Making Lavender Smudge Sticks:

Smudge sticks are small bundles of the woody/stem parts of herbs that are dried out and burnt to get rid of bad smells and to ‘clear the air.’ They apparently originate from Native American purification rites. I’m by no means an expert in this area, I just use these smudge sticks to clear the air and thought that I’d share how I make these.

Typical types of herbs that are used to make smudge sticks are white sage and lavender, but also rosemary sprigs and cedar needles would be a nice addition: I’m sure that there are a bunch of other possibilities, but I’m going to stick to simple lavender for today.

I particularly like Lavender because it has a relaxing aroma, keeps moths out of cupboards and stored items and it’s anti-bacterial. As a designer/maker of textile artefacts I’ve got a pretty good store of materials that I’m constantly guarding from moth attack. Cedarwood and lavender are invaluable for this (I’m not a fan of the smell of pure camphor), and by making these smudge sticks I’ve also increased my supply of dried lavender trimmings that I can squeeze into little muslin bags and throw into my stores of materials to keep moths away.

French Lavender is being used for these smudge sticks, it has a higher camphor/resin content than English Lavender (aka Lavender Angustifolia/Officialis). Therefore whilst French Lavender is great for keeping away moths, I’d be less inclined to use it in cooking than the English Lavender.

MAKING THE SMUDGE STICKS:

Availability & cost:
I bought four bunches of lavender from my local farmers market for $12. The cost and the availability will be determined by the season, so I prefer to stock up when I can, now is the ideal time (in the Southern Hemisphere) when weather is getting warmer and the winter wardrobe is being packed away. The four bunches yielded ten 15cm long smudge sticks and about four cups of lavender trimmings (including the flowers).

After the drying process was complete, the making of the sticks takes from about three hours: it depends on how many you are making.

What you will need:

- A week or two in a warm dry place;
- Bunch/es of lavender, or whatever herb you want to use;
- Twine, and a dry/warm place to hang the bunches from till they dry;
- Kitchen scissors or clean garden scissors;
- A long dish in which to re-wet the herb stems for binding the sticks;
- A tea towel;
- A large plate or tray on which you can store your work.
- A couple of large jars or a bowl that can hold the estimated volume of your dried herb trimmings;
- To use of the smudge sticks you’ll need matches, and I also use an old whiskey glass with some marbles in it to douse the embers when I’ve ‘smoked the place out’ enough.

Method:

1. Untie the bundles of herbs and line up the stems so that they all run the same way, let them dry like this for a day or two until the bottom of the stems are no longer waterlogged. Turn them over if necessary to ensure that all the leaves and stems that were in the centre of the bundle have dried.
2. Re-bundle the herbs into manageable bunches, and tie tightly with twine near the root-end of the bundle so that you can hang them up-side-down in a warm dry place (not in direct sun for the whole day). Leave the bunches to dry for a couple of days.
3. You will get leaves and possibly flowers of the herb coming off throughout the making of smudge sticks. Until the herbs have dried out, dry these bits off and place them in a jar or bowl where you can collect the clippings for later use in herb bags, potpourri or whatever.
4. After a couple of days take the drying herb bunches down, untie them, mix them around then re-bundle them. In doing so the bunches will have a chance to dry through more evenly. Re-hang the bunches upside-down again for a few more days, or until dry.
5. When fully dry, take the bunches down, untie them and strip them of about half of the leaves and most of the flower heads. Save these in the remnants bowl/jar.
6. In the long dish, set aside three fully stripped (no leaves or flowers) long stems and cover them with water for an hour or two until they have become supple enough to be used to bind the sticks: fully dried ones are too brittle for this.
7. Break the remaining bundles of herbs into small bunches of about six stems. Align the bottoms of the stems, then measure up and cut it off after 15cm. Keep laying the herb stems along the little bundle and cut off the excess. Save the smaller excess pieces for the remnants jar, these can be cut up later. I find that a good sized smudge stick is about 15cm long (approximately a hands length) and 2.5cm in diameter. This roughly equates to about six stems per smudge stick.
8. Once you have got this little bundle neatly aligned, take three of the supple soaked stems and pat them dry on a tea towel.
9. Hold the bundle tightly in one hand, and with the other hand take the end of the supple stem, wedge it into one end of the bundle until it doesn’t pop out if you twist it around the bundle (nor should it stick out the other side). Twist the supple stem tightly around the bundle, I find that in the initial twist if you twist the stem back upon itself then it will hold the bundle better. When you come to the end of the supple stem stick it into the middle of the bundle: make sure that it is pulled tightly. Repeat this step going the other way with another of the three supple stems, and repeat again with the third going whichever way looks less tightly bound. With the second two you can work the ends of the stem underneath the existing stem/s to secure them.
10. There you have your smudge stick, it’s best to leave it to dry for a day or two before use, just so that the supple binding stems can dry out. You can cut-off any rough ends, but I find that if you line the stems up in the first place that they’re usually neat little bundles and don’t need trimming.

CAUTIONS ABOUT USING SMUDGE STICKS:

- DO NOT LET CHILDREN USE smudge sticks, or at least don’t let them use smudge sticks unsupervised. It is playing with fire after all, so USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.

- When burning smudge sticks you’re not trying to get a roaring flame going, you just need to light one end of the stick till the embers alight and give off a gentle amount of smoke.

- To douse the embers of a burning smudge stick you just need to cut off the oxygen supply to it. I use an old heavy bottomed glass with marbles in it: you just put in the burning end and jiggle it around the marbles until all the embers have been extinguished. NEVER LEAVE A SMUDGE STICK BURNING AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR HAND, ALWAYS DOUSE THE EMBERS. Again, use your common sense.

- If you wet the stick it will not light, this is why so much time is spent drying the herbs in the first place. If the stick gets wet just let it dry out.

- Avoid using smudge sticks around flammable substances ie. Paper, synthetic materials etc.

- Know where your fire alarms are and don’t light the smudge stick around them. Obviously.

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