Harvesting Tobacco, Sweetgrass, Cedar and Sage


You may have heard of the four sacred herbs most commonly used by indigenous peoples: tobacco, sweetgrass, cedar, and sage. But, where can they be found? And how do you obtain them? 

These herbs can still be found and harvested today all across North America and are often found in a variety of stores. Much like the many generations of indigenous peoples throughout history, sacred medicines like these can still be used for ceremonial and healing purposes like smudging. Their long and important history carries through and connects those who seek them today.



There is a stark contrast between the commercial tobacco industry and what indigenous people refer to as “traditional tobacco.”

Commercial tobacco can be found growing wild throughout the Americas and over 100 other countries. It grows in a variety of soils and climates, though it’s harvest has moved from being primarily in the Americas to being largely based out of Africa and Asia. Even still, there is a lot of land devoted to tobacco growing in North America. 

Where is Sacred Tobacco Grown?

Tobacco growth isn’t just commercial; sacred tobacco continues to be grown across North America and is harvested and sold for ceremonial purposes, as well. Sacred tobacco is similar to commercial tobacco, but might be composed of a variety of plants and produced in smaller, family grown batches. 

The phrase “traditional tobacco” can refer to other indigenous plants that may not contain nicotine at all, including dried leaves and bark from other plants. Often it is not smoked, but traditionally burned using a method called smudging to serve as a protective and healing medicine for those suffering from illness.

It is hearty and adaptable, allowing it to flourish on nearly any type of land. However, the heart, soul, and energy that goes into producing a crop of ceremonial tobacco is complex and sacred.

Where Can I Buy Smudging Tobacco?

Traditional tobacco can be purchased at indigenous owned shops across North America. It is grown in small batches and distributed for use in ceremonial burning and smudging ceremonies.



Where Does Sweetgrass Grow?

Two types of sweetgrass thrive in North America: a warm-season grass that flourishes in coastal dunes from North Carolina to Texas and a variety of sweetgrass that you can find in cooler climates with shady, grassy meadows or canyons in many western states. It serves as a food source for many varieties of wildlife and has a long indigenous tradition of being used for ceremonial burning as an incense by Native American people.

Can I Harvest Sweetgrass?

Sweetgrass thrives in a variety of habitats. In Canada, sweetgrass grows near rivers, lakes, and wet meadows, though you might also find Alpine sweetgrass near sea level and in the rocky slopes of other parts of the country.

Methods of harvesting depend on the cultural traditions of those who are harvesting. Sweetgrass is traditionally harvested in the summer during the growing season, which helps maintain the growth of the crops. If the sweetgrass meadows are neglected, they are usually replaced by other species of plants.

Sweetgrass is revered by many tribes as a sacred plant and it has a long history of reflecting the cultural identity of indigenous peoples. It is important to be familiar with the culture of the people who inhabit the land on which you intend to harvest sweetgrass. In most cases, it is best to purchase sweetgrass from a reliable indigenous source.

Where Can I Get Sweetgrass?

Sweetgrass can be found at indigenous owned stores and shops that sell ceremonial products and sacred medicines for smudging. It is usually sold in small, braided bundles and can be burned for its vanilla-like scent or for use in sacred rituals.




Where Does Cedar Grow?

Cedar grows across North America, but the variety depends on location. Western Red Cedar (a member of the Cypress family) appears in the Pacific Northwest, while eastern cedar is a member of the Juniper family. Both can be used for ceremonial purposes.

How is Cedar Used?

Just like the other sacred medicines, cedar is burned during prayer so that the smoke might carry prayers to the Creator. In some First Nations, cedar is mixed with other sacred medicines to be burned in smudging and sweat lodge ceremonies. Cedar is believed to dispel negative energy and purify homes or other spaces.  

The same can be said for its medicinal uses -- cedar can be used to cleanse the body and reduce inflammation. Its uses are so diverse and extensive that it is referred to as “The Tree of Life” and is deeply important to indigenous culture.

How is Cedar Harvested?

Proper harvesting techniques are important to many tribes. Because the cedar tree is so spiritual and revered, a prayer is often paid to the tree before harvesting. Without treating the tree properly, its healing benefits might not work on the user.

In the same way as most sacred medicines, cedar is carefully harvested and distributed for healing and ceremonial purposes.



Where Does Sage Grow?

The type of sage traditionally revered as sacred to indigenous peoples is white sage, which grows naturally in wide, dry areas, especially in the Southwestern United States. It is often most sacred to the peoples native to that region.

White sage is a wild desert plant that needs very little water or nutrients to grow, though it benefits from the intense sunlight of the desert.

How is Sage Used?

Like the other sacred herbs, sage can be used in smudging medicine. Smudging with sage is believed to drive out evil spirits, negative thoughts and feelings, and is often used to keep negative energy away from ceremonial locations. It is frequently used in sweat lodges and can be used to ward off negative energy surrounding sacred objects.

Can I Harvest Sage?

With patience, sage can be grown in your own garden. Outside of the wild, it can take a little bit of nurturing to grow, including a regular water schedule and nutrient rich soil. The sage that grows on indigenous land belongs to those who inhabit it and call it their sacred home

If you’re wondering where you can get sage without harvesting or growing it on your own, it is widely available for purchase.

Respecting Sacred Medicines


The most important part of using sacred medicines is respecting them. It is important to understand their spiritual and cultural significance, pay homage to the land on which they grow, and be knowledgeable and respectful of the indigenous peoples who hold these plants so sacred.

Using these sacred herbs respectfully can provide the user with a variety of spiritual, ceremonial, and medical benefits, but only with careful harvesting or by purchasing from a reputable source.

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