Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
(A video covering the main points in this post can be found at Sage Health Benefits)
Sage (Garden or Kitchen Sage), Salvia officinalis, is the last member of the big four immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel (based on a folk song of unknown age). Leaf colors vary from green to greenish gray, which are most likely to be seen, and purplish-red (var. purpurascens). The red variety is traditionally preferred for use in herbal medicine, but you can use green sage if that is all you have. It is closely related to clary sage, Chinese red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) , the sacred white sage (Salvia apiana) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia), as well as various ornamental sages grown in the flower garden. These are not covered here, as they do not necessarily share the same properties.
Sage is often used in cooking, so you may well have some in the kitchen cupboard, which you can use if you don’t have any in the garden, but it’s very easy to grow from seed, and well worth the effort – or just buy in a plant or two from your local nursery, if you don’t want dozens of sage plants to give away. You can pick leaves any time of year in most parts, even if you have to brush off the snow first. The main thing to watch out for when planting is to put it in a sunny position, and to make sure it has good drainage, as it won’t stand waterlogging.
If you wish to grow it from seed, soak the seed for an hour or so in warm water before sowing direct in Spring. Thin gradually to 45cm (18″) apart. Thinnings can be transplanted or used in the kitchen. Harvest leaves June and August for drying. Prune out straggly growth and trim to a neat shape in October or November. Can also be propagated by cuttings in Spring and Summer. Pick leaves as required for immediate use and the main crop of leaves just before flowering for drying or distillation of oil.
Left to its own devices, Sage is a straggly bush, but gardeners usually trim it back to a pleasing shape in mid-Autumn. The trimmings are ideal for drying for the kitchen, where it is a popular ingredient in stuffing, particularly suitable for fatty meats like pork, though there are many other uses. The easiest way to dry the leaves is to hang them up in bunches somewhere nice and airy (not too humid, or they will go moldy and be useless for anything), and then strip the leaves off once they have dried.
At this point, I need to warn you that sage is toxic in large amounts, and that it is not suitable for use as a herbal medicine by anyone who is pregnant or suffering from epilepsy.
Make a standard infusion with 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water in a pot, leave to stand for 10 minutes and strain into a cup, adding some lemon and/or honey if you wish. You can drink this hot or cold, but for relieving sweating or hot flushing, it is better drunk cold. Limit intake to one cup a day.
Sage is antibiotic, anti-fungal, astringent, anti-spasmodic and a good nerve tonic. Sage is also well known for its estrogenic properties, which makes it useful for regulating periods, reducing milk production, and as a treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Recent research indicates that patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who drink a cup of sage tea a day may experience improved brain function. Alzheimer’s is such a debilitating disease that this is well worth trying, on the principle of “it can’t hurt”.
The same infusion is good for colds, anxiety/depression, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”) and indigestion. Used at half strength it is good as a gargle for sore throat, as a mouthwash to treat ulcers and sore gums, and as a douche to treat vaginal discharges. It’s also useful as a wash for bites and stings (remove the sting first if necessary), and for skin infections.
Visit the gardenzone for more information about growing organic sage.
I offer various sae products in my online shop.
Sage essential oil is toxic. Do not use under any circumstances.