By Janelle Eklund
Fringed Sagebrush dotted the south facing hill side accented by lingering snow halos. The river below was slowly being released from winter’s grip of ice. Drop by drop the flow of water let go of the icy bank and hurried on its way to complete its cycle - winding and dropping way below, defying nourishment to the roots of this hearty plant.
When one thinks of sage it brings to mind desert scenes and usually one thinks of a desert as hot and dry. But in this part of Alaska it's a cold and arid climate that encourages the sage to make this its home. It doesn't necessarily long for that river water way below its home because its roots are pretty adaptable. The tap root will grow deep where there is little water but if the water is easy to get at it will grow lots of surface roots. So that is why it can survive droughts.
Wildlife use this plant for forage and habitat.
I bent low to get an up close look see that new life was emerging and breathed in the essence of sage. The pleasant aroma has been used by Native Americans to get rid of bad odors and even was used as toilet paper. They would also masticate it by chewing and putting it on wounds and then bandaging. Some would make a salve, mixing it with bear fat and putting it on skin sores. They would also use the leaves like a toothbrush and rub it over their teeth and gums. A hot poultice of the leaves can also be applied to treat a toothache. And like yarrow, the leaves can be used to stop bleeding.
Sage has volatile oils and tannins which can dry up perspiration, and is a powerful antioxidant. Thus making it an herb of choice, by making a tea of the leaves, for hot flashes and night sweats. The tea is also good for menstruating or irregular menstruating in women. These oils also help in treating sore throats and colds and getting rid of worms from the system.
Sage can be made into smudge sticks (take a bunch of sage, wrap it with twine and dry). The dried smudge is burnt to impart its smokey aroma in a room and cleanse the air, acting as a disinfectant.
Are you getting forgetful, feeling mentally exhausted, and/or not able to concentrate? Sage leaf tea can be beneficial to these maladies.
While you are out in the summer battling the mosquitoes and you come upon some Artemisia frigida take a bunch of leaves and rub them on your skin to deter them. Or bring your smudge stick and use its smoke to keep them away.
Enjoy Fringed Sagebrush for its many uses.
From my light to yours-
References: US Forest Service web site; Natural Medicinal Herbs web site; The Little Herb Encyclopedia book, by Jack Ritchason, N.D.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.