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Sage - Botany And History

Sage is a commonplace herb used throughout the world for both culinary and medicinal purposes, however, due to the large number of specific varietals, many types of sage are cultivated and employed, each with their own distinctly subtle characteristics and nuances.

The most commonly employed varietal however is the common sage – a hardy, small perennial shrub characterized by woody stems replete with green, jade-hued or grey-green hued broad, pungent leaves measuring between one centimeter in length, to as much as six-and-a-half centimeters in some species.

It is also notable for its colourful inflorescence, which is typically violet, fuchsia, lavender, white or deep-pink in colour. Said to be a native of the Mediterranean, sage also grows profusely in other parts of the world, and has been employed as a medicine and culinary herb in Asia and the Americas just as it was in the Old World. [1]

Sage is a relatively small shrub, growing no more than two feet in length upon maturity, with its broad leaves replete with tiny hairs. Sage is a highly common name for a number of plants with a known sweet-smelling aroma, and as such, there are a number of plants which are referred to as sage, but that are unrelated to true sage. Likewise, sage also belongs to a moderately large family, with different varietals, each with their own distinct characteristics, uses, and properties. New cultivars are even being created, although these are usually grown more for ornamental, rather than practical purposes.

Today, sage’s chief purpose lies in its culinary applications, although common sage (along with its other varietals and cultivars) has also been employed medicinally. While the leaves of the plant is the most commonly employed part, its flowers (and in folkloric medicine, it’s roots) also have either medicinal or culinary properties, although the two latter parts are now very rarely, if ever employed. Sage is known for its very delicate flavor, and so many culinary experts suggest that it be employed in its fresh state as much as possible, although contrary sources suggest that dried sage is better than fresh sage. Regardless of its employment however, a twist to the general practice of less is more when the herb is in its dry state bodes true for sage, wherein less is required when using sage in its fresh state, as contrary to employing it in its dry sate.

Sage - Culinary Uses

Sage has been employed as a medicinal and culinary herb since time immemorial, although it is the latter practice that has remained to this day. Sage’s fragrant aroma is typically incorporated into meat-based dishes, especially when it comes to cooking poultry (of both the wild and cultivated kind), seafood, and certain types of game. It is widely used in stuffing recipes for turkey and chicken. Sage can be employed as a spice, a garnish, or a condiment-cum-seasoning in both its fresh and dried forms. Depending on its state, sage can be incorporated into soups and stews, employed as meat rubs, or otherwise made into tisanes, and even incorporated into desserts and cheeses. [2]

Sage - Herbal / Medicinal Uses

When employed medicinally, sage can be used in either its fresh or its dried form. The most common means of employing sage for curative purposes is in the creation of decoctions (when using fresh leaves) or infusions (when employing dried leaves) of various strengths. A decoction of sage leaves has been employed as a remedy for "everything" - fevers, flu, coughs, colds, and even indigestion. [3] Depending upon the strength of the concoction, it can also be used as a gargle to help remedy gingivitis (bleeding gums), combat halitosis, and cure sore throats. Because of its soothing, slightly-minty aromatic properties, sage can also be employed as a remedy for stuffy noses, and, if allowed to steep in honey along with ginger roots, cloves, and orange peel, it can even be partaken as syrup that helps to treat hoarseness of voice and tonsillitis.

Milder decoctions of sage tea can be drunk prior to bedtime or after a hard day’s work, as sage not only possesses significant sedative properties, but it also been found to enhance memory and improve mental recall - this likely being the origin of its name! Sage is also a noted anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic herb, making it useful for the treatment of minor to moderate aches and pains. [4] Moderately strong decoctions of sage tea are also beneficial for the digestion and may be drunk after or during meals to achieve such effects. This remedy is also a helpful remedy for stomach-aches, indigestion, gas, colic, and dyspepsia.

Strong decoctions of sage can be drunk as an emmenagogue, and is actually a time-honoured draught to help regulate the rhythm of a woman’s menstrual cycle, as well as to help lessen the discomforts associated with it. Furthermore, sage tea may also provide some degree of relief for women experiencing hot flashes during menopause. Sage tisanes may even be employed cosmetically, typically as a hair-rinse to help promote growth, alleviate itching and dandruff, as well as darken hair and add body. [5] When employed as a facial rinse, it helps to reduce acne breakouts and control the production of excess sebum. Very potent decoctions of sage leaves can be further employed as a disinfectant due to its antimicrobial and antifungal properties, and can be useful in treating and disinfecting both minor and major wounds and injuries.

A cold infusion of dried sage in apple cider vinegar (with, or without a dash or rum or cognac) makes for an excellent facial astringent, aftershave, hair-rinse (when liberally diluted with water) and topical antiseptic. Fresh leaves can be boiled in vinegar and allowed to cool to the touch (so that it is tolerably hot enough to the feel, but is not fully cold), and the resulting liquid allowed to soak into a kerchief. This can be applied while still moderately hot to aching joints, and is a great pain-reliever for individuals who suffer from bouts of rheumatism, arthritis, or gout. [6]

Allowed to macerate in a base oil by itself or in accompaniment with other herbs or spices, it makes for an excellent healing salve for the treatment of wounds, scrapes, bruises, and minor injuries. It can even be employed as a hair-oil to encourage hair-growth, darken hair, combat hair fall, and remedy dandruff. Its essential oil is far more potent however and is better suited when concocting oils containing sage. Both the dried leaves and the essential oil can be made into inhalants simply by throwing a handful of dried leaves or adding a few drops of essential oil into a pot of boiling water.

Dried sage leaves can be prepared into more than mere infusions or decoctions, as it can also be made into tinctures, macerated, or otherwise encapsulated and consumed as a food supplement, although when it comes to sage, decocting is, somehow, the best way to process and partake of its medicinal benefits, although cold infusion or maceration does come second. Dried sage may even be smoked, either by itself, or incorporated with other smokable herbs or tobacco. [7] Fresh leaves may be bruised and applied topically to treat insect bites, itchiness, rashes, or any number of skin diseases, while a poultice of its leaves effectively relieves join pains, cools the body, and alleviates nausea when applied to the forehead.

Sage – Scientific Studies And Research

Sage (Salvia) has been traditionally used as a long-standing herbal medicine for the symptomatic relief of mild dyspepsia, heartburn, and bloating; excessive sweating; oral or throat inflammation; and minor skin inflammation. It can be obtained in various forms of preparations such as tea, dry extract, liquid extract, and tincture. [8]

Sage as Memory / Cognitive Function Enhancer: Using two experiments in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, balanced, crossover methodology, Tildesley et al. (2003) furnished the first systematic evidence that acute administration of sage modulates cognition and enhances memory in healthy young adults. These researchers illustrated that a dose of 50 µL Salvia essential oil significantly improves immediate word recall in both trial 1 (20 participants receiving a dose of 50, 100, and 150 µL of a standardized essential oil extract from Salvia lavandulaefolia and placebo) and trial 2 (24 participants receiving a dose of 25 and 50 µL of a standardized essential oil extract from S. lavandulaefolia and placebo) in their study. [9]

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study has also confirmed this property of sage to improve the mood and cognitive function after its administration in single doses to healthy young study participants. Kennedy, Pace, Haskell, Okello, Milne, and Scholey (2006) asked thirty study participants to attend the laboratory on three separate days, each receiving different kinds of treatment in counterbalanced order (placebo, 300 mg dried sage leaf, 600 mg dried sage leaf). In a concomitant investigation, the sage leaf extract dose-dependently suppressed in vitro acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase, resulting in the consequent improvement in the mood ratings after the administration of the dose. [10]

Scholey et al. (2008) had also looked into the effect of sage extract intake on cognitive performance, but this time on older adults (>65 years of age, mean = 72.95) receiving four different doses of sage extract, namely, 167, 333, 666, and 1332 mg, and a placebo. The results of their randomized five-period crossover study support the findings of the earlier mentioned studies, revealing that a dose of 333 mg of sage extract significantly improves secondary memory performance at all testing times as well as the accuracy of attention. [11]

Sage as Alzheimer's' Disease Treatment: Owing to sage’s in vitro cholinergic binding properties and ability to influence or modulate mood and cognitive performance in humans (as illustrated by the studies provided earlier), sage extract, particularly that of Salvia officinalis, thus possesses potential to be a natural source of treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Akhondzadeh et al. (2003) offered evidence on the efficacy of sage against mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease using a fixed dose (60 drops/day) over a 4-month period and on its ability to reduce the agitation commonly seen in patients with this degenerative brain disease. [12]

Sage as Anti-malarial: The therapeutic potential of wild sage as an antimalarial drug has been explored by Akkawi, Sharif, Salem, Saleh, and AbuRemeleh (2012), the results of their study being that sage leaf extracts may form a complex between the extracts’ active compounds and ferriheme that has an inhibitory effect on the formation of β-hematin, [13] an important heme metabolite of malarial infection mediating the formation of the reactive electrophile 4-hydroxynonenal from polyunsaturated fatty acids. [14]

Sage and Diabetes: Salvia splendens, the scarlet sage, possesses significant hypoglycemic properties, improving diabetic conditions in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats after oral administration at a dose of 100 mg/kg of aqueous extract and 200 mg/kg of methanolic extract in one study. [15]

Moreover, Lima, Azevedo, Araujo, Fernandes-Ferreira, and Pereira-Wilson (2006) consider the common sage (S. officinalis) a valuable food supplement in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus due to its effects on fasting glucose levels, decreasing plasma glucose in individuals at risk. [16]

Sage - Active Components

Wang et al. (1999) isolated three phenolic glycosides from Salvia officinalis, the first two being moderately active as antioxidants in DPPH and metmyoglobin test:

1-O-p-hydroxybenzoyl-beta-D-apiofuranosyl-(1-->6)-beta-D-glucopyranoside [17]

In an attempt to investigate the cytotoxicity of the common sage (S. officinalis) essential oil, Sertel, Eichhorn, Plinkert, and Efferth (2011) identified monoterpenes thujone, β-pinene, and 1,8-cineol as the chief constituents of sage essential oil and suggested the inhibitory activity of sage essential oil against the growth of human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC ) cells by regulating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling, cell cycle (G1/S checkpoint) regulation, and p53 signaling pathways. [18]

Sage - Esoteric Uses

Throughout the centuries, sage has been considered a sacred plant, and it has played a significant role in Western ceremonial magick as well as some branches of shamanic magick. For a number of Native American tribes, sage is a purifying herb, and is commonly employed as a smudge or incense prior to, during, and after ceremonial rituals. The most well-known species employed for this purpose is white sage, although all types of true sage may effectively be substituted. In Neo-shamanic practices, dried sage is usually burned as an incense in order to obtain insight or guidance from one’s Spirit Guides or Totems, while in Wicca and all other Paths that make use of ceremonial magick, sage is usually employed for the attainment of wisdom, for protection, cleansing, purification, and (in some schools of thought) prosperity. [19] Sage can be encased in a medicine pouch or juju bag and carried upon one’s person to help the wearer become more wise, and to protect the bearer from all types of physical and psychical harm. Sage is also an excellent herb to incorporate in de-hexing or reversing spells, as it is a very powerful banishing herb. In shamanic magick, sage may be smoked for the same effects, whether by itself or when combined with other herbs.

Sage - Contraindications And Safety

While sage is considered a relatively safe herb to consume on a regular basis, this only bodes true if (of course) it is consumed in moderate amounts. Prolonged or copious consumption of sage in any form can cause unsavoury side-effects, among them heart arrhythmia, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Very strong decoctions and alcoholic extracts of sage should be avoided by pregnant and lactating women due to its possible abortifacient effects. Furthermore, alcoholic extracts (tinctures) of sage can be dangerous if consumed in large amounts or if partaken of undiluted because of the presence of the chemical thujone, which can cause unsavoury hallucinations, convulsions, vomiting, and even death in very large concentrations. The external use of sage may also cause mild to moderate allergic reactions in some individuals, although this is rare.

Sage - Other Names

Chinese: shengren / shu wei cao
Japanese: seiji / sejihabu
Greek: sphakos / elelisphakos / lelifagus
French: feuille de la bergere / herbe sacre / saugevrai sauge
Turkish: adacayi / maramia
Spanish / Italian: salvia
Filipino: sambong
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Salvia officinalis (other nomenclature exist, depending on the varietal)





[4 – 5]



[8] European Medicines Agency (EMA). (2009). Community herbal monograph on Salvia officinalis L., folium. London, UK: European Medicines Agency. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[9] Tildesley N. T. et al. (2003). Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 75(3): 669–674. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[10] Kennedy D. O., Pace S., Haskell C., Okello E. J., Milne A., & Scholey A. B. (2006). Effects of cholinesterase inhibiting sage (Salvia officinalis) on mood, anxiety and performance on a psychological stressor battery. Neuropsychopharmacology, 31(4): 845–852. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[11] Scholey A. B. et al. (2008). An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 198(1): 127–139. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1101-3. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[12] Akhondzadeh S. et al. (2003). Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 28(1): 53–59. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[13] Akkawi M., Sharif A., Salem K., Saleh A., & AbuRemeleh Q. (2012). Wild sage (Salvia officinalis) as a potential anti-malarial drug. Malaria Journal, 11(Suppl 1): P3. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[14] Miller C. M., Carney C. K., Schrimpe A. C., & Wright D. W. (2005). beta-Hematin (hemozoin) mediated decomposition of polyunsaturated fatty acids to 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal. Inorganic Chemistry, 44(7): 2134–2136. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[15] Kumar P. M., Sasmal D., & Mazumder P. M. (2010). The antihyperglycemic effect of aerial parts of Salvia splendens (scarlet sage) in streptozotocin-induced diabetic-rats. Pharmacognosy Research, 2(3): 190–194. doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.65520. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[16] Lima C. F., Azevedo M. F., Araujo R., Fernandes-Ferreira M., & Pereira-Wilson C. (2006). Metformin-like effect of Salvia officinalis (common sage): is it useful in diabetes prevention? British Journal of Nutrition, 96(2): 326–333. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[17] Wang et al. (1999). Antioxidative phenolic glycosides from sage (Salvia officinalis). Journal of Natural Products, 62(3): 454–456. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from

[18] Sertel S., Eichhorn T., Plinkert P. K., & Efferth T. (2011). Anticancer activity of Salvia officinalis essential oil against HNSCC cell line (UMSCC1). HNO, 59(12): 1203–1208. doi: 10.1007/s00106-011-2274-3. Retrieved 15 March 2013 from


Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, Scientific Studies report by Dan Ablir. ©

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