(Salvia officinalis L.)
Sage is a branched subshrub of the family Lamiaceae, native to the Mediterranean countries and grown in Central Europe, North America, and also in Poland – not only as a herb, but as an ornamental plant as well. The name of the sage plant derives from the Latin word ‘salvere’ meaning ‘to be in good health’.
In Poland, sage has been cultivated for several centuries. It is commonly found in home gardens and allotments.
Sage grows best in fertile, permeable soil, in sunny locations, which should be nonetheless sheltered from the wind. It is a strongly branched plant reaching a height of up to 75cm. Its numerous stems that lignify in lower parts have leaves directly opposite one another. Sage has petiolate leaves, rounded at the base and finely crenate at the margins. Sage has light purple or pink flowers crowded at the apices of stems to form ears, similar to rye growing in fields. The whole plant has a strong, characteristic, camphor-like scent. Sage is an example of pollinator-friendly and honey-producing plants.
Sage is cut when its leaves are well-developed, but before flowering.
Sage flowers around June and July, so it is harvested in May. In the first year, it is possible to get one harvest from the plantation, while in subsequent years, two or even three harvests can be done. Sage leaves and the whole sage plant are used as a herbal raw material. Both sage leaves and the sage plant contain the same active substances, varying only in quantities. These include essential oil (mostly thujone), flavonoids, tannins, bitter compounds, organic acids, as well as vitamins and mineral salts.
What sage was valued for formerly and what it is valued for today?
Since time immemorial, sage has been valued as a remedy for almost all ailments. In folk herbalism, it was recommended as an ingredient of mixtures to support treatment of liver, kidney and upper airway problems, and as a rinse for teeth and gum problems.
Today, sage still has a wide spectrum of applications. It is valued for the soothing effect it has on the throat and the vocal cords, and for supporting the body’s immune system. It improves the physical and mental wellbeing and contributes to the proper functioning of the digestive system.
In today’s herbal medicine, sage has a very wide spectrum of applications.
Products made with sage have a beneficial effect on the digestive system. They prevent excessive intestinal fermentation and painful flatulence caused by cramps in the intestines and accumulation of gases. They also promote bile production. Sage supports the secretion of digestive juices, thereby contributing to proper digestion, and regulates the function of the digestive system.
Sage infusions are also used as a supportive adjunct during treatment of common cold, and especially upper airway problems. Due to its expectorant and astringent properties, it helps remove mucus buildup from the bronchi.
Due to its tannin content, sage inhibits sweat production. Those who tend to sweat excessively are advised to drink sage infusions or take baths with the addition of herbal infusions.
Sage, not only for drinking.
Sage extracts are commonly used as a valuable cosmetic ingredient as they prevent the formation of acne lesions. They also prevent the formation of blackheads and excessive secretion of sebum. Sage has cleansing and toning effects for the skin, and also shows strong antioxidant properties. Infusions made from sage leaves can also be used externally as a rinse or compress applied to the skin. It is recommended for aphthous ulcers or thrush and, as a compress, for poorly healing wounds and areas affected by insect stings or burns. Due to the antiseptic properties of sage, sage infusions are used as a wash for mouth, throat and gums during inflammation.
A master chef once wrote: ‘If cooking is a great opera, then sage is a picky prima donna. She likes to have the stage just for herself’.
Not only can sage be used to make beautiful wreaths or bouquets, but furthermore its taste and aroma is in harmony with many dishes. It is a good idea to add sage flowers to salads or use them to brew a fragrant tea. Sage leaves can be mixed with onion to make poultry stuffing, or cooked with duck meat or pork. It is also added to sausages. Sage makes a perfect combination with other strong fragrances, it can be used in breading for delicate livers fried in butter, and added to cheeses. Sage leaves can be soaked in pancake batter and fried, while young leaves are mixed with double cream and eaten with sugar and orange.
Sage was known in ancient times as a medicinal and spice plant.
The properties of sage were described already in ancient Greece by Dioscorides and Hippocrates. In the Middle Ages, Saint Hildegard herself wrote about its uses, and under the edict of Charles the Great, it was started to be cultivated in Europe. There were many superstitions, legends and magical practices associated with sage. For ages, it was considered a plant that gives people the all-desired immortality and eternal youth. Back in those times, sage was referred to as ‘ambrosia’, as it was considered equal to the food of gods.