Santa Fe is known for its sights: more art galleries than anywhere else in the country, not to mention the art that spills over into the streets in the form of whimsical and dramatic sculpture, or the colors that are found in its turquoise jewelry and the gold of its cottonwood and aspen trees when they turn from green in the autumn.
But if you stand in Santa Fe and take a deep whiff of the surroundings, you’ll find that the scents are every bit as delightful. One of the first senses to hit your olfactory nerves on coming into town is that of burning sage. This is not culinary sage but the pungent sagebrush of the arid West, growing all over with a lacy silvery gray leaf that Native Americans have found to be medicinal. With its camphor and tannins, Native Americans, and Santa Feans of all backgrounds, believe sage has the power to cure headaches, prevent infection in wounds or colds, stop internal bleeding, and provide a spiritual lift to those who need it.
When you first enter the lobby of the spa at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort — called Spa Sage –before you go any further for treatments you are introduced to the sage ritual with a bowl of sage leaves and strings and little wrapped bundles in a bowl. The smell is delightful as you read “Sage is held sacred by Native Americans because of its purifying energies It cleanses both the body and the mind. Upon arrival at The Spa at La Posada, please make your own bundle of sage while thinking of a concern you would like to release. This practice will prepare you for complete relaxation during your spa experience. At the end of your spa journey you may leave the bundle and your worries with us. We will burn the sage bundles in La Posada’s fire pit to clear the energy of your concerns.”
Judging from the sweet smell of burning sage each night, a lot of it is being burned and a lot of cares and concerns of travelers to La Posada are vanishing with the lovely smell around the property. www.laposada.com.
One of the spa’s locally inspired treatments involves sage as well: The Spirit of Santa Fe treatment begins with a gentle blue corn exfoliation followed by a massage using desert sage oil. For a full sage immersion, you can follow this ritual with a sage and lavender bud bath soak, for feeling “nurtured and restored.”
Another Southwestern spa specialty at Sage is the Chocolate and Chili wrap wherein a custom blend of warming Chimayo red chile and chocolate with antioxidants, marine algae and moisturizers nourish and hydrate the skin. This can be finished with a chocolate cocoa butter massage. If the scents of your treatments have eventually left you, you can always head for the spa’s steam rooms, which are scented with eucalyptus and lavender. The smells alone in Sage Spa will keep you smiling for the rest of the day.
Speaking of which, every morning, not only does La Posada put out steaming pots of coffee and decaf, but also that same rich chocolate that was slathered over your body can now be taken as your morning drink, free to guests at the resort.
Santa Feans love their naturally growing sage and chilies. The latter represent the state vegetable of New Mexico, and the first smell that crosses your nose when you go to the farmer’s market here is the delicious scent of roasted red and green chiles. A conical roaster over a fire prepares the chiles for eating in numerous ways right there on the spot at this market, which has been named one of the best farmer’s markets in the country. Here, many stalls are devoted to the sage, where it has been made into sage “sticks” to take home and burn for good luck, good health, and all the other benefits stated earlier. Many of the sage sticks are decorated with pretty little colorful flowers, and others have been made into sage hearts or wreaths for hanging on a door for decoration, or are crosses, or burros. Head to the beauty counter of the market and you’ll find sage skin rejuvenation cream for its softening powers.
An artichoke farmer selling his vegetables at the market said that he had accidentally discovered that if you leave artichokes to turn to seed, before they do they become gorgeous purple spiky flowers, and he was displaying these flowers for decoration, along with his edible fresh artichokes. Tiny red and yellow chiles, too, had been made into table or door decorations by these artistic New Mexicans.
The farmer’s market even has a booth of original greeting cards. One birthday card, showing aging cowgirl Amy Ruddell in 1907, reads “Age doesn’t matter to me but it seems to matter to my body and face.”
While you can’t take fresh Santa Fe chiles home with you on a plane, you can take the dried red chile pods to hang as decoration and good luck, and you can also take dried red chile powder from this market to enhance your foods back home. Put into your foods and warmed, the delicious odors emanating from the kitchen will remind you of your visit to this sweet smelling state. www.laposadadesantafe.com