Bruce Burnett, CH
The botanical name for sage is from the Latin salvare, which means to heal or cure. The word is also the root of "salvatio.
The botanical name for sage is from the Latin salvare, which means to heal or cure. The word is also the root of "salvation." This is interesting because the Arabs believe that sage, or salvia, confers longevity almost to the point of immortality. It is also supposed to bestow wisdom.
In the garden it was once believed that sage would thrive if the owner's business was prospering, but wilt if bad times were pending. An early English legend also maintains that the herb thrives in a garden where the wife rules the house. It therefore became customary for the husband to prune sage bushes ruthlessly to conceal evidence of his subservience. Among other quaint legends surrounding sage is the belief that it is bad luck to plant your own. A stranger must be found to do it for you. Also, if you believe in legends, ensure sage shares the bed with another herb. A bed full of sage brings misfortune.
Sage is a hardy (growing zone 4) perennial that should be watered frequently until it's well established and then watered infrequently. It is better to propagate sage from cuttings since the seed doesn't store well and although it germinates quickly, it takes about two years for the bush to grow to the productive stage.
There are many species of sage, but the most popular are:
Clary sage, an attractive species with huge gray leaves and pretty lilac and pink flowers, is named from the Latin Clarus, meaning clear, because a decoction from the seeds is supposed to make an excellent eyewash. Golden sage (Aurea), with its beautiful chartreuse-yellow leaves augmented with dark green swashes, is an absolute visual delight. Unfortunately, it's a tender perennial and will only thrive in growing zones 7-9.
A Versatile Herb
Medicinally, sage is antiseptic and astringent and is recommended as a mouthwash for canker sores, sore gums and sore throats. The astringency of the herb makes it beneficial in cases of mild diarrhea. Sage is a digestive tonic and stimulant. In Chinese medicine, sage is a yin tonic and is used to both calm and activate the nervous system.
In his book The Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, PhD, claims he has identified six anti-inflammatory compounds in sage and advocates its use in cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. He also extols the herb for treating asthma, bad breath, baldness, body odour, gingivitis, tonsillitis, wrinkles, yeast infections and Alzheimer's disease. British researchers have confirmed that sage inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, thus preserving the compound that seems to help prevent and treat Alzheimer's. The German government's herbal advisory, Commission E, sanctions sage as an antiperspirant and deodorant. Rudolf Breuss, author of The Breuss Cancer Cure, also relies on sage tea as part of his treatment protocol.
The herb can be taken internally in a variety of forms and externally as an undiluted alcohol extract. Commission E recommends the following dosages:
If used externally, daub the alcohol extract under the arms. Sage will suppress the yield of breast milk, so nursing mothers should avoid the herb. Homeopaths recommend sage for night sweats and the herb's estrogenic qualities also make it effective for other menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. It generally has a tonic effect upon the female reproductive tract and is suggested for light or late menstruation and menstrual cramps. Amanda McQuade's The Herbal Menopause Book recommends the following Floral Calm Tea:
4 oz (113 g) skullcap
2 oz (57 g) rosemary
2 oz (57 g) linden flower
1 oz (28 g) sage leaf
1 oz (28 g) passion flower
Combine half an ounce of the mixture with three cups (750 ml) of boiling water in a teapot. Let stand for five to 15 minutes before straining. Drink two cups hot or cold as needed.
Sage has an affinity for other muscular Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme. The combination produces a rich flavour in robust winter soups and stews. Also, fresh sage contains delicately flavoured oils that are a delight in contrast to the pungent taste of dried sage, which has frequently languished in the kitchen cabinet for far too long. Sage contains potent antioxidants that retard spoilage, endorsing the herb's traditional use as a meat preservative. This has lead to a convention of only using the herb in sausages and stuffings, making sage underutilized in meatless dishes. Here are two excellent vegetarian recipes featuring the herb that will make a delicious and nutritious contribution to your holiday dinners.
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Sage
3 medium-sized acorn squash, cut in half
1/2 cup (125 g) dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup (125 g) cornbread crumbs
Half an onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup (125 ml) soy milk
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Bake squash cut-side down in an ovenproof dish containing about one inch of water for one hour at 350°F (175°C). When sufficiently cool, scoop out the squash (reserving the shells) and combine with the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil. Spoon the mixture back into the shells and drizzle with the oil. Bake for an additional 15 minutes at 350°F (175°C).
Sage Corn Bread
1 cup (250 g) whole wheat, spelt or kamut flour
3/4 cup (63 g) yellow cornmeal
3 tsp (15 g) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 g) sea salt
1 cup (250 ml) soy milk
2 Tbsp (30 ml) honey
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 g) fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
Heat the oven to 425°F (220 °C) and lightly oil an eight-inch (20 cm) pan. Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the soy milk, egg, honey, olive oil and sage. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the oiled pan and bake until golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes before turning out on to a rack. Allow to cool thoroughly before slicing.