Spotlight on Sage

Origins | Description | Qualities | History | Cultivation | Harvesting
Culinary Uses | Magical Uses | Other Uses | Quotes
Sage - Photo by Sporkist

"Between Gosport and
Southampton we observed a little churchyard where it is customary
to sow all the graves with sage."

Samuel Pepys



Latin name(s) - Salvia officinalis
aka - Common sage, Garden sage, Kitchen sage, Culinary sage, Dalmatian sage, Purple sage, Broadleaf sage, Red sage
Family -Salvia
Parts used - Leaves
Purported actions - astringent, carminative, stimulant, tonic
Methods of use - Infusion, Essential oil, Poultice

Origins - Mediterranean, it grows wild in Southern Europe

Description - Sage is a small perennial plant with a woody stem. Its leaves have a grey hue, and its flowers range from blue to purple. It is commonly grown as a kitchen and medicinal herb or as an ornamental garden plant.
The leaves grow in pairs on the stems, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, are oblong in shape with rounded ends, they are grey-green in colour and have fine, soft hairs.

Attributed medicinal qualities - The Latin name for sage, salvia, means “to heal". Although the effectiveness of Common Sage is open to debate, it has been recommended at one time or another for practically every ailment.
It is reputed to be good against water retention. Has been used as an antibiotic, an antifungal, a sedative, an astingent, and as a tonic.

There is growing evidence of its' benefits in treating symptoms of Alzheimers and dementia.

Other treatments include: dissolving kidney stones, reducing dandruff, helping to regulate menstruation, reducing night sweats, against headaches, to ease rheumatic fever and joint pain, against colds and coughs and to ease indigestion.

As a gargle it has been employed to help the throat and tonsils, and against bleeding gums and laryngitis.

!Note - In high doses, sage can overstimulate and should be avoided by anyone who suffers from epilepsy. It should also be avoided in early pregnancy.

History -  The name Salvia comes from the Latin Salvare, which translates roughly as "to rescue" or "to heal." Ancient Egyptians used it as a fertility drug (Bown, 1995). And in ancient Rome, it was considered very important and particularly helpful in the digestion of the fatty diet of the time. It was part of official Roman medical usage.

In France sage was used as a tea and even traded with China where sage tea became very popular. In Germany too, sage was planted as a cash crop on the royal farms.

Cultivation - First, it is  said to be bad luck to plant sage in your own garden; a stranger should be found to do the work. (Sounds good to me!). It thrives in a well drained soil in a sunny location. It is more than happy to grow in containers, but if you want to try growing sage indoors, you will need to provide strong, direct light.

Sage can grow up to three feet and gives off a distinct fragrance. It flowers around June-July.

Sage plants can be grown from seed, root cuttings or transplants but the seed needs to be sown while fresh. It does not store well and even fresh seed is not  reliable and is slow to establish. Root cuttings can be propagated by layering. fortunately, reasonably priced, small sage plants can be found in most garden centres.  

Pruning after flowering will keep plants attractive and prevent them from getting too woody and leggy.

There are few pests that affect sage, so it makes a good companion plant.

Harvesting, preparation and storage - Sage may bloom in its first year but you should allow the plant to grow unharvested for the first year. Leaves can be harvested anytime, but they are considered at their best just before or after flowering.

It can quickly grow into a small woody shrub, so it may need replacing every 3-4 years.

Frequent harvesting and pruning helps to reinvigorate the plant. While a sage plant is at its prime, it makes an attractive addition to both herb gardens and ornamental borders particularly the purple, golden and tri-color varieties.

Leaves can be dried and stored for future use.

Culinary Uses - Everyone in the UK has heard of Sage and Onion stuffing (usually under the brand name of Paxo), you can make it yourself. Sage and Onion Stuffing.

Magical Uses - Sage is purported to give long life - even immortality - by eating some every day in May.

It promotes wisdom (hense the name) if you carry it with you all the time.

It attracts what is needed, well being and prosperity.

To guard yourself against contracting the dreaded evil eye, wear a small horn filled with sage.

Folklore warns against filling an area with sage - it brings bad luck. Instead grow it with other herbs and plants.

Sage is sacred to Native Americans as a "smudging" herb.

"Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits, feelings, or influences, and also to keep bad spirits from entering the area where a ceremony takes place. In Plains nations, the floor of the sweat lodge is frequently covered with sage, and participants rub the leaves on their bodies while in the sweat. Sage is also commonly spread on the ground in a lodge or on an altar where the pipe touches the earth. Some nations wrap their pipes in sage when they are placed in pipe-bundles, as sage purifies objects wrapped in it. Sage wreaths are also placed around the head and wrists of Sundancers." http://www.asunam.com/smudge_ceremony.html

Other Uses - Often used as a flavouring and to make a stimulating tea, sage tea can also be used to darken hair. Sage oil is often used in the manufacture of absinthe and is used as a flavouring in vermouth.

Quotes - "He who would live for aye must eat sage in May." - Anonymous

"Sage is singular good for the head and brain; it quickeneth the senses and memory; strengtheneth the sinews; restoreth health to those that hath the palsy; and takes away shaky trembling of the members." - Gerard

"Women with child, if they be likely to come before their time, do eat thereof to their great good." Agrippa