My friend, White Sage

As with most things, my taste in plants has changed over time. Borderline feverous obsession that lasts a few years or so, eventually plateauing out to a healthy collection of the plants that really matter to me, and a bank of half remembered botanical names. I have accepted and embraced this pattern in many aspects of my life. Recently, my appetite has been for medicinal plants. I can’t really explain why, I strongly believe any plant can be healing, it’s all about the connection you have with it. All plants have a history or lineage, if it is intertwined with human history or not. I think maybe it’s the sacred plants that capture me, plants with folklore and mythology. Those plants are often medicinal. It makes sense that they would carry physical and metaphysical power.

I scrapped the concept of solid plans years ago, so my garden was formed with a general shape in mind and a yearning for medicinal herbs. The nights of internet seed buying began, herb suppliers cross referenced with internet searches and books. It became clear that my garden would require a White Sage. I recognise how cliché a white, Millennial, female, falling in love with White Sage is. Let’s just get that out of the way. I simply do not possess the arrogance to deny the lure of a plant when I feel its pull. And I have felt the pull of Saliva apiana.  At that stage, I hadn’t met White Sage in person, not a live plant. But I was familiar with the aroma and regard of its burning foliage. This plant’s importance to the Native American tribes it shared land with is well documented. Used as a food source, medicine and in ceremony, White Sage was treated with respect and harvested sustainably. Its power, and recent popularity has not gone unnoticed by commercial interests and Salvia apiana has now been over-harvested to near extinction, putting pressure on plant populations, and risking accessibility for a culture that has worked with it for countless years. I wrestled with the idea of growing and using a plant held so sacred to people not of my culture, the best I can offer right now is acknowledgment of its importance, mindful respect and a refusal to profit from its smoke. By growing my own, I can share a connection, without the risk of participating in over-harvesting.  

I sowed a few seeds under a grow light, and to my delight, they germinated! (I’m not a good seed grower, I lack the consistency often required, as you’ll discover as the story continues). I babied the seedlings, feeling like these special plants had accepted my invitation, I had better keep them alive! Over time I potted them up into increasingly bigger pots, always weary not to give them too much space, too much new mix to hold moisture. Sometimes known as Californian White Sage, native to Arid America, I was nervous to strike a balance between the space and water for growth and mimicry of its natural conditions. I’m in not-very-Califorian Melbourne.

Eventually I had 2 plants potted into 250mm pots, and it was time for me to be long winded and indecisive about where in the garden they were to be placed. First, I put the pots in the garden, the idea was they could become accustomed to the conditions of this space. They moved around a little, and blew over often. One was a strange, wild shape. I planted it at the back of the garden in a space probably a little too shady and full of other plants. Being from the desert, White Sage enjoys the company of the sun more than that of plants. Despite these less than ideal conditions, I felt it wanted to go there, and it continues to grow in its wild shape, amongst friends. 

The second plant was a much bushier shape, a stronger more vigorous plant. But something didn’t feel right when I would go to plant it. I’d hold the pot and look around the garden and experience no urge to plunge the roots into the soil. So I’d put down the pot and walk away. After years of horticultural training, my gardening is now being led more by gut feeling and plant connection than strict learnings. I listen rather than tell. The roots found their own way into the soil, anchoring a half-toppled pot and causing the plant to redirect its growth to its new upward. We’ve all been there, or at least that’s what I tell myself. One Autumn morning the feeling changed. Today was the day. I overloaded my little car with a large stone pot and potting media and carefully transplanted the White Sage. The next three days were unseasonably warm and windy, and I watched my special plant suffer from transplant shock in unfavorable conditions. On day three I wrapped some bunched up netting around the plant to reduce the wind across the leaf surface. Conditions normalised and the roots settled, my tough friend made it through a Melbourne winter in its new home. The bushy form gave way to a slightly more sparse nature, heralding the coming of flower spikes. The spikes reached high, demanding your attention. Nectar rich white flowers adorn the crown of this wise plant, bees visiting and adding a hum of sound to the spectacle. Not a surprise when you consider the species name of apiana.

I haven’t done an intestinal harvest yet. If I’m called to prune I make use of the trimmings, and occasionally a branch is chosen for me by the overzealous resident Wattle Bird. Most of my time spent with this plant is in conversation. A friend, and plant connection I hope to have for years

Words and photos by Bec Bennett

Upcoming Events

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This