It’s strange to say this about something that’s been around since time immemorial, but sage and smudging are really having a moment. Along with crystals, energy clearing sprays, and other vibe-friendly essentials, the ancient tradition has been popping up everywhere lately, from Instagram to Sephora. Even your least-spiritual friends may have been getting in on the act. But what’s at the heart of this practice? We checked in with expert smudger Taylor Cordova, AKA The Flowerchild Bruja, to find out more about this ritual’s history. Read on to pick up some tips on how to begin incorporating smudging into your life, then check out our top picks for everything you’ll need to begin.

“Smoke cleansing has been around for ages… since ancient times, really,” says Cordova. “It’s the practice of energetically cleansing and blessing a space with what we call ‘sacred smoke’, which is created by burning a particular herb or resin, and allowing the smoke to waft around and carry out the desired intention into the space or person.” If you’re interested in dipping your toes in this time-honored tradition for the first time, here’s how Cordova suggests embarking on your smudging journey.

1. Don’t let yourself be limited by sage. While sage and smudging often go hand in hand, Cordova encourages experimenting with other herbs to find what works for you. “There are so many great options to smudge with besides white sage, so I would suggest starting with an herb that really speaks to your heart. Research a few different options. You can choose intuitively or based upon the particular properties you’d like to invoke (e.g., white sage for protection and cleansing, rose for love and psychic awareness, lavender for balancing and calming, mugwort for divination support or dream enhancement, etc.),” she suggests. But whatever herb you choose, be sure to…

2. Source responsibly. White sage especially is a hot-button topic right now for many reasons, including the threat of over-harvesting. “Like any plant, white sage should always be harvested respectfully and ethically, but there are still a lot of debates around the ins and outs of how exactly we should source its medicine, as it is being over-harvested (which is a step toward endangerment. Not cool!),” says Cordova. “For this reason, I know a lot of people are choosing alternatives, which is great because there are so many great, more sustainable options to choose from. If you’re concerned with the over-harvest of white sage too, I’d definitely go for something like cedar, juniper, sweetgrass, yerba santa, or lavender instead.” One more reason to get creative with your herb selections!

3. Think of your intentions. There are many reasons to try cleansing your space with smoke. Once you’ve selected yours, hold your purpose in your mind as you work. “I’m an air sign who’s been obsessed with smoke ever since I can remember,” Cordova tells us. “Watching smoke is one of my favorite meditations. The vapors offer me so much sustenance. When I burn, it’s for lots of different reasons, but bare bones, it’s about washing the energy and it’s about re-connecting to the elements and my environment, in one way or another.” Of course, burning herbs for the scent is a perfectly acceptable reason to try smudging, too. “Burning a plant is a really unique way to spread its essence, and I just very much enjoy the way smoke cleansing helps me create an energetically clear canvas to exist and create within,” Cordova says.

4. Prep your space. “Always set your intention before you light up. When smudging a space, opening doors and windows allows the old energy to be released out of the space as the smoke cleanses, so don’t forget this step; it makes a huge difference!” says Cordova. Also, as in any situation where fire is involved, it’s important to be aware of how you’ll handle the lit bundle. “Always practice proper fire safety! Get an abalone shell, an ashtray or a ceramic dish for an easy, fire-safe tray,” she suggests.

5. Light your fire. Once your space is prepared, it’s time to get burning. “If [your herbs are] bundled in a stick form, hold one end over a fire until it catches a bit of a flame, then gently blow it out. Now you should have a gorgeous, glowing tip and some good smoke going,” says Cordova. “With open windows and doors, and your intentions clearly stated, gently guide the smoke around the space. You may prefer to use a feather to guide the smoke. When smudging a space, always pay special attention to getting smoke into the corners, behind doors and underneath things, because this is where a lot of energy stagnates. White sage, in particular, has been proven to cleanse over 90% of airborne bacteria, so it’s great to add to your house cleaning ritual!”

6. Make your practice personal. You may initially feel nervous about doing your smoke cleansing the “right” way, but Cordova urges newcomers to relax and play with their practice. “Smoke cleansing is a great way to create a personal ritual, so don’t be too rigid with it, and allow yourself to find your own flow,” says Cordova. “All of my friends and I approach our smudging rituals slightly differently because like any self-care ritual, it’s personal.” If something is calling to you or feels missing from your experience, feel free to adapt and adjust. “I love to play music and dance while I smudge. I also make sure I’m incorporating lots of different flowers, herbs, and resins into my practice to keep it dynamic. Sage is definitely the most common smudging herb, but at the moment, my personal favorites are lavender, rose, dill, garden sage, dragon’s blood, and copal resins, combined with some Celia Cruz or Santana,” she says.

7. Mix it up. Try experimenting with different types of herbs and resins throughout your day, depending on your needs. “I work from home, so I tend to smudge quite a bit throughout the day,” says Cordova. “Most days, I wake up and burn something light and uplifting, like juniper with lavender and a desert sage for the sweetness. Before I start working I’ll do palo santo for creativity and an open heart. In the late afternoon/evening when I clean up my workspace and straighten the house before my family comes home, I’ll do a big cleanse in my little cauldron with copal on charcoal — and that is like the big bang to me. It really offers a whole new energy to the space and it just feels clean and new afterwards. Before bed, I’ll do something hearty and thick, like white sage or dragons blood coated sage or sometimes mugwort.” Don’t be afraid to investigate different combinations and see what works for you.

8. Repeat! After you’ve successfully completed a smudging session for the first time, you can incorporate it into your daily life as much as you feel is necessary. “It all depends on your lifestyle and needs,” Cordova explains. “Sometimes it’s ritual, sometimes it’s random, you know? You may create a ritual around it, but perhaps you’ll randomly just want a smoke cleanse after you’ve just hosted a bunch of friends, or had a disagreement with a partner, or when you arrive home after a weird day at work.” And while using sage in your daily life might not be an instant fix, it can definitely become a comforting habit you return to again and again. “…Sage or smoke cleansing won’t be a quick fix to all of the energy in your home or life,” says Cordova. But what it does offer is just as powerful: “It’s just another tool to support you along your path. The smoke is just a guide.”

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(Images via Taylor Cordova)