Safety Q: burning garden and backyard plants in rituals and cleansing

I have been reading some articles about using backyard plants for making smudges that would be burned indoors. My concern is whether the smoke from some tree materials would be toxic. I’m reading that most tree leaves and all conifers emit chemicals, mostly toxic, when burned, such as juniper, cedar, pine, sumac, etc. But some witches have said they have used them. And I know juniper berries were burned in sick rooms for centuries. So, it’s hard to know what source to trust. I was looking at one Solstice smudge recipe that did use pine and juniper branches as elements. Before I use any tree plants particularly, does anyone have any experience or knowledge about the toxicity of plants when burned?

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Greetings @mary25,

This is a great question- I think you are really smart to dig deeper into safety concerns before burning plants whose smoke might have potential health risks :+1:

Smoke is kind of a scary thing- we witches use it in cleansing, deal with it when we light candles or have bonfires, and engage with in various rituals and spells. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry risks- it’s wise to be aware of these things so that we can practice safely! :raised_hands: :woman_mage:

The potential risks of inhaling smoke can vary immensely depending on chemicals or compounds are being burned- cigarette smoke :smoking: , which we know causes cancer, is significantly riskier to breathe than, let’s say, smoke from a soy candle :candle:

That being said, it is my understanding that no smoke is “good” for you- inhaling any form of smoke regardless of the source can cause irritation and carry potential risks. That’s why it is recommended that any form of burning be done in a well-ventilated area :window:

I have a deep interest and respect for traditional medicines and practices- that being said, there’s a reason that some traditions didn’t survive the test of time. As humankind became more knowledgable about the world, we learned that some traditional practices that were intended to heal actually caused more harm than help.

I haven’t burned or cleansed with juniper berries before so I’m not confident in saying whether or not this was the case- I just want to say that I think you are really smart to be cautious and learn more before burning them :+1:

It really is a great question- I’m afraid I’m don’t have a solid answer in terms of burning these plants, so I will be following along closely to learn from the coven too :infinite_roots: :pray:

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I 100% agree with @TheTravelWitch_Bry and commend you for ensuring your safety and the safety of those in your home. :clap: It can be really hard to determine the “safety” of burning certain trees and plants indoors, though safety is relative when you’re talking about smoke.

I did find that you’re correct that pine, and all coniferous trees, can be unsafe to burn indoors or in an unventilated area because they contain “…nitrogen and substances called terpenes which are highly toxic when burned, making the smoke in your fire pit unsafe for you and others around your fire pit to breathe.” (1) If you season the wood, e.g. dry it out completely before burning it, the risks are lower and it is generally considered safe.

The pine needles, however, are a bit different. One source says that you should never burn pine needles in the house because of the 1) the chemicals they emit in the smoke and 2) they spark very easily and can cause a bigger fire. (2)

I have personally used Juniper leaves (needles? I don’t know what to call them) in my own cleansing practices. I can’t speak to the berries, though, besides knowing that Juniper berries are used to make gin :clinking_glasses: I harvested the Juniper myself from trees on my land back when I lived in Oregon. I dried them out slowly in the oven and then ground them up using a food processor. I still burn this Juniper when my space needs a heavy cleanse using a charcoal disc.


My opinion (and this is based solely on my experience and what I would do, not anything professional) is that if you are going to make a cleansing bundle using pine and juniper, it would be okay to do so in small amounts in a well-ventilated area. Since both plants burn quickly, I would also have a fire proof dish with me when cleansing the space just in case I needed to set the bundle down. Cleanse with the windows open and be mindful of yourself and others in the space.

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