#0047: Sage Advice
It’s a warm, sunny evening in the glen, following a day spent cutting back my overgrown herb garden.
As I watch the sun slowly dip toward the tree-lined horizon, I find myself sitting in the golden light, taking in the last of the dwindling heat, and gathering sprigs of sage into small bundles, whilst a thick coil of heavily scented white smoke twists around me.
For centuries, different cultures the world over have ceremonially burnt herbs and resins as part of blessing rituals and cleansing rites.
Smudging rituals, performed by some Native American cultures, and smoking ceremonies, held by some Aboriginal Australians, smoulder sacred plants and herbs to create a heavy, herbal smoke, which is used to cleanse people and places, repel evil, and ward off bad spirits.
Closer to home, ancient Scottish saining rites included burning branches of juniper at Hogmanay, to protect the household against evil in the coming year.
My reason for burning sage, however, is less esoteric and more down to earth.
The Secret Coast is home to an extraordinary array of native fauna.
Playful red squirrels scitter through the forest, leaping between branches of the canopy, and vanishing into the darkness when danger looms near.
Bright eyed pine martens appear as the sun goes down, hunting for food in the dying, dusky light, which explodes into shimmering rainbows where it catches the iridescent bodies of dragonflies darting through the warm, thick, evening air.
Great green and pick elephant hawk moths beat their wings to invisibility as they drink from wild honeysuckle flowers whilst, high overhead, golden eagles can be spotted catching thermals as they circle over the glen.
Midges, however, are a less welcome member of our native ecosystem and, on occasion, these small, biting insects have the potential to ruin a summer evening spent outdoors.
Everyone has their own favourite remedy to keep the midgies at bay.
Even burnt coffee grinds.
But for me, sage smoke is the go-to way to keep from becoming a walking buffet for these little monsters.
To make your own sage bundle, simply pick a small bunch of sage leaves on a dry day, and tie their stems together with the end of a length of natural fibre twine or string. Using the remainder of the twine, bind the bundle together, criss-crossing the twine, so that it is closely packed without becoming crushed. Then, tie off the loose end to make a little loop for hanging, and dry the bundle in a cool place for at least two weeks or until the leaves have fully dried out.
When the bundle is ready, light the leafy end, let it burn for a moment, then put out the flame. Gently wave it around a little if you like, then rest the smouldering bundle on a heatproof surface, and let the smoke set to work, keeping the midgies away.
As with any activity involving naked flames, be sure to pay attention that the fire is not allowed to spread. Once you are done, you can extinguish the bundle by lightly dampening the smouldering edge, then leave it to dry out ready to use again.
So, if you find yourself in the glen of an evening, and stumble across a drifting cloud of thick, woody scent, follow your nose, come and join me, and take yourself off the menu.