White sage


''Salvia apiana'', the white sage, bee sage, or sacred sage is an evergreen
perennial A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to Energy transformation, convert light energy into chemical energy that, thr ...
shrub that is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, found mainly in the
coastal sage scrub Coastal sage scrub, also known as coastal scrub, CSS, or soft chaparral, is a low scrubland Shrubland, scrubland, scrub, brush, or bush is a plant community A plant community is a collection or Association (ecology), association of plant spec ...
habitat of Southern California and Baja California, on the western edges of the
Mojave Mojave or Mohave most often refers to: *Mojave Desert *Mojave River *Mohave people Mojave or Mohave may also refer to: Places * Fort Mojave Indian Reservation * Mohave County, Arizona * Mohave Valley, a valley in Arizona * Mohave Valley, Arizona, ...

Sonoran desert The Sonoran Desert ( es, Desierto de Sonora) is a North American desert and ecoregion An ecoregion (ecological region) or ecozone (ecological zone) is an and geographically defined area that is smaller than a , which in turn is smaller than ...

Sonoran desert


''Salvia apiana'' is a shrub that reaches tall and wide. The whitish evergreen leaves are and persist throughout the year; they are opposite with crenulate margins. Leaves are thickly covered in hairs that trigger oil glands; when rubbed oils and resins are released, producing a strong aroma. The flowers are very attractive to bees, which is described by the specific epithet, ''apiana''. Several flower stalks, sometimes pinkish colored, grow above the foliage in the spring. Flowers are white to pale lavender.

Distribution and habitat

White sage is a common plant that requires well-drained dry soil, full sun, and little water. The plant occurs on dry slopes in coastal sage scrub,
chaparral Chaparral ( ) is a shrubland Shrubland, scrubland, scrub, brush, or bush is a plant community characterized by vegetation dominance (ecology), dominated by shrubs, often also including grasses, Herbaceous plant, herbs, and geophytes. Shrublan ...

, and yellow-pine forests of Southern California to Baja California at less than elevation.


Flowers attract varied pollinators including bumblebees, carpenter bees,
Bombyliidae The Bombyliidae are a family of flies. Their common name are bee flies or humbleflies. Adults generally feed on nectar and pollen, some being important pollinators. Larvae generally are parasitoids of other insects. Overview The Bombyliidae ...

, and hummingbirds. However most of these species are ineffective pollinators, with only three species of
carpenter bee Carpenter bees are species in the genus ''Xylocopa'' of the subfamily Xylocopinae. The genus includes some 500 bees in 31 subgenera. The common name "carpenter bee" derives from their nesting behavior; nearly all species burrow into hard plant ma ...

carpenter bee
and one species of
bumblebee A bumblebee (or bumble bee, bumble-bee, or humble-bee) is any of over 250 species in the genus ''Bombus'', part of Apidae, one of the bee families. This genus is the only Extant taxon, extant group in the tribe Bombini, though a few extinct ...

actually leading to routine pollination.

Pests and disease

terpenoid The terpenoids, also known as isoprenoids, are a large and diverse class of naturally occurring organic chemicals , CH4; is among the simplest organic compounds. In chemistry, organic compounds are generally any chemical compounds that contain ca ...
s and essential oils found in white sage likely deter
herbivory A herbivore is an animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular A multicellular organism is an organism In biology, an organism () is any organic, life, living system that functions as an individual entity. All ...


''Salvia apiana'' is widely used by Native American peoples on the Pacific coast of the United States. The seed is a primary, traditional ingredient in
pinole Pinole, also called pinol or pinolillo Pinolillo is a sweet cornmeal Cornmeal is a meal (coarse flour) ground from dried maize, corn. It is a common staple food, and is Mill (grinding), ground to coarse, medium, and fine consistencies, b ...

, a staple food. The
Cahuilla The Cahuilla, also known as ʔívil̃uqaletem or Ivilyuqaletem, are a Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants ...

people have traditionally harvested large quantities of the seed, then mixed it with wheat flour and sugar to make gruel and biscuits. The leaves and stems are a traditional food among the
Chumash people The Chumash are a Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indigenou ...
and neighboring communities. For healing use, several tribes have traditionally used the seed for removing foreign objects from the eye, similar to the way that
Clary sage ''Salvia sclarea'', the clary or clary sage, is a biennial or short-lived herbaceous perennial in the genus '' Salvia''. It is native to the northern Mediterranean Basin In biogeography, the Mediterranean Basin (also known as the Mediterra ...
seeds have been used in Europe. A tea from the roots is traditional among the Cahuilla women for healing and strength after childbirth. Different parts of the plant are also used in ceremonies by several
Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indigenous peoples in Canada, the indigenous p ...


''Salvia apiana'' prefers a sunny location, well draining soil, and good air circulation. It easily hybridizes with other ''Salvia'' species, particularly ''
Salvia leucophylla ''Salvia leucophylla'', the San Luis purple sage, purple sage, or gray sage, is an aromatic forms of benzene (top) combine to produce an average structure (bottom) In chemistry Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with Chemical ...
'' and ''
Salvia clevelandii ''Salvia clevelandii'', the fragrant sage, blue sage, Jim sage and Cleveland sage, is a perennial plant that is native to Southern California and northern Baja California, growing below elevation in California coastal sage and chaparral habitat. ...

Salvia clevelandii


Over-harvest of wild white sage populations is a concern held by many Native American groups and conservationists. Over harvesting is negatively affecting the wild population and distribution of white sage. It is believed that illegal harvest is occurring on public lands and non-permitted harvesting is also taking place on private land. In June 2018, four people were arrested for the illegal harvest of 400 pounds of white sage in North Etiwanda Preserve of
Rancho Cucamonga Rancho Cucamonga was a Mexican land grant in present-day San Bernardino County, California San Bernardino County, officially the County of San Bernardino, is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrati ...
, California. Deputies said in a statement that white sage is protected by the
Endangered Species Act of 1973 The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA or "The Act"; 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) is the primary law in the United States for protecting imperiled species. Designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction Extinction is the ter ...
, which is a common misconception. Collecting plants without permission from a landowner or land manager is illegal. Although white sage is not listed on the Endangered Species List, conservationists are still concerned about the future survival and distribution of the species.


External links

White Sage - photograph

Jepson Flora Project - ''Salvia apiana''
{{Taxonbar, from=Q899812 apiana Flora of California
Flora of Baja California This category contains the native flora of Baja California as defined by the World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions. Taxa of the lowest rank are always included; taxa of higher ranks (e.g. genus) are only included if monotypic ...
Flora of the California desert regions Flora of the Sonoran Deserts Natural history of the California chaparral and woodlands Natural history of the Colorado Desert Natural history of the Mojave Desert Natural history of the Peninsular Ranges Natural history of the Santa Monica Mountains Natural history of the Transverse Ranges Plants used in Native American cuisine Plants used in traditional Native American medicine Garden plants of North America Drought-tolerant plants