The Benefits of Sage as an Herb and Spice
Sage, scientifically known as Salvia officinalis, is derived from the Latin “to save”, and its medicinal properties illustrate just how appropriate this name is. The herb has one of the longest-standing records in medicinal uses, and has been used in one form or another in nearly every culture and region in the world. Now, sage as a plant or spice can be used by you in your kitchen or backyard, and could save you from using another over-the-counter or even prescription drug remedy. Further, growing sage is fun and easy.
There are several varieties of sage. Because they are so closely related, they have many of the same benefits. But, these different varieties—some growing better in certain regions than others—mean that sage has been successfully grown and used from the desert to the tropics.
Some Sage History
Sage has a long history of both physical and spiritual healing. Ancient Greeks and Romans used the herb in sacred gatherings and also used it to reduce spoilage of meat. In the 10th century, Arab healers believed it promoted immortality. Europeans of the 14th century believed it would protect them from witchcraft.
Here in the United States, sage has a long history with the Native population. Along with sweet grass and cedar, sage is used to “smudge” homes, objects, and people to purify them. This is the act of burning sage and using the smoke as a spiritual purification. In addition, Native Americans use sage in a variety of physically healing methods including poultices, teas and baths.
Whether you share more spiritual-related beliefs of sage or not, one thing is for sure: this herb and spice does have medicinal value.
Benefits of Sage Herb and Spice
Sage has both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Like its family members, rosemary and mint, sage contains useful flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are known to boost health and help numerous ailments. The herb is said to be easily absorbed by the digestive tract and works to change concentrations of inflammatory molecules. Sage also contains something called rosmarinic acid, like rosemary, which is highly antioxidant—it protects cells against damage.
The anti-inflammatory properties of sage make it a greatherbal remedy for people who suffer from inflammatory conditions. These include arthritis, asthma, and even gingivitis. In animal tests (that have yet to be confirmed in people), sage lowered blood pressure and regulated blood sugar in diabetics.
In the same way that sage was historically used to preserve meats, it can be used to fight bacterial infections and yeast within the body.
As a poultice, sage leaves could be used to reduce chest congestion and inflammation. Historically they were also used by natives of the western states to stop bleeding in people and animals.
Exciting research has also emerged on the effects of sage and memory. One study in 2003 found that sage oil remarkably improved people’s memory on recall tests. It’s been suggested (though not yet proven) that sage can protect against Alzheimer’s as well.
The many benefits of sage include:
- Sore throat relief
- Digestive aid
- Diarrhea relief
- Cough suppressant
- Fights gum and mouth disease
- Promotes healing
- Relieves bruising, cuts, and scrapes
- Cold remedy
- Possibly anti-diabetic
- Memory booster
- Increase bile flow and liver detoxification
How to Take It
Sage is most easily and commonly taken as a tea or used as a spice. For tea, use either fresh or dried leaves, steeped in boiling water for several minutes. Drink the tea or use it as a mouthwash to promote healthy gums and fight mouth ulcers. But, you can also reap benefits from chewing on the leaves whole, using the spice for cooking, or making a poultice.
A poultice is made by combining sage leaves with water until a paste is formed. Apply directly to the skin and cover with gauze or muslin to keep in place. This is particularly good for swelling, bruising, and reportedly to treat pain and inflammation of the breasts associated with hormonal changes.
Sage is a cinch to grow. In other worse, it’s super easy. It’s considered an evergreen and in the right conditions, your sage will last through the winter. The “right” conditions, in this case, are dry. Sage likes it dry. So, if you are in a humid climate, your plant will likely be a seasonal one.
You can find small sage plants for transplanting at your local greenhouse. If you opt for this instead of seeds, make sure your plant is an organic one. If you’re buying it at a chain store or anywhere else the plant wasn’t grown on site, there’s a good chance it was hosed down with one chemical or another in the transport process.
Your sage plant will need a lot of sun. Without it, the plant will get “leggy” or have long, spindly stems. A short, leafy sage plant is a happy sage plant.
If you want to pot the herb, great! A pot is a great place for your sage plant as it will allow you to tailor the watering to that plant specifically, and move it if it needs more sun. If you choose to put it in the garden, don’t place it next to plants that need a lot of water because, again, they prefer slightly drier conditions.
When you need sage for your batch of tea or poultice, simply harvest as needed. In the first year, experts say the sage should only be lightly harvested. You can pinch off a leaf at a time or an entire stem if you need it.
Sage was named the “Herb of the Year” in 2001 by the International Herb Association, and with good reason. But to get the most out of this beautiful plant, don’t buy it from the spice rack, get your hands dirty and grow your own medicine!