Since the prehistoric era people have used plant smoke for ritualistic cleansing of the spirit and this use has spread into the modern day and age as well. However, according to latest scientific research this practice can actually have life-saving implications, by purifying the air of harmful bacteria.
Smudging, or the burning of herbs and plant resins for medicinal and spiritual purposes is a technique used by the indigenous people since ancient time, and the Westerners started adopting it increasingly. Smudging is a technique which should unlock the ‘spirits’ of various plant allies to restore balance and ease to the individual or group. Some even say it’s a sort of ‘spiritual shower,’ which helps you wash away emotional and spiritual negativity that accumulates in your body and the spaces you live.
However, as with everything spiritual, skeptics say that associating the burning of sage and incense with medical healing is close to “magical thinking”. They even say that smudging is actually “a New Age form of cultural imperialism where ‘plastic’ or ‘white’ shamans mimic and co-opt the traditions of indigenous people their predecessors essentially conquered.”
Since this practice has become ever so popular and in light of these contrasted opinions, we decided to explore it further and share with you our conclusions and discoveries.
Digging into the matter we uncovered a 2006 review published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that examined single and multi-ingredient herbal and non-herbal remedies administered as smoke from 50 countries across 5 continents. The studies revealed overlapping results worldwide which indicate that medicinal smokes are mostly used in the treatment of the following specific organ systems: “pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%).” Moreover, the study found that “ambient smoke,” which is the type of passively inhaled smoke generated by smudging/incense, is traditionally believed to be an effective “air purifier.” The review mentioned that modern medicine should look into the possibility of delivering drug through medicinal smoke because :“The advantages of smoke-based remedies are rapid delivery to the brain, more efficient absorption by the body and lower costs of production.”
As a spiritual ritual, smudging is not used for killing germs and bacteria, or as a way to administer drugs. But since modern biomedicine only acknowledges what is empirically verifiable – which does not include ‘the soul’ or ‘negative vibes’ – the only way modern medicine will acknowledge this practice is if it’s scientifically proven that it can have a useful medicinal function, such as killing bacteria and germs.
According to an extraordinary study from 2007 published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the world is now aware that smudging may be one of the most powerful antiseptic technologies ever discovered.
We have observed that 1 hour treatment of medicinal smoke emanated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri=material used in oblation to fire all over India), on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 hour in the closed room. Absence of pathogenic bacteria Corynebacterium urealyticum, Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens, Enterobacter aerogenes (Klebsiella mobilis), Kocuria rosea, Pseudomonas syringae pv. persicae, Staphylococcus lentus, and Xanthomonas campestris pv. tardicrescens in the open room even after 30 days is indicative of the bactericidal potential of the medicinal smoke treatment. We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.”
How about that?
The study showed that the burning of medicinal herbs didn’t just purify the air of bacteria by 94% in an hour, but the air was still decontaminated one day later. What’s even more astonishing is that one month later seven other pathogenic bacteria in the open room were still non-detectable
If you take into account that the air we breathe has been proven to contain at least 1800 different bacterial types – among which pathogenic ones as well – this revelation could help us fight against some potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria against which even the CDC said it’s unable to help. Consider also that a recent microbiome of NYC’s subway system found close to 1700 different microbes, including those responsible for Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) and Bubonic Plague (yersinia pestis).
Additionally, if we consider that conventional methods of air and surface sterilization and odor neutralization use chemical cocktails (e.g. Lysol) that are much less effective than advertised (one study found them up to 10 times less effective than believed), smudging or the use of natural incense products could actually be a far better and safer method for this purpose.
Now that we know the medicinal properties of smudging, it may be that the traditional use as a cleanser of ‘evil spirits’ or ‘negative energy’ is not so much a primitive practice but rather a metaphor for its very real antiseptic properties
Given this discovery of the medicinal smoke’s potent cleansing properties on aerosol microbes, we might look at Smudging’s traditional use as a cleanser of ‘evil spirits’ or ‘negative energy’ less like a primitive projection and more like a metaphor for its very real antiseptic properties. However, this doesn’t diminish its ‘cleansing’ effects upon the body’s subtler energy systems; nor the effects the medicinal smokes and its various small-molecule aromatic compounds have upon the olfactory system, which are mostly responsible for the clinically proven health benefits of aromatherapy-based interventions.