What Are Sacred Herbs?
The use of sacred herbs dates back to caveman times with the discovery of fire, when our ancestors burned the leaves, bark, seeds, roots and resin of dried plants for religious, spiritual and ceremonious purposes.
The process of creating aromatic smoke was believed by early humans to transform plants from the current world to a spirit world form. This ancient belief lives on in many cultures and religions today.
Many traditions and ceremonies are based around the burning of plants and herbs for the perceived benefits of health, wellbeing and relaxation. Similarly, religious, cultural and spiritual ceremonies still incorporate the burning of sacred herbs and incense.
What Makes a Herb Sacred?
Herbs are considered ‘sacred’ when they are associated with a particular belief or tradition and used to bring good fortune, healthfulness, to promote prosperity, ward off spirits or send loved ones who’ve passed away to what is considered their afterlife.
Sacred herbs have been used for centuries by different cultures around the world in different ways. What some cultures consider a herb that represents luck, others may consider it in a more negative context.
Sacred Herbs For Native American Rituals
Sacred plants commonly used in Native American rituals include sweetgrass and white sage. Smudging is the name given to the burning of such herbs during ceremonies practiced by Indigenous people of the Americas, as well as First Nations, Inuit or Métis.
The purpose of the ceremonies and herbs used varies widely between different tribes and nations but are generally used for a spiritual cleansing or blessing of people and places. Some native American cultures burn red cedar for their purification or healing ceremonies sometimes used in efforts to cleanse or repel evil influence. When burning herbs for ceremonies, the herbs used depend on the time, day, month or year of the event.
Traditional European Use of Sacred Herbs
During pagan times, sacred herbs were ubiquitous. Mistletoe is probably the most well-known example of a sacred herb, used in modern times to add some cheer at Christmas time and under which people tend to share a festive kiss. Traditionally, mistletoe was used during solstitial rites in Druidic Britain and Ireland to represent immortality.
Despite the fruit of mistletoe being poisonous, in some cultures, such as Celtic mythology and druid rituals, it was actually considered an antidote to poison.
Saining is a Scottish tradition involving being blessed by the burning of juniper leaves. Sweetgrass, or Holy Grass as it’s known in the UK, is a grass that was traditionally placed in front of church doors on saints’ days in Northern Europe, giving off a sweet smell as it was trodden on.
Verbena or vervain has long been associated with divine or supernatural forces, used by the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Christians, particularly viewed as being able to ward off evil.
Catholicism uses incense made from barks, seeds, resin and flowers which is burned to produce a pleasant scent, as a symbol of prayer, purification and as an offering of spirits to the heavens above. Commonly used herbs in Christianity include myrrh, ague root and frankincense.
Sacred Herbs in Asia
In Hinduism, tulsi is a form of holy basil which is considered sacred owing to the belief that it is the earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulsi. The plant is often grown in India by Hindus near or in front of their home or in a central courtyard. The leaves are cultivated and used in essential oil production, as well as for religious purposes in temples and homes.
Soma is another herb used in Asia, originating in India during the Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 500 BC) and used as an offering to the Gods. Soma was commonly used in vedic rituals, spiritual practices and shamanic medicine and these days can be found in yoga or spiritual sessions.
African Sacred Herbs
Herbs are relied upon heavily in traditional African medicine and ritual ceremonies. Some examples include silene undulata, which is a plant native to South Africa, long used as a tea by the Xhosa people who claim it helps elicit lucid dreams or with recollection of dream memory. The leaves of the South African Rooibos red bush plant have also been used for centuries to make a pleasant tea, with the tea now commonplace in supermarkets and cafés of the Western world.
The burning of imphepho, otherwise known as the liquorice plant, is believed by some African cultures to encourage long departed ancestors to steer away malicious spirits. More frequently, due to its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, it is used as a wound dressing, pain relief, essential oil and as the burning of ceremonial incense.
Modern Use of Sacred Herbs
To this day many cultures still practice traditional ceremonies and rituals using sacred herbs. Tea and incense made from herbs are also commonplace around the world, as are soft drinks, alcohol, sweets and tobacco flavoured with herbs.
As you can see, there really are so many different sacred herbs that have been used over time and are still being used today. If you’re interested in knowing more or trying some sacred herbs, check out our 5 most popular sacred herbs or visit our Shop to buy now.