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 Today, sage is known for its high antioxidant capacity and many health benefits.3 Learn about how you can use sage to take your health to new heights.
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 pharmacology4), reported that sage can help stop wounds from bleeding, help disinfect sores and promote healing of ulcers. He also used sage juice to treat coughs and hoarseness.5
Since then, herbalists have used sage for treating different conditions, such as swelling, sprains, asthma and excessive menstrual bleeding.6
The health benefits of sage are attributed to flavonoids, such as apigenin, luteolin and diosmetin,7 which are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.8 Sage can also provide your body with rosmarinic acid, a polyphenolic compound with unlimited health potential. Due to the popularity of “sage the savior” as a home remedy, it has been extensively studied and shown to offer the following benefits:9
• Helps relieve Alzheimer’s disease symptoms — A 2017 review published in the journal Drugs noted sage’s potential to “enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease,” including Alzheimer’s and dementia.10 Some studies also show that sage can help boost memory in young and healthy adults.11
• Assists in lowering cholesterol and blood glucose — A 2013 study 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) levels, but higher HDL (good cholesterol) after three months of treatment.12
• Alleviates menopausal symptoms — In a 2011 study, researchers S. Bommer, P. Klein and A. Suter reported that taking fresh sage leaf tablets significantly decreased hot flush symptoms among menopausal women by 50 percent after just four weeks. After eight weeks, the hot flushes were reduced by 64 percent.13
You can also use sage to relieve ailments including sore throat, cough and the common cold. Simply steep a teaspoon of sage leaves in half a cup of water for 30 minutes and then use it as a gargle.14 A 2009 study even concluded that using a sage and echinacea spray is almost as effective as a chlorhexidine/lidocaine spray in relieving acute sore throat.15
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.16 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.17,18 If you want to try smudging with sage, here’s a step-by-step guide from The Spruce:19
Smudging with Sage
• Sage smudge stick (bundled up sage tied with a string)
• A fireproof container
• Bowl with sand
1. Place the smudge stick, candle and fireproof container (preferably a bowl) on a table or any appropriate surface.
2. Light the candle and then focus your energy (on your purpose) or say a prayer before lighting the tip of the sage smudge stick.
3. Gently wave the stick in the air until the tip starts to smolder.
4. Position the smudge stick over the fireproof container so no lit herbs will fall to the floor. Use your other hand to disperse the smoke from the smoldering stick. Make sure to concentrate on your breathing during the entire process.
5. Move around your house, waving the smoke in the air, in a clockwise direction, starting at your front door. Don’t forget to smudge the room corners and closets, which can accumulate stagnant energy. Open closet doors and smudge the inside as well.
6. After smudging all areas of your home, return to where you started and carefully extinguish your smudge stick in the bowl of sand. To continue purifying the energy, you can leave the candle lighted.
There are many other uses for sage, such as in gardening. The herb can be used as an insect repellent if you have a cabbage moth problem.20 For cosmetic purposes, Stylecraze says that sage (particularly its essential oil) can be used to help give your skin and hair health a boost.21 It can even be used to make a soothing aftershave lotion.22
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:23
1. Purchase sage seeds or seedlings, which are available at garden stores.
2. Find a container or area in your garden, but remember that the plant will need adequate sunshine.
3. Use rich organic soil that is well-drained since water accumulation can cause the roots to rot, killing the plant.
4. Make small holes in the soil of your container or garden and put the seeds or seedlings in.
5. 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.
6. 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. The Kitchn describes sage to be sweet but a little bitter, and comes with a pine-like aroma and flavor. It’s usually described as having citrus and eucalyptus notes.24
Sage can be used fresh or dried and ground, but just like most herbs, the fresh leaves are more flavorful. It’s usually paired with chicken and other poultry, but can also add flavor to sausages and other meats. Sage is a common ingredient in pasta sauces, and can be added to pumpkin dishes and meat stuffings as well.26 Here is a delicious recipe adapted from EatingWell if you want to try cooking with sage:27
Brussels Sprouts With Chestnuts and Sage
• 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
• 3/4 cup coarsely chopped chestnuts
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
• 2 tablespoons organic extra-virgin coconut oil
• 3 tablespoons homemade chicken broth
• 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add Brussels sprouts. Cook until they turn bright green (six to eight minutes) then drain well.
2. 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).
3. 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, and is known to offer health benefits due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.28 A study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology found that among 11 essential oils tested, sage essential oil was one of the most effective against Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci and E. coli strains.29
While it’s safe to consume the herb itself during pregnancy, using sage essential oil during this delicate period is not advised, as this oil has estrogenic properties and may cause uterine contractions. Breastfeeding moms should also take caution when using sage oil and/or drinking sage tea, as these substances may reduce milk production.30
In addition, do not mistake sage essential oil for clary sage oil, which is derived from the flowering tops of the clary sage plant (Salvia sclarea).31 This essential oil offers its own set of benefits, as it has antidepressant, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. It may also promote deeper sleep, relieve anxiety, and boost skin and hair health.32
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.