Sage – salvia officinalis

The name “sage” comes from the Latin salveo, which means “to heal” referring to sage’s ancient reputation as a healer and life-giver. The Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides (c40AD-90AD) recommended sage for kidney troubles, ulcers, rheumatism, tuberculosis, coughs, and sore throats. The Roman writer naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder (AD23-AD79), recommended sage for snake bites. Later, in his book Hortulus (The Little Garden), the ninth century Anglo-Saxon herbalist Walafrid Strabo wrote of common sage “Amongst my herbs, sage holds the place of honour; of good scent it is and full of virtue for many ills.” But my favourite saying of sage comes from the 12th century Macer’s Herbal, “Why should a man die of sickness when he can have sage in his garden?’

The English herbalist, John Gerard (1545 – 1612) wrote of sage as ‘singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.”

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says of sage that it is ‘good for the liver and to breed blood’.

Traditional folklore states that the wife will rule the household when sage grows well in the garden, while sage will grow well or fail depending on whether the household’s business prospers or fails. Other sayings suggest that eating sage daily in the month of May would provide immortality. While women who ate sage cooked in wine were said to be unable to conceive (please don’t rely on this one!)  Another attribute of sage is that it will clear away evil spirits especially amongst the sick and  alleviate sorrow over the death of a loved one. The strangest saying I have come across is that if you write your wish on a sage leaf, sleep on it for 3 days then bury it, which will make the wish come true.

Sage is a common cleansing and purifying herb and burning sage and other herbs is a tradition that goes back thousands of years.  Societies all over the world throughout the ages have used plants to generate smoke to produce beneficial effects. Smoke has been used to drive away insects and prevent disease, as well as being used in religious ceremonies being deeply symbolic. As smoke rises to the heavens it takes with it prayers and intentions. Today sage smudge sticks are readily available and are used to cleanse homes and sickrooms as well as to aid spiritual meditation.

I use sage often and for a variety of uses: in the kitchen it’s a useful herb, while traditionally used with pork it also combines well with cheese and is nice added to savoury biscuits. It is a powerful herb and best used either on its own or with other strong herbs such as rosemary or thyme, as it may overpower more delicate herbs. Medicinally it is the best home remedy for sore throats that I know of: just make a cup of tea with a small handful of leaves, add some honey and drink slowly, it will relieve sore throats almost immediately. It also has a reputation for easing and cooling hot flushes: just make up as a tea again and allow to cool before drinking. Interestingly, my favourite saying (see above) may have some substance as sage is being investigated into its benefits against Alzheimer’s disease.