A member of the mint family, sage (Salvia officinalis) originated from the northern Mediterranean coast, where it was traditionally used for cooking. Italians are known to add flavor to veal with sage, while the French use it for sausages, stuffing and cured meats. The herb's warm and musky essence also probably reminds you of homemade turkey dressing — a Thanksgiving staple loved by many Americans.1
However, sage isn't just for cooking. In medieval times, it was called "salvia salvatrix," which means "sage, the savior." This is because it was one of the primary ingredients of the "four thieves vinegar," a concoction that was used by thieves to ward off the bubonic plague while plundering for treasures.2,3
What Makes Sage Healthy?
Sage has an extensive history as a medicinal herb. It was used by the ancient Egyptians to improve fertility, and in the first century CE, Dioscorides, a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist (now known as the father of pharmacology5), reported that the aqueous decoction of sage can help stop the bleeding of wounds and clean sores or ulcers. He also used sage juice in warm water to treat coughs and hoarseness.6,7
Since then, herbalists have used sage for treating different conditions, such as swelling, sprains, rheumatism, ulcers and excessive menstrual bleeding.8 The health benefits of sage are attributed to flavonoids, such as apigenin, luteolin and diosmetin,9 which are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.10 Sage can also provide your body with rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic compound with unlimited health potential.
According to Phytochemicals, rosmarinic acid is:11
Due to the popularity of "sage, the savior" as a home remedy, it has been extensively studied and shown to offer the following benefits:12
• Helps relieve Alzheimer's disease symptoms: Participants were given either placebo or sage extract for four months in a study of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. Compared to the placebo group, those who were given sage extract showed an improvement in cognition, and they also presented less agitation. Some studies have even shown that sage can help boost memory in young and healthy adults.13
• Assists in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose: A research published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that participants given sage leaf extract had lower fasting glucose, HbA1c, total cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL (bad cholesterol), but higher HDL (good cholesterol) after three months of treatment.14
• Alleviates menopausal symptoms: In a 2011 study, researchers Bommer, Klein and Suter reported that taking fresh sage leaf tablets significantly decreased hot flash symptoms in half of the participant after just four weeks.
In eight weeks, 64 percent benefited from the treatment with decreased hot flashes weekly and very severe flashes were eliminated.15 Additionally, a 1997 survey conducted by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) in the U.K. indicated that the majority of member practitioners prescribed sage to patients for treating hot flashes and night sweats from menopause.16
You can also use sage to help relieve ailments including sore throat, digestive problems, cough and the common cold. Take sage as a tea if you want to use it as a natural treatment for these conditions. You can choose from fresh or dried leaves, and steep them in boiling water for a couple of minutes. The tea can be used as mouthwash (or you can just chew on fresh leaves), if you want to fight mouth ulcers or promote gum health.17
Other Uses of Sage
Aside from its medicinal and healing benefits, sage is also commonly used for "smudging," a purification ritual of Native American and other indigenous cultures wherein dried herbs are tied into a bundle and lighted.18,19 Burning sage is practiced today in many parts of the world to clear stagnant or negative energy, but it is also believed to enhance healing.20,21 If you want to try smudging with sage, here's a step-by-step guide from About.com:22
- Prepare your supplies: a sage smudge stick, candle, matches and fireproof container.
- Place the smudge stick, candle and fireproof container (preferably a bowl) on a table or any appropriate surface.
- Light the candle and then focus your energy (on your purpose) or say a prayer before lighting the tip of the sage smudge stick.
- Gently wave the stick in the air until the tip starts to smolder.
- Put the smudge stick in the fireproof container then gently wave your hands to disperse the smoke. Make sure to concentrate on your breathing during the entire process.
- Gently wave the smoke into the air starting from the front door. Don't forget to smudge the room corners and closets, which can accumulate stagnant energy. Visualize the smoke absorbing all the negative energy.23
- After smudging all areas of your home, return to where you started and carefully extinguish your smudge stick.
There are many other uses for sage, such as in gardening. It can be planted near rosemary to prevent powdery mildew from developing. The herb can also be used as an insect repellent if you have a cabbage moth problem. If you think the uses of sage end there, you're mistaken. The herb is so versatile that you can even use its oil as a soothing aftershave splash due to its astringent properties (more details on sage oil later).
The herb is also a powerful deodorizer that can help neutralize animal and cooking odors. Just boil sage in water if you want to get rid of odors and disinfect a room. If you have an insect problem in your bedroom, you can put dried sage leaves among linens to ward off these pests.24
How to Grow Sage
If you want to use sage for health or any other reasons, you can cultivate it at home using indoor containers or grow it in your backyard. Take note that the best time to plant sage is in spring. Here is a step-by-step guide from oneHowto if you want to try growing sage:25
- Purchase sage seeds or seedlings, which are available at garden stores.
- Find a container or area in your garden, but remember that the plant will need adequate sunshine.
- Use rich organic soil that is well-drained since water accumulation can cause the roots to rot, killing the plant.
- Make small holes in the soil of your container or garden and put the seeds or seedlings in.
- While the plant is still small, make sure to keep the soil moist. Once it grows, you should only water it when the soil becomes dry.
- Remember to collect sage before it blooms. Cut the branches then hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area where they can't be reached by sunlight. This will dry up the leaves, which you can store in a glass jar.
Sage Recipes You Can Try
You have boundless options if you want to use sage to add flavor to your dishes. As mentioned earlier, the herb has a crisp aromatic potency, similar to its cousins, basil, rosemary and thyme. It is sweet but a little bitter, and comes with a pine-like aroma and flavor. It's usually described as having citrus and eucalyptus notes.
Sage can be used fresh or dried and ground, but just like most herbs, the fresher the leaves the more flavorful they are.26,27 It's usually paired with chicken and other poultry, but can also add flavor to sausages and other meats. It is a common ingredient in pasta sauces and other Italian dishes as well.28 Here is a delicious recipe adapted from EatingWell if you want to try cooking with sage:29
Brussels Sprouts With Chestnuts and Sage
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add Brussel sprouts. Cook until they turn bright green (six to eight minutes) then drain well.
- Heat the organic extra-virgin coconut oil and chicken broth in a large ceramic skillet over medium heat and add the Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and sage. Stir often, until it is heated through (two to four minutes).
- Season with Himalayan salt and black pepper then serve warm or at room temperature.
This recipe makes 12 servings.
You Should Also Try Sage Essential Oil and Clary Sage Oil
Sage essential oil is extracted via steam distillation of leaves from the sage plant. It is known to offer health benefits due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This oil can be used to help regularize the menstrual cycle, reduce skin inflammation, fade scars and enhance nervous system health.30
Be warned, sage essential oil can boost the intoxicating effects of alcohol and narcotics. I do not advise pregnant women to use it since this oil can cause uterine contractions. Nursing mothers should also avoid this essential oil because it can slow down the production of breast milk.31
Do not mistake sage essential oil for clary sage oil, which is derived from the buds and leaves of the clary sage plant (Salvia sclarea).32 This essential oil offers its own benefits, and is often used to help relieve headache, lower blood pressure, promote skin health, reduce stress, improve mood and regulate hormones. However, because of its potential effects on hormones, pregnant women and those suffering from breast cancer shouldn't use it.33
Remember, when it comes to using these essential oils either orally or topically, there are necessary precautions you should take. Test for sensitization by applying the oil on a small area of your skin, then observe for adverse reactions for at least 24 hours. I strongly advise against ingesting or applying undiluted essential oils on your skin, unless you are closely supervised by a qualified aromatherapist.