Contributed By: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & University of California-Davis Arboretum
Brother Eric Vogel, St. Mary’s College
Silver wormwood, white sagebrush, wild sage, prairie sage, wormwood, white mugwort, western mugwort, Louisiana sage, darkleaf mugwort, Mexican sagewort, Chihuahua sagewort, Garfield tea, lobed cudweed, man sage
Ethnobotanic: Burning white sage and “smudge sticks” (the process of harvesting sage stems and tying the stem together into a “smudge stick”), was and is used for cleansing and purification (Gilmore 1977, Kindscher 1992). White sage or “man sage” was perhaps the most important ceremonial plant of the Cheyenne (Hart 1976). The sage was spread along the borders and on the altar in almost every ceremonial lodge (including the stone peoples lodge or sweat lodge) with the flowering end toward the fire. The leaves were burned as an incense to cleanse and drive away bad spirits, evil influences, bad
dreams, bad thoughts, and sickness. A small pinch of baneberry (Actea rubra) was often mixed with it for this purpose. The smoke was used to purify people, spaces, implements, utensils, horses, and rifles in various ceremonies. The Lakota also make bracelets for the Sun Dance from white sage (Rogers 1980). The Cheyenne use the white sage in their Sun Dance and Standing Against Thunder ceremonies (Hart 1976). Other tribes who used white sage include the Arapaho, Comanche, Gros Ventre, Creek, Navaho, Tewa, and Ute (Nickerson 1966, Carlson and Jones 1939, Hart 1976, Thwaites 1905, Denig 1855, Elmore 1944, Robbins et al. 1916, Chamberlin 1909).
The Dakota and other tribes used white sage tea for stomach troubles and many other ailments (Gilmore 1977). The Cheyenne used the crushed leaves as snuff for sinus attacks, nosebleeds, and headaches (Hart 1976). The Crow made a salve for use on sores by mixing white sage with neck-muscle fat (probably from buffalo) (Hart 1976). They used a strong tea as an astringent for eczema and as a deodorant and an antiperspirant for underarms and feet. The Kiowa made a bitter drink from white sage, which they used to reduce phlegm and to relieve a variety of lung and stomach complaints (Vestal and Shultes 1939). Usually, they chewed the stem and leaves and swallowed the juice.
The Kiowa-Apaches used a thin, sharp-pointed section of the stem as a moxa to relieve headaches or other pain (Jordan 1965). The Chinese also use an Artemisia species as a moxa to relieve pain such as arthritis. The Kiowa also used an infusion of white sage plants for the lungs, to cut phlegm, and for stomach trouble. The Mesquakie used the leaves as a poultice to “cure sores of long standing” (Smith 1928). They also made a tea of the leaves to treat tonsillitis and sore throat and a smudge of the leaves to drive away mosquitoes. The Omaha used the leaves in a tea for bathing and used the powdered leaves to stop nosebleeds (Gilmore 1913).
Both the Pawnee and the Bannock women drank Artemisia ludoviciana tea during their moon time, or menstrual periods (Dunbar 1880). During the time that women lived away from their lodges in a menstrual hut, they drank the bitter tea made from either the leaves of white sage or the root of A. frigida (Gilmore 1930).
The Blackfeet use the white sage in sweat-lodge rituals and as an ingredient in a stream vapor inhaled for respiratory problems. The “Giver of Breath” heals the ability to breathe with this powerful plant medicine.
According to Moerman (1986) Artemisia ludoviciana was used for the following:
The Fox used a poultice of leaves to heal old sores, a burning smudge to drive away mosquitoes and to “smoke ponies when they have the distemper”, and an infusion of leaves to heal tonsillitis and sore throats.
The Omaha used the leaves as a bath for fevers and to prevent nosebleeds.
The Paiute used a decoction of the plant as a soaking bath to relieve aching feet, to heal stomachaches, as a poultice for rheumatism or other aches, as a poultice or compress for headaches, to stop diarrhea, in a sweatbath for rheumatism, and to relieve the itching and discomfort of rashes and skin eruptions.
The Shoshone took white sage for colds, coughs, headaches, stomachaches, as a compress for fevers, to stop diarrhea, as a physic, as a regulator of menstrual disorders, and for influenza.
The lactone glycosides, santonin and artemisin, are probably found in all Artemisia species and account for their anthelmintic properties (Moore 1979). Thujone, a terpene-like ketone and essential oil, is also found in the plant and may be responsible for some of its medicinal effects (Kinscher 1992). However, it is poisonous in large doses. The Food and Drug Administration classifies Artemisia as an unsafe herb containing “a volatile oil which is an active narcotic poison” (Duke 1985).
Wildlife & Livestock: Sagebrush furnishes essential cover for many of the smaller desert animals (Martin et al. 1951). Its foliage and flower clusters constitute most of the diet of the sage grouse, and these parts together with the twigs bearing them are the primary source of food for antelope and mule deer. Range cattle also make good use of sagebrush as forage. Other mammals, which browse the foliage and stems, include jackrabbits, black-tailed rabbits, white-tailed rabbits, cottontails, chipmunks, gophers, ground squirrels, and various species of mice, prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, and white-throated wood rats. Elk and mountain sheep also browse on the foliage and twigs.