Spanish Sage health benefits: great memory aid

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Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Spanish sage smells like spicy lavender

Spanish sage smells like spicy lavender

The recent news about Gingko biloba is disappointing. In case you missed it, the BBC publicized a recent study by Imperial College, London, testing the effects of Gingko on memory in those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), in comparison with a placebo. These results confirmed a previous study published in New Scientist of August 2002, which concluded “Gingko biloba has no beneficial effect on memory in healthy older people”. This new test shows that it has no measurable effect in those suffering from dementia either.

However, all is not lost. Another study in 2003 has shown that Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia syn. S. lavandulaefolia) does have measurable positive effects on memory retention, and without any side effects.

Spanish sage (also called lavender-leaved sage) is a pretty herb, with smaller leaves than its more common relative garden sage, and pale lavender flowers, which seem to be produced quite profusely. Another close relative is clary sage.

Spanish sage is a hardy evergreen shrub which reaches a height of about 30cm (1′) and spreads over an area of about 50cm (18″). It requires well drained light to medium soil, but is not fussy about pH. It will not grow in shade.

It is easy to grow from seed sown under cover in early Spring, pricked out and potted on until early summer, when it can be hardened off and planted in its final position. It can also be propagated from half ripe cuttings during the growing season.

The part used in medicine is the leaves, which can be harvested as required, taking the main crop just before the flowers open and dry or distil for essential oil.

The test results I mentioned earlier were on short term memory, the type of memory which deteriorates most rapidly in AD. Further tests were planned, specifically on patients suffering from AD, but I assume these are ongoing, as I can find no reports of their results. [update: the 2003 study can be found here: Tildesley N.T., Kennedy D.O., Perry E.K., et al (June 2003). “Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers”. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 75 (3): 669–74. PMID 12895685.] Volunteers who took part in the trial were given capsules of either Oil of Spanish Sage or an inactive placebo. The Sage Oil capsules used in the study are manufactured by Power Health Products Ltd of York, UK.

Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, has been used as a brain tonic and memory aid for hundreds of years. John Gerard, a well-known herbalist of his time, wrote about sage in 1597, saying “It is singularly good for the head and brain and quickeneth the nerves and memory”, and Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal of 1652 says “It also heals the memory, warming and quickening the senses”.

Spanish Sage is not suitable for use as a herbal remedy during pregnancy, or by anyone trying to become pregnant.

Make a standard infusion by using 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to 500ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes (up to 4 hours) then strain off the herb and discard. Take up to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) per day, split into 3 doses.

Spanish sage is antiseptic, astringent, digestive, expectorant, febrifuge and tonic. Use the standard infusion as a brain tonic and to treat digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, menstrual problems, infertility, nervous tension and depression.

I offer Spanish sage oil capsules in my online shop.

All herbs grown for medicinal use should be kept free from chemicals of all kinds, including chemical fertilizers, to avoid adulterating the active ingredients contained within them. To find out more about growing organic herbs, visit the Gardenzone.


Spanish sage is sometimes used in aromatherapy, though you may have difficulty finding somewhere to buy it. It is used for skin care, respiratory and digestive disorders, depression and stress-related conditions. It is not suitable for use during pregnancy or for children under 6 years.

As with all essential oils, Spanish sage essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

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