Sage

Botanical and Common Names

  • Family Labiatae
  • Salvia officinalis (Sage, Garden Sage, Salvia, Meadow Sage; Spanish: Salvia, Alhucerna de la Costa, Té de Mar, Yerba de Santa Maria, Chia, Mejorana, Mirto, Salvia Real, Salvia Virgen; Nahuatl: Chianzotzolli)
  • Salvia miltiorrhiza (Dan Shen, Red Sage, Red-rooted Sage, Red Ginseng, Red-Rooted Salvia)
  • Salvia microphylla (Red Texas Sage, Mirto, Salvia, Chia, Té de Monte)
  • Salvia sclarea (Clary Sage, Clear Eye)
  • Salvia triloba (Greek Sage, Three-Lobed Sage, Turkish Sage)
  • Family Scrophulariaceae
  • Leucophyllum laevigatum
  • Leucophyllum texanum
  • Leucophyllum frutescens (Purple Sage, Chihuahuan Rain Sage, Texas Ranger, Silverleaf, Chamiso, Cenizo, Flor de Ceniza, Palo de Ceniza)

Cautions

  • All varieties of sage contain thujone, except for the common culinary variety (S. Lavandulifolia).
  • Thujone is toxic in excess amounts. It can cause convulsions and reduce breast-milk production.
  • Thujone can also trigger epileptic seizures.
  • Do not take essential oil during pregnancy.
  • Pure sage oil should not be ingested or applied full strength to the skin.
  • The herb can interact with anticonvulsants, disulfiram, insulin, and other diabetic therapies.

Description

 Native to the Mediterranean, sage is cultivated all over the world. There are an estimated 500 species of Salvia, with at least 280 found in Mexico alone. They can be found in all shapes and sizes and of varying medicinal values. Spanish sage (S. lavandulifolia) is the most familiar culinary variety, and does not contain thujone, which is strongly antiseptic and carminative; and that is the reason that it is rarely used medicinally. Sage is not related to Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).

The Red Texas Sage is an ornamental plant native to Mexico, producing attractive, tubular, red flowers. It is an evergreen plant, growing to about thirty-two inches in height producing square stems and hairy gray-green or purple leaves. The leaves are harvested during the summer, and the whole plant is replaced after three or four years.

Dan Shen is native to China and cultivated in northeastern China and Inner Mongolia. It is a hardy perennial, growing to about thirty-two inches in height producing toothed, oval leaves and clusters of purple flowers. The roots are harvested from late autumn through to early spring.

Greek Sage is indigenous to Greece, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Albania, Turkey, and Cyprus. Various species are prevalent throughout the Mediterranean region. It is a semi-shrub that grows to over forty inches in height, producing squarish green leaves that are grayish-white underneath. The flowers are long and often purplish-lilac or pink, but occasionally white.

Clary Sage is native to southern Europe and the Middle East, and is now cultivated in France and Russia for its essential oil. It is a square-stemmed biennial, growing to about three feet in height, producing hairy wrinkled leaves and whorls of pale blue flowers. It is gathered in summer during its second year.

The desert that stretches for hundreds of miles along the US-Mexico border is covered with all sorts of plants with the name of "sage". Some are related to the true sage (members of the Salvia genus), but many are not even distantly related. One such is the genus Leucophyllum, known as purple sage and native to the long, dry corridor shared by the US and Mexico. It is completely unrelated to Salvia officinalis. The plant that is called "sagebrush" in English and "chamiso" in Spanish is from yet another family, Compositae. True sage (Salvia spp) is often confused with native Mexican plants of the genus Buddleia and commonly called "royal sage" or salvia real. The two plants are used interchangeably for many of the same remedies, however. Adding to the confusion, true sage has many other names in the lexicon of Mexican herbal remedies, including alhucerna de la costa (lavender of the coast), té de mar (tea of the sea), and yerba de Santa Maria, a name that is shared with many other plants. Therefore, asking a Latin American botánica owner what is in the packets labeled "cenizo", the answer will simply be "sage". Cenizo is the word for any gray-leafed sage-like plant and often refers to some species of Leucophyllum, but not necessarily. Look for small egg-shaped gray-green leaves and perhaps a few tiny pale purple flowers.

History

 Its botanical name is a clue to its medicinal importance. Salvia comes from salvare which, in Latin, means "to cure."

The earliest of all the Chinese herbal texts, The Divine Husbandman's Classic (Shen nong Bencaojing) listed Dan Shen as an herb that invigorates the blood. It is still used as a circulatory remedy.

Clary sage has long been perceived as a weaker version of true sage, but it is still significant and was once commonly used to treat eye problems. In 1652, Culpeper recommended a decoction of the seeds to draw out splinters and thorns.

Sage has long had the reputation for restoring failing memory in the elderly; and, like other memory-enhancing herbs, for some unknown reason, it was planted on graves.

It is said that when the British started importing tea from China, the Chinese so valued sage that they would trade two cases of tea for one of dried English sage. However, it is noted that in the 17th century, Dutch merchants were trading three chests of China tea for one of sage leaves.

The Romans considered it a sacred herb and would gather it with ceremony. The appointed person would make sacrifices of bread and wine, wear a white tunic, and approach with bare feet and, of course, be well washed. Roman instructions also advised against using iron tools. This is sensible being that iron salts are incompatible with the herb.

The Aztecs used seeds from the Salvia species as a food. They were toasted, ground into a flour, and added to cornmeal to make a thick drink called "chianzotzolatolí". "Chia" seeds are still used today to prepare cold beverages with lemon and sugar — as well as being a popular fast-growing plant sold on ceramic animals.

Native American healers mixed sage with bear grease and applied it as a salve to heal skin sores and wounds. They also used the woody stems as a toothbrush. The Cherokee used sage to relieve asthma, coughs, and colds. They also used a leaf infusion to treat diarrhea. The Mohegans used it to treat intestinal worms.

Thujone is the notorious ingredient in absinthe, which is said to have been the cause of Vincent Van Gogh's insanity.

Key Actions

(a) Sage

  • antispasmodic
  • astringent
  • antiseptic
  • antibacterial
  • antibiotic
  • aromatic
  • carminative
  • estrogenic
  • expectorant
  • promotes bile flow
  • relaxes peripheral blood vessels
  • reduces blood sugar levels
  • reduces perspiration, salivation and lactation
  • tonic
  • uterine stimulant

(b) Dan Shen

  • antibacterial
  • circulatory stimulant
  • clears heat (fevers)
  • dilates blood vessels

(c) Greek Sage

  • antimicrobial
  • antiseptic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels

(d) Clary Sage

  • antispasmodic
  • digestive aid
  • estrogenic
  • sedative
  • tonic

Key Components

(a) Sage

  • volatile oil (cimene, cineole, limonene, terpinene, camphor, and thujone)
  • diterpene bitters
  • tannins
  • triterpenoids
  • resin
  • flavonoids
  • estrogenic substances
  • saponins

(b) Dan Shen

  • vitamin E
  • tanshinones
  • salviol
  • volatile oil

(c) Greek Sage

  • volatile oil
  • flavonoids
  • caffeic acid derivatives (rosmarinic acid)
  • diterpenes
  • triterpenes

(d) Clary Sage

  • volatile oil (linalyl acetate, linalool)
  • diterpenes
  • tannins

Medicinal Parts

  • Leaves (sage), root (Dan Shen), leaves (Greek sage), aerial parts/seeds/essential oil (Clary sage)
  • Sage is active against: Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella spp.
  • The essential oil is a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Remedies

(a) Sage

  • Fresh or dried leaves are used, but fresh leaves are a useful first aid remedy to be placed on insect stings and bites.
  • Tincture is a digestive tonic and a menopausal remedy. It is also prescribed to reduce salivation in Parkinson's disease.
  • Infusions can be used as a gargle for sore throats or used as a tonic and liver stimulant, as well as improving digestive function and circulation. It can also reduce lactation during weaning and relieve night sweats during menopause.
  • Compresses are soaked in infusions and applied to slow healing wounds.
  • Gargle or mouthwash from weak infusions are used for sore throats, tonsillitis, mouth ulcers, or gum disease. It can also be used in toothpowders.
  • Hair rinses from infusions are used for dandruff control or to restore colour to graying hair.

(b) Dan Shen

  • Tincture of the roots is used to treat angina and other circulatory problems.
  • Decoctions of the root are taken for painful menstration, angina and coronary heart disease.

(c) Greek Sage

  • Decoctions and infusions of the leaves are used to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Because of its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action, it is often used for sore throats and mouth ulcers.

(d) Clary Sage

  • Decoctions of the seeds have long been used to draw out splinters and thorns.
  • Infusions are used to treat digestive problems and as a calming tonic to relieve menstrual pain.

Traditional Uses

 A strong tea is an effective wash for infected and inflamed cuts.

Sage is especially helpful for women. Taken internally and used as a compress, it soothes painful, lumpy breasts. It also helps to regulate periods or bring on delayed periods, and dries up breast milk. In addition, it is used to diminish hot flashes and lift depression in menopause.

Clary sage is especially valuable for menopausal complaints, including hot flashes and, because of its estrogen-stimulating action, clary sage is most effective when this hormone is low. Sage tea also stop night sweats of those suffering from TB (tuberculosis). Some reports indicate that sweat reduction can be as much as 50%.

Purple varieties are more often used in medicine as they are generally more effective than the common green plant. The leaves have a special affinity for the mouth and throat, making it ideal to be used in gargles or mouthwashes. Purple sage is used mainly for colds, fever, and colic as it has a sedating qualtiy while inducing perspiration to break a fever. Medicinally, the leaf, stems, and flowers are used for such things as diaper rash.

In Israel and Cyprus, and elsewhere, Greek sage is used for cardiac symptoms, lung complaints, colds, coughs, nervousness, and digestive problems. Externally, it is used to treat skin problems.

In Costa Rica, sage is used for wounds, arthritis, asthma, and problems with the prostate gland.

In Europe, sage is used to lower blood sugar in diabetics.

Germany markets a natural antiperspirant containing sage.

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