White sage's light-gray leaves color the desert foothills of Southern California and other arid foothill regions of the West, and knowing all about white sage will enable you to take advantage of its many uses and benefits. The plant is useful as an ornamental in drought-resistant gardens, and Native Americans value the plant's medicinal, ceremonial and therapeutic uses. White sage grows up to three feet in height as wide. The plants go dormant in hot dry conditions and produce new growth, spurred by winter and spring rains. The plant has a moderate growth rate, with white stalks rising vertically up from the plant's base. Sticky, resinous leaves cover the stalks, and in spring, long, white flower spikes appear. The flowers attract bees, which produce a golden honey from the flower nectar.
As a garden plant, white sage does best planted in full sun, preferably, on a slope or in an area with sandy or rocky soil and excellent drainage. The plant's rustic qualities work best in a wildlife or informal setting. Do not provide any summer irrigation to the plant as it can lead to root rot and the plant's death. Pair white sage with California lilac, santolina and other drought tolerant plants. Some people find the strong aroma emitted by the leaves overwhelming, so plant it away from bedrooms, or covered patios.
White sage has wildlife value, providing food for deer, rabbits and mice, and nectar to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Seeds attract native birds, and small mammals live in the protection of large mature plants. Native Americans historically used white sage in purification ceremonies, burning dried, rolled leaves or using steam from steeped leaves to alleviate lung problems. Today, incense made from white sage is available commercially and produces a powerful and slightly sweet fragrance. Smudge sticks made from packed dried leaves tied with thread smolder slowly and produce smoke thought by some to have cleansing and purifying qualities.