By Shana Weddington, Clinical Herbalist
The word monograph means “a learned treatise dealing with one subject, usually, in the scientific community, a plant or animal genus or particular species.” In the botanical world, there are three kinds of monographs: standards, therapeutic and combined. This is a truncated version of the latter.
Warming and strengthening, sage is an excellent herb for rebuilding vitality and strength, something we could all use to get us through the long winter nights.
GENUS AND SPECIES: Salvia officinalis
COMMON NAME: Common Sage, Garden Sage, Dalmatian Sage, Culinary Sage
PLANT FAMILY: Lamiaceae
HISTORICAL: Now naturalized as a popular garden plant in North America, Salvia is native to southern Europe. Used in ancient times for anything from warding off bad spirits to being an antidote for snakebites. Dioscorides wrote in A.D. 50-70 that it was used to help staunch bleeding, respiratory complaints, and indigestion. Its Latin genus name, Salvia, comes from the word salvere, which means, “to be saved.” This incredibly popular, widely used culinary herb rarely goes unknown. From 742 A.D. to 814 A.D., Charles the Great ran a reputable medical school in Salerno. In this school, sage was one of 100 plants grown on the property. It was said that he appreciated sage most of all and that even today, it is mandatory to be grown at all monasteries.
One can hardly find any volume of Materia Medica without sage listed. Nicholas Culpeper states that this plant is ruled by Jupiter and is good for the liver. Culpeper writes in his Complete Herbal, that Dioscorides used decoctions of sage leaves and branches in order to “provoke urine, bring down women’s courses, expel the dead child, and cause the hair to turn black.” The use of sage spread around Europe in the Middle Ages. The French called the plant: toute bonne, which translates to “all is well.” In the late 1500s, English Herbalist John Gerard wrote that sage was “good for the head and brain.” In 1772, John Hill wrote in his book “The Virtues of British Herbs” that sage would help a person live to an advanced age.
BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION: A woody, square-stemmed, semi-shrubby perennial evergreen with the potential to reach up to 2 feet tall and wide. Known to grow well in dry banks and stony places, usually in limestone areas and often where there is very little soil. Leaves are oblong, ranging in size up to 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) long by 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) wide. Leaves are grey-green, rugose on the upper side, and nearly white underneath due to the many short soft hairs. Sage blossoms in the middle of summer with small white, blue, or purple flowers. The flower is light purple to blue with a straight upper lip, in four to ten flowers in an apparent floral wreath.
PARTS USED: Leaf and flower
TASTE: Aromatic, bitter, pungent
KEY USES: Inflammation of the oral cavity, moist cough, asthma, excessive sweating or hot flashes (cold infusion), indigestion, memory improvement, hyperactive libido, itchy skin conditions.
CLINICAL USES: Alzheimer’s, flatulence, diabetes, high cholesterol, memory and cognition, antibacterial, antiviral, gingivitis, mouth ulcers, urinary tract infections, menopause, labor and childbirth, hot flashes, excessive sweating.
STUDIES: As an incredibly popular herb, sage has been the subject of thousands of studies. Two studies that I highlight below showcase the need for further exploration of this wondrous plant. An in vitro study done in 2003 showed that certain isolated constituents of Salvia officinalis have competitive displacement activity to human brain benzodiazepine receptors in the frontal cortex. This research, while limited, can give us the inclination to further study the effects of sage in cases of anxiety, seizures, overwhelm and sleep conditions.
A study from 1993 showed that the essential oil of Salvia officinalis has strong antimicrobial properties, attributed principally to the presence of thujones. Inhibitory activity of the oil against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and against a range of fungi had also been demonstrated.
SUGGESTED USES: A warm infusion of sage (1 ounce of dried herb to 32 ounces of water) is warming and pleasant to drink but is also useful as a gargle for sore throats and infections in the mouth. A cold infusion of sage is helpful in hot and sweaty states. As an excellent culinary herb, add sage to enhance the flavor of many foods.
CAUTIONS AND CONTRADICTIONS: Not to be used during pregnancy or lactation.
About the Author:
Shana Weddington is a Michigan-based herbalist, writer and local food systems champion. Recognizing the impact that herbs and diet had on her own health, Shana dove deep into study and practice over a decade ago and has primarily worked with the youth and elder communities. Now a graduate of The Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine’s Clinical Intensive Program, Shana is growing a community-based herbal practice in Chelsea, Mich. You can find Shana teaching classes, offering consults, and hosting community events at Agricole Farm Stop in Chelsea, Mich. For more information, contact her by email at email@example.com.