Sage, a pungent culinary herb we are all familiar with, may help calm excesses in the body, a simple tea or infusion of sage leaves can cool the body down. It is an excellent and effective option for women suffering from hot flush symptoms due to menopause. Sage may also help reduce sweating, making it a useful herb to try if you are naturally inclined to produce a lot of perspiration.
During times of fever, sage tea may also have a cooling effect on a distressed body, however it should never be considered a remedy for a high temperature. Always seek medical attention and consult a medical doctor in the event of a high temperature.
Sage will also help to decrease a mother’s milk. So if you are weaning an infant and you want to reduce lactation it is worth taking. Another traditional common use for sage was to help calm down painful or very heavy menstruation.
Salvia Officinalis (sage) is also a useful herbal anti-microbial fighting tool for colds, germs and the flu. For centuries it has been gargled for laryngitis and tonsillitis, used as a mouthwash or swab for infected gums, and mouth sores. It has also been used against staph infections. Sage may also be helpful to support digestion, cognitive function and nerves. As indicated, it is beneficial for the mouth and throat, as a diuretic and alterative it can also have a tonic effect on the liver.
The essential oil percentage is high in sage at 2.8%. The components of sage include thujone, cineole, borneol, linalool, camphor, salvene, as well as estrogenlike substances, flavonoids and organic acids. It has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. The burning smoke was once used to as an inhalment for asthmatics and in aromatherapy it is believed that the smell relieves mental grief and physical stress.
Note: sage contains a small amount of thujone, an active oil also found in wormwood and a number of other herbs. (However the quantity in sage is in much lesser amounts). For this reason it should not be taken regualry over a long period of time in therapeutic doeses, however the small amount used to flavour your food is fine daily.
The aromatic, fluffy textured, grey/silver leaves, purple lipped flowers and antiseptic qualities of sage meant it was often strewn across floors to keep away unwanted insects and vermin throughout history.
The plant originated on the northern shores of the Mediterranean and North Africa and can be found growing wild from north and central Spain to the Balkans and Asia Minor. It has been cultivated for culinary and medicinal use in England, France and Germany for thousands of years.
The name of the genus is derived from the Latin word ‘salvere’ ‘to be saved’ referring to its curative powers. The ancient Greeks called it ‘elifagis’ which later became the Greek ‘sphako’s and later ‘sawge’ in Old English.
Sage was once believed to ‘assuage grief’ in Pepys diary he notes it was planted on graves in a country churchyard. One of its earliest reputations was as a preventative against the onslaughts of old age. An old English proverb states, ‘He who would live for aye must eat sage in May’. The ancient Egyptians used sage as a tonic for the brain as did Chinese tradition. Chinese traders are recorded trading tea for sage. The ancient Romans and Greeks used sage for snake bites and in medieval times it was used for colds, fevers, epilepsy, constipation and mouthwash (records show that sage was used in Crete in 1600 BC to clear throat inflammation).
It is good to eat sage in a meal, as it can help assist with digestion. Traditionally it is paired with pork, goose, duck, veal, oily fish, peas, beans, onion, aubergine, cheese, egg, cream dishes bread, stuffing and dumplings. Alongside thyme and marjoram it is a key ingredient in the traditional ‘mixed herbs’ blend. It was added to meat (especially sausage) due to its strong antmicrobial and antioxidant qualities. Traditionally people made sage bread, sage butter and candied the leaves and flowers. Sage wine was a favourite of King Henry 111 (1216-1272). It also makes excellent vinegar.
Sage has a long history of use as a hair tonic and is said to be helpful for baldness and dandruff. Bringing out dark highlights in hair, it was also thought to aid greyness. It has an astringent effect on the hair and scalp which counters excessive oiliness.
An old method of teeth whitening was to rub a fresh sage leaf over your teeth each day. Sage also has a strong tradition of use as a deodorant and its astringent nature makes it useful in any skin formula designed to reduce large pores.
Sage prefers a sunny elevated position in your garden. Water plants well while young, but once established only water in dry weather as they do not like damp conditions. You can grow sage from seed in spring or propagate from cuttings late spring. The best harvest time for sage is just before the plant flowers. Hang branches loosely from the ceiling in a bundle in a dry, cool airy place or on racks out of direct sunlight. Once dry and brittle, pull the leaves off all stems and store in an airtight container.
There are more than 750 salvias found throughout the world and many interesting culinary variations, including a ‘pineapple scented’ and ‘Mexican purple sage’.
Companion Planting: Sage and Rosemary aid one another in the garden and sage is helpful in repelling cabbage butterfly.
Culinary Sage: flowers can be blue, purple, pink or white, the leaves can sometimes be purple or variegated.
Clary Sage: is grown as an ornamental garden flower and for the perfume industry. The essential oil of clary sage is thought to be uplifting and helpful for women during times of hormonal imbalance.
White Sage: traditionally used by indigenous North Americans for smudging (burning the smoke to clear the air and energy in a space or around a person).
References: Herbs, Their Cultivation & Usage, John & Rosemary Hemphill, Blandford Press, London 1990 – The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia, Kathi Kevillle, Simon & Schuster Australia, 1991