Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial herb native to the Mediterranean region but cultivated in various parts of the world for its culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. It belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which also includes other aromatic herbs such as; mint, rosemary and thyme.

History of Sage Use

Sage is a versatile herb valued for its culinary flavor, medicinal properties and ornamental beauty. Whether used in cooking, herbal medicine, or landscaping, sage remains a cherished herb with a rich history and cultural significance.

Sage has one of the longest histories of use of any culinary or medicinal herb. Ancient Egyptians used it as a fertility drug (Bown, 1995). In the first century C.E. ,Greek physician Dioscorides reported that the aqueous decoction of sage stopped bleeding of wounds and cleaned ulcers and sores. He also recommended sage juice in warm water for hoarseness and coughs. It was used by herbalists externally to treat sprains, swelling, ulcers and bleeding. Sage was officially listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1840 to 1900.

Key Features of Sage

Key features of sage include:

Aromatic Leaves: Sage has gray-green, velvety leaves that are highly aromatic when crushed or rubbed. The leaves have a distinct, earthy fragrance and a strong, slightly bitter flavor. Sage leaves are commonly used as a culinary herb to add flavor and aroma to a variety of dishes.

Culinary Use: Sage is a versatile herb used in cooking for its aromatic and savory qualities. It pairs well with poultry, pork, beef, lamb, and game meats and is often used in stuffing, sauces, marinades, soups and stews. Sage leaves can be used fresh or dried, although dried sage is more commonly used for culinary purposes.

Medicinal Properties: Sage has a long history of use in traditional medicine for various health conditions. It contains bioactive compounds such as phenolic acids, flavonoids and essential oils, which are believed to contribute to its medicinal properties. Sage has been used to alleviate digestive issues, sore throat, cough, colds, menstrual disorders and menopausal symptoms. It also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Ornamental Plant: In addition to its culinary and medicinal uses, sage is often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, borders, and herb gardens. It has attractive foliage, with aromatic leaves and spikes of small, purplish-blue flowers that bloom in the summer. Sage plants are drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, making them popular choices for landscaping.

Symbolism and Folklore: Sage has symbolic meaning in various cultures and traditions. It has been associated with wisdom, longevity, protection and purification in folklore and spiritual practices. Sage leaves are sometimes burned as incense in rituals to cleanse and purify the environment or used in herbal remedies to promote health and well-being.

Health Benefits of Sage

Sage is a very useful herb with a wide range of medical uses and health benefits. It is certainly a key herb in the repertoire of any herbalist.

Below we will explore some of the health benefits of Sage in more detail:

Antimicrobial Effects of Sage

Sage has been used effectively for throat infections, dental abscesses, infected gums and mouth ulcers. The phenolic acids in sage are particularly potent against Staphylococcus aureus. Sage oil has been shown to be effective against both Escherichia coli and Salmonella species, and against filamentous fungi and yeasts such as Candida albicans. Sage is considered a useful medicine in typhoid fever. Sage is also used to treat colds in the head, quinsy and measles,

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Sage

In Germany, sage tea is applied topically as a rinse or gargled for inflammations. Sage extract, tincture, and essential oil are all used in prepared medicines for mouth and throat and as gastrointestinal remedies in fluid (e.g., juice) and solid dosage forms (Leung and Foster, 1996; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Rosmarinic acid contributes to the herb’s anti-inflammatory activity. The German Commission E approved internal use for mild gastrointestinal upset and excessive sweating as well as for external use in conditions of inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. It is also used to combat rheumatism.

Sage Reduces Excess Sweating

Sage is particularly noted for reducing excessive sweating, a condition known as hyperhidrosis. It has been used to check excessive perspiration in pulmonary tuberculosis cases. While the mechanisms are not fully understood, sage is believed to have astringent and antiperspirant properties that may help control sweating.

Here are some ways in which sage may contribute to reducing excess sweating:

Astringent Properties: Sage contains compounds, such as tannins, that have astringent properties. Astringents are substances that can constrict or tighten tissues. When applied topically, sage may help reduce the size of skin pores, limiting the amount of sweat produced.

Antiperspirant Effects: The astringent properties of sage may contribute to its antiperspirant effects. By tightening the skin and reducing pore size, sage may help decrease the flow of sweat.

Regulation of Sweat Glands: Sage is believed to influence the activity of sweat glands. It may modulate the production of sweat by affecting the nervous system’s signals that stimulate sweat gland activity.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Excessive sweating can sometimes be associated with inflammation. Sage has anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe irritated skin and reduce inflammation associated with sweating.

Methods of using sage for reducing excess sweating may include:

Topical Application: Sage can be applied topically in the form of a diluted sage-infused solution or as a component of antiperspirant products. Some individuals use sage tea or a sage-infused oil on the skin.

Oral Consumption: In some traditional practices, sage is consumed as a tea. While the effectiveness of internal use is less established, some individuals believe that ingesting sage may have systemic effects that contribute to sweat reduction.

Sage to Help Dry Up Breast Milk

The same mechanisms which help sage to reduce perspiration can also be used to dry up a mother’s milk when nursing is stopped.

Antiseptic and Antibacterial Effects of Sage

The antiseptic action of sage is of value where there is intestinal infection. Internally, a tea made from sage leaves has a long history of use to treat sore throats and coughs, both by gargling and simply drinking as a nice, refreshing tea.

ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy) indicate the use of sage for inflammations such as stomatitis, gingivitis, pharyngitis and hyperhidrosis (ESCOP, 1997).

Sage Helps to Relieve Asthma

Sage has an anti-spasmodic action which reduces tension in smooth muscle, and it can be used in a steam inhalation for asthma attacks. It is an excellent remedy for helping to remove mucous congestion in the airways and for checking or preventing secondary infection.

Sage Relieves Indigestion and Diarrhoea

Sage can be taken as a carminative to reduce griping and other symptoms of indigestion. Its bitter component stimulates upper digestive secretions, intestinal mobility, bile flow, and pancreatic function, while the volatile oil has a carminative and stimulating effect on the digestion.

Sage is also used as a stimulant tonic in debility of the stomach and nervous system and weakness of digestion generally. It was for this reason that the Chinese valued it as a tea.

Sage also has an astringent action due to its relatively high tannin content and can be used in the treatment of infantile diarrhoea.

Sage as a Relaxant for Nervous Excitement

Sage has a general relaxant effect, so it is suitable for the treatment of nervousness, excitability, dizziness and for strengthening the nervous system. Sage is a valuable treatment in the delirium associated with fevers, and in the nervous excitement frequently accompanying brain and nervous diseases.

A cup of strong sage tea is effective at relieving a nervous headache. It has a considerable reputation as a remedy, given in small and often-repeated doses.

Sage Reduces Menopausal Symptoms

In 1997, the National Institute of Medical Herbalists in the United Kingdom sent out a questionnaire to its member practitioners on the clinical use and experience of sage. Of 49 respondents, 47 used sage in their practice and 45 used it particularly in prescriptions for menopause. Almost all references were to sage’s application for hot flashes, night sweats, and its estrogenic effect.

The age range of the menopause patients was 40 to 64, with an average of 49.76. Three-quarters were aged 47 to 52. Forty-three practitioners also noted its use in infections, mainly of the upper respiratory tract, 29 reported its use in sore throat, and 15 reported its use in mouth and gum disease, taken in the form of gargles and mouthwashes.

Another main area emphasised by the respondents was its use as a general tonic, for fatigue, nervous exhaustion, immune system depletion, and poor memory and concentration, at any age. Dosage form preference was also reported. Sage was prescribed as tea (aqueous infusion) by 37 practitioners, alcoholic tincture by 30, fresh tincture by 14, alcoholic fluidextract by 2, fresh juice by 2, and fresh leaf by 1 (Beatty and Denham, 1998).

It is well documented that sage leaf helps to reduce menopausal sweats. In one study, excessive sweating was induced by pilocarpine. The sweating was reduced when participants were given an aqueous extract of fresh sage leaf. In a further study 40 patients were given dried aqueous extract of fresh sage (440mg) and 40 were given infusion of sage (4.5g) herb daily. Both groups of patients experienced a reduction in sweating.

Sage has a strong anti-hydrotic action, and was a traditional treatment for night sweats in tuberculosis sufferers. Its estrogenic effects may be used to treat some cases of dysmenorrhoea and menstrual irregularity or amenorrhoea and can reduce breast-milk production.

Sage to Regulate Periods

Sage is useful as an emmenagogue, which is an agent that promotes menstruation. It is also of value in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea (painful menstrual periods) and excessive menstrual bleeding.

While the mechanisms are not fully understood, sage is thought to have properties that could contribute to relieving menstrual pain. Here are some ways in which sage may be associated with the treatment of painful periods:

Antispasmodic Effects: Sage is believed to have antispasmodic properties, which means it may help relax smooth muscles, including those in the uterus. Menstrual cramps are caused by the contraction of the uterine muscles, and antispasmodic effects could potentially ease this muscle tension.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some compounds found in sage, such as rosmarinic acid, have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation can contribute to pain, and by reducing inflammation, sage may help alleviate discomfort associated with menstruation.

Hormonal Regulation: Sage has been suggested to have an impact on hormonal balance. Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can influence the severity of menstrual cramps, and by potentially modulating hormone levels, sage may contribute to symptom relief.

Methods of using sage for the treatment of painful periods may include:

Sage Tea: Drinking sage tea is a common method of using sage for menstrual pain relief. The tea is typically made by steeping dried sage leaves in hot water. Some people find it helpful to drink sage tea regularly in the days leading up to menstruation.

Topical Application: Sage oil or infused sage oil applied topically to the lower abdomen may be used as a massage oil to ease menstrual cramps. However, topical use should be done with caution, and it’s important to dilute the essential oil properly to avoid skin irritation.

Sage Improves Memory

Sage is used for improving memory and sharpening the senses. It is thought that sage is similar to Rosemary in its ability to improve brain function and memory.

In a study involving 20 healthy volunteers, sage oil caused improvements in word recall and speed of attention. Meanwhile the activity of sage and its constituents have been investigated in the search for new drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with promising results.

Other Health Benefits of Sage

Sage is also beneficial for; biliousness and liver complaints, kidney troubles, haemorrhage from the lungs or stomach, for pains in the joints, lethargy and palsy.

Where to Buy Sage

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Sage Herb Notes / Side Effects

Sage should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or by people who have epileptic fits. The plant is toxic in excess or when taken for extended periods, though the toxic dose is very large.

Sage should not be used to suppress perspiration during fevers for several reasons:

Impaired Cooling Mechanism: Perspiration, or sweating, is the body’s natural mechanism for regulating temperature and dissipating heat. During a fever, the body’s internal temperature rises as part of the immune response to infection or illness. Perspiration helps cool the body down by evaporating heat from the skin’s surface. Suppressing perspiration can interfere with this cooling mechanism and may exacerbate fever symptoms.

Toxin Elimination: Perspiration serves as a route for eliminating toxins and metabolic waste products from the body. By inhibiting perspiration, toxins may accumulate in the body, potentially worsening symptoms of illness and delaying recovery.

Potential Overheating: Inhibiting perspiration can lead to an accumulation of heat within the body, potentially causing overheating or hyperthermia. Fever already increases the body’s internal temperature, and suppressing perspiration can further contribute to heat buildup, leading to discomfort, dehydration and other complications.

Inadequate Symptom Management: Fever is a natural and beneficial response to infection or inflammation, as it helps the body fight off pathogens and activate the immune system. While it’s important to manage fever symptoms, simply suppressing perspiration without addressing the underlying cause of the fever may mask symptoms without addressing the root cause of illness.

Potential Side Effects: Sage contains compounds that may have antiperspirant effects, such as tannins and astringent properties. However, excessive use of sage or sage-based remedies to suppress perspiration during fever may lead to adverse effects such as skin irritation, dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.

It’s essential to prioritize supportive care and symptom management during fevers, including staying hydrated, resting and maintaining a comfortable environment. If fever symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of the fever. Using sage or sage-based remedies should be done cautiously and under the guidance of a healthcare professional to avoid potential complications and ensure safe and effective symptom management.

Latin Names

Salvia officinalis, Salviae folium

Common Names

Broadleaf Sage, Common Sage, Dalmatian Sage, Garden Sage, Kitchen Sage, Narrow-leaved sage, Sage, Salvia, Sarubia, Spanish sage, Tibbi Adacayi

Properties of Sage

Antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-hydrotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, anti-viral, aromatic, astringent, carminative, emmenagogue, oestrogenic, relaxant, spasmolytic, vermifuge, astringent, antiperspirant.

Sage is Indicated for:

Aiding digestion, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, bacterial & fungal infections, biliousness, bites, calming and stimulating the nervous system, candida, colds, coughs, dental abscesses, diarrhoea (infantile), dysmenorrhoea, encouraging healing, excessive menstrual bleeding, flatulent dyspepsia, gastrointestinal upset, gingivitis, glossitis, headache (nervous), hot flashes (menopausal sweats) hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), improving memory, indigestion, infected gums, intestinal infection, insect bites, irregular and scanty periods, joint paint, kidney problems, lack of appetite, lethargy, liver complaints, lungs or stomach haemorrhaging, measles, mouth ulcers, night sweats, oral inflammation, palsy, perspiration (excessive), pharyngitis, phthisis, quinsy, reducing lactation, rheumatism, rhinitis, skin, throat, mouth and gum infections, soothing the digestive tract, stimulating upper digestive secretions, intestinal mobility, bile flow, and pancreatic function, stings, stomatitis, strengthening the nervous system, throat infections, typhoid fever, uvulitis, vaginal discharge, galactorrhoea, hyperhydrosis, inflammations of the mouth, tongue and throat.

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