All About the Sage Herb

Overview

When you think of sage, perhaps Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys come to mind. But sage (Salvia officinalis) can be used in many recipes all year round, and it also has medicinal properties that make it a "must grow" in any garden. Many varieties of sage exist, from the common garden sage to clary sage and pineapple sage. Several species are used for culinary purposes: they include Berggarten and tricolor variegated sage. Many ornamental sages also exist.

History

Sage has been with us since before the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used it in foods and for medicine. Native to the Mediterranean area, sage has been used in countries such as Egypt and Greece for centuries. In the past, doctors and herbalists used sage for many ailments, including skin ulcers, sprains and some types of bleeding. Sage symbolizes many things in many cultures: included in the beliefs about sage are that it increases wisdom and longevity. A favorite saying about sage is "How can man die, who grows Sage in his garden."

Appearance

Sage is a fragrant, bushy plant that rarely grows taller than 2 or 3 feet. Many varieties of sage have leaves that are about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch across. Leaves are typically light green, but can also occur with yellow or purple variegation. When it flowers, the sage plant sends up a flower spike that holds small lavender colored flowers in whorls. Most sages bloom in late summer.

Using Sage

Sage is an important and commonly used culinary herb. It is added to turkey stuffing and relishes and it makes a good addition to herb butters. As tea, sage has been used medicinally to help cure sore throats, stomachaches, coughs, arthritis, memory loss, menstrual and menopausal problems and the nervous system. For sprains, boil sage leaves in vinegar for five minutes, and as soon as you can handle the mixture, put the leaves in a sock or cloth napkin and hold it on the painful area.

Growing Sage

Sage is a hardy perennial herb that you can grow from a starter plant or seeds. Plant it in a sunny spot in your garden, or transplant it from its small nursery pot to a larger ceramic pot with a hole for drainage. It's a wayside plant, so you don't need to add potting soil or compost. Keep the soil damp for the first two weeks, and then taper off the water---sage prefers a dry environment and can get root rot if you keep it too wet.

What Sage Contains

When essential oil is extracted from sage, it is used in gargles for mouth and throat ailments. The oil contains thujone, which is a chemical substance that has pain-relieving properties. Camphor is also present in sage---it helps relieve pain and itching. It also has tannins and flavonoids, which have antioxidant effects. Sage also contains properties that make it effective against bacteria, fungal infections and viruses.

Keywords: salvia sage, herbs growing, herbal medicine

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.