Amazon currently lists more than 1,000 white sage products, including smudge sticks, incense and essential oils. There are all-in-one smudge kits with turkey feathers and abalone shells (traditionally used for cradling burning leaves) and smokeless “smudge sprays” purportedly infused with crystals. There are body creams, soaps, candles, teas. There are smudge combo packs with sticks of Palo Santo, a tree species from Latin America. Amazon even has a “Best Sage Smudging Kit” guide from an affiliate marketing company. “If you’re looking to change up the aura in your home, we’ve highlighted five sage smudging kits for you to try,” the article begins. “Check them out and be pleased with your new energy.”
“It’s not something you buy; it’s something that’s given to you”
The vendor she buys from, Windrose Trading, says on its website that its smudge sticks are “sustainably harvested by Native Americans” and that “a portion of sales supports a Native American reservation cooperative.” I contacted the company by phone and by email, hoping for more details, but never heard back.Another major wholesaler of white sage is Native Scents, a company based in Taos, New Mexico. The owner is a man named Alfred Savinelli who was implicated in a major LSD bust in 2000 and who claimed in a 2017 VICE documentary—misleadingly, it turns out—to have pioneered the practice of smoking hallucinogenic toad slime. So I was intrigued, but also wary, when he told me in February that he’d “invented the market” for white sage.The son of an Italian father and Native American mother, Savinelli said he started working with medicinal plants in the 1970s, after apprenticing with the Lakota Sioux leader Archie Lame Deer; then he laughed, as he did throughout our conversation, and added: “Or was it that plants started working with me?”In the 1980s, he began harvesting sage from the mountains near Santa Barbara, often camping out for weeks at a time. First he worked solo; then he recruited a crew of pickers, supplying traders up and down the coast. His sales increased until the turn of the millennium, when he says white sage “became a worldwide phenomenon.” He began shipping internationally, including to the Middle East, where he believes his customers included members of the US military.
“The sage is disappearing. Are we?”