitate certain aspects of indigenous culture and were promoted by the New Age movement’s idolatry movement, smearing was becoming more prevalent among non-natives. As a classic example of cultural expropriation, this practice is widely promoted in movies, TV, magazines, social media, and other popular venues among consumers who believe it has spiritual benefits. Smudge bundles are now sold worldwide – not just in small local herbal shops and yoga studios, but also in retail chains (World Market), supermarkets (Whole Foods, Bristol Farms), large stores (Walmart!) And a huge online offering. businesses (Amazon and Etsy).

White sage, the “Chumash ethnobotany”| Acknowledgments: Chris Chapman

Wondering among customers who think they are getting health and spiritual benefits from smearing, where do spotted bundles come from? Most of these products, which are now ubiquitous, are made from native plants, especially sagebrush and white sage, which are collected almost entirely in the wild. Sustainable management of these species, although theoretically possible, does not currently exist.

The only place in the world where white sage (Salvia apiana) grows naturally in our region, from San Luis Obispo County to northern Baja California. Almost half of its original habitat has already been lost due to urban development. Like many other native plants, the remaining populations are threatened by climate change, drought, and forest fires, but the most direct impact on white sage is the large-scale, illegal harvesting of wild plants to make bundles of contaminants for commercial sale.

The natives said they had stripped entire hillsides when they arrived at their traditional sage collection sites. Poachers sometimes stretch a chain between two trucks and drive through the landscape, tearing every plant out of the ground. Guards at a San Bernardino County Reserve estimate that more than £ 20,000 of white sage has been stolen from the land they want to protect over the past five years. A similar robbery is taking place throughout Southern California.

The ecological damage is terrible. Equally shocking is the disrespect for indigenous peoples and traditions.

Anyone who wants to use in-store white sage spotted bundles or essential oils (which consume large amounts of plant material during processing) will be skeptical of claims that they are made from “sustainable, wild-grown” plants. “Wildcrafting”: collecting plants from the wild. In most cases, given the multiple threats already facing native species and habitats and the huge market demand, it is unlikely that marketable quantities of wild sage will be harvested in a sustainable manner.

In addition, it is illegal to export wild plant material in California from any roadside or public area without a permit or from a private area without the express written permission of the owner (https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Plants/LawsCalifornia). Individuals may apply for permission from the appropriate government agency in a public area, but only for their own personal use.

White sage is a beautiful plant that is easy to grow at home, even in containers. Local nurseries, including the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, sell or order. Advocates say that instead of going to Amazon or Walmart to buy an impersonal product made from wildly insensitive plants that cultivates a sage, it will have a direct relationship with the plant and will be more likely to be respected and valued. to experience meaningful mental and health benefits. This can be a gateway for the introduction of more native species into our domestic landscape.

I deeply love the native flora of California. I have been working for over 40 years to understand the complex relationships between Indigenous people in California and plants. Until I read an article News from California In the spring of 2020 (see https://roseramirez.wordpress.com/) that I was aware of the problem of white sage. Then, on January 11, a presentation by the California Native Plant Society based on this earlier work really opened my eyes to the extent of this devastation. This conversation is only available online for a short time (https://lasmmcnps.org/). You can still go here after removing the recording https://www.cnps.org/conservation/white-sage for more information about the situation and ideas for action we can all take. The California Native Plant Society and its native partners are actively collaborating to make a documentary that I hope will be widely seen.

Most people probably don’t think much about the wider implications of small dry bundles of connected leaves packed on store shelves. It’s time to do it. Please spread the word.

Jan Timbrook is the ethnographic curator of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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