White Sage – Salvia apiana

White Sage – Salvia apiana, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 49

Latin name:

Salvia apiana

Common Name:

White sage


Lamiaceae (Mint family)


Perennial bush/subshrub


White sage’s white and purple flowers bloom in early summer and produce many small seed capsules that dry out and drop their tiny, 1 mm small seeds up to 3 meters away. From there the seeds are picked up and moved further away by harvester ants and small rodents.

Geographic Region:

White sage is only found in southern portions of California and northwestern Mexico.


White sage prefers full sun and well-drained soil and needs to have a summer drought to survive. It lives primarily on dry slopes at elevations of 300-1500 meters (980 to 4,900 feet).

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

Since every above-ground part of white sage is used for medicinal purposes, it is very easy to be overharvested to the point of death. It is better to take a few stalks from each plant than to remove an entire white sage plant.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Salvia apiana does not have any federal or state protections in the U.S.

Salvia apiana has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

White sage was used historically as a cleaning agent on both the body and around the house. As a medicine, it was used to treat several minor health issues, such as coughs and colds, as well as being used as an eye cleanser. Modern spiritual practitioners harvest and dry white sage for smudging, and herbalists prepare the leaves as a tea that is said to help treat upset stomachs, sore throats, and as a treatment for heavy menstruation.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species and Lookalikes:

White sage is an important food source for many animals, particularly elk, mountain sheep, pronghorns, and deer. The seeds are also eaten by local rodent and small bird and mammal populations.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

If possible, look for cultivated sources of white sage over wild-harvested ones, and please talk to your doctor before using white sage or any other medicinal supplements to ensure safe use, particularly if you take any preexisting medications which may have adverse effects when used in conjunction with herbal supplements.


  • Bean, Lowell John and Katherine Siva Saubel, (1972), Temalpakh (From the Earth); Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants, Banning, CA. Malki Museum Press, page 136.
    Hedges, Ken, (1986), Santa Ysabel Ethnobotany, San Diego Museum of Man Ethnic Technology Notes, No. 20, page 39.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, (2019, March 6), Plant Database: Salvia apiana. Retrieved September 14, 2019, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SAAP2.
    Montalvo, A. M. and J. L. Beyers, (2010), Plant Profile for Salvia apiana. Native Plant Recommendations for Southern California Ecoregions, Riverside-Corona Resource Conservation District.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Riverside, CA. http://www.rcrcd.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88&Itemid=190
    USDA, (n.d.), Plants Profile for Salvia apiana (white sage), Retrieved September 14, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=saap2
White Sage

What is going on with White Sage?

by Susan Leopold This year it was evident due to the social media reaction that people were expressing anger and concern over the increase in commercialization of white sage (Salvia apiana) and the cultural appropriation and offensive marketing that overlooks ethics and ecological, cultural awareness of a deeply sacred and spiritual plant. The rumblings on social media in regards to those who claimed to wildcraft white sage, along with selling the wildcrafted material that was ...
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Sustainable Smudge – Growing White Sage on the Canadian Border

By Michael Pilarski Most of us are familiar with the smell of burning white sage smudge sticks – a Native American tradition which has spread far and wide. What percentage of the smudge sticks are wild crafted and what percentage are from cultivated sources? How many people are growing white sage to relieve pressure on the wild stands? I don’t know the answer, but suspect that almost all of it is wild crafted. White sage ...
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