Students practice the cultural ritual of harvesting sage

St. Joseph’s Indian School students got out of the classroom to pick sage.

For every plant there is a purpose. Sage is one of the most important Native American ceremonial plants, used by many Native American tribes as an incense and purifying herb.

Because of its popularity, sage can also become costly to get your hands on, which is why St. Joseph’s Indian School takes pride in growing sage right here on campus. From a seedling to adult plant, students can witness the lifespan of sage and take part in another ritual: the harvesting of sage.

The third grade class included just a handful of the students who helped pick sage.

And that’s exactly what took place toward the end of summer. LaRayne, Native American studies teacher, took students outside, class by class, to experience and practice cutting sage.

“Minus the modern day tools, like scissors, we cut sage exactly how our ancestors would have,” said LaRayne.

Students had the chance to smell the freshly picked sage. Sage has a mild, sweet smell that intensifies as it burns.

The process begins with a prayer to Mother Earth, thanking her for providing the plant. Prayer is often followed by a song. Then the cutting process begins. Students were careful not to cut too deep. Proper cutting should take place a short distance above the lowest leaves on the plant so it can grow back strong. The cut sage is then laid out to dry before it is bundled for storage.

The sage cut on campus will be used for smudging, prayer ties and ceremonies. Historically, sage was used for medicinal purposes. Only male sage plants, with its larger leaves, are used for ceremonies such as Sundance and inipi (sweat). The female plants are used for things like smudging. Native Americans smudge to rid themselves of evil spirits and negativity by wafting the smoke of burning sage toward their bodies. Historically, the Lakota smudged often to purify their lives before battle, vision quests or hunts.

Picking sage is a favorite activity for many St. Joseph’s students.

“Our students feel very lucky to be able to have sage on campus and love having the opportunity to help cut and prepare it,” said LaRayne.

Emilia was one of the students given the opportunity to pick sage. She said she enjoys picking sage very much, as it reminds her of the times she has picked sage with her grandmother.

“I try to be really careful, because you don’t want to cut it too low or it won’t grow back as well each year,” said Emilia. “It was fun to pick sage at school and help my classmates who had not done it before.”

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Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

4 thoughts on “Students practice the cultural ritual of harvesting sage”

  1. We were fortunate to stumble onto the school a couple of years ago. Loved the museum and to learn about the Lakota Sioux. Great a beautifully designed exposition in such a small museum!

    Thank you for such good work in high-lighting this tribe!

    1. Thank you, Carol! It’s always nice to hear from people who have visited our school in person. We hope to host you again soon!

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