Common Sage

Common Sage

A genus of some 900 species of mostly aromatic annuals, biennials, perennials, and mainly evergreen shrubs and subshrubs, found worldwide in temperate, subtropical, and dry tropical areas. They favor dry, stony, or rocky hillsides, scrub, and meadows, almost always in open, sunny places. Salvias have interesting and diverse aromas, textures, and colors, and their flowers secrete abundant nectar, making them locally important as bee plants. Over 100 species and many variants are available as ornamentals, some of which have medicinal and culinary uses. They are rewarding plants to grow, since they have a long flowering period and combine well with many other kinds of garden plants. Few make good cut flowers, the exceptions being S. sclarea and S. viridis, which are excellent both fresh and dried. The hardiest and most widely used species is common sage, S. officinalis, which has been cultivated in N Europe since medieval times, and was introduced to N America in the 17th century. The Romans used it to increase fertility, and its medicinal uses were mentioned by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny. Known as Salvia salvatrix ("sage the savior"), its reputation for promoting longevity began in Classical times, giving rise to sayings such as "he that would live for aye [ever], must eat sage in May". The name of this genus also reflects this, bring from the Latin salvere, "to be well". Sages are rich in volatile oils, which vary greatly from species to species. Salvia officinalis contains a camphoraceous oil, consisting of about 50 percent thujone. In excess, this compound is hallucinogenic, addictive, and toxic. Salvia fruticosa has less thujone and S. lavandulifolia has none. Salvia offinalis also contains rosmarinic acid, which has the effect of stopping perspiration within about two hours of the correct dose being given. Dried sage is popular in the kitchen, and commercial dried sage may include leaves of S. fruticosa, S. lavandulifolia, and S. pomifera as well as S. officinalis. Meadow sage (S. pratensis) has also been used as a substitute for common sage, and as a flavoring for beer and wine. Salvias are numerous in western N America and C America, and many are used locally for flavoring. Many species have bright red or yellow flowers that are pollinated by hummingbirds. Several species are valued for their seeds, which ehwn soaked in water form a gelatinous mass that forms the basis for refreshing drinks. Examples are S. columbariae (golden chia) and S. tiliaefolia (Tarahumara chia, lindenleaf sage), whose nutritious seeds are also used for sprouting, or ground as a baking ingredient, while the aromatic foliage is used for flavoring and teas. Other interesting American salvias include: S. apiana(white sage), a pungently aromatic species that was used in smudging ceremonies by native tribes, and has nutritious chia-type seeds; S. lyrata (cancerweed, lyre-leafed sage) which is used in folk medicine for colds, coughs, asthma, and cancer, and as a dressing for warts, wounds, and sores; S. mellifera (black sage), used by settlers for tea and flavoring; and S. microphylla syn. S. grahamii (Graham's sage, red bush), whose flowers and minty leaves are infused to treat fevers. S Africa has a number of salvias that have long been used for their disinfectant, healing, and aromatic properties. Salvia africana syn. S. africana-caerulea (blue sage, blousalie) was found by Dutch settlers to be a good substitute for common sage, in terms of home remedies and teas. The creeping or small sage, S. repens, has little to recommend it for cooking, but is much used locally as a tea for bronchial infections and digestive problems, or a wash for infected wounds or sores. It is also burned to disinfect homes after illness, and to deter insect pests in the home. Similar medicinal uses are recorded for S. aurea (brown sage, dune sage), S. disermas (Transvaal sage, groot salie), S. stenophylla (narrow-leaf sage, fynblaar salie) and S. verbenaca (vervain sage, Free State sage, vrystaat salie). In China, the main species used is S. miltiorhiza, known as dan shen, red sage, or red ginseng because of its red roots; it was recorded as an important medicinal herb in 206BCE. Two other species are used as sources of the drug da shen: S. bowleyana (southern dan shen; and S. przewalskii (Gansu dan shen), while various other species are used in folk medicine as "folk dan shen".

Shrubby, evergreen, perennial with much-branched stems and wrinkled, velvety, pale gray-green leaves, to 8cm (3in) long. Whorls of blue-purple flowers, 1.5cm (½in) long, are produced in racemes in summer.

Common Name:
Common Sage
Botanical Name:
Salvia officinalis
Native Location:
Mediterranean and N Africa
Well-drained to dry, neutral to alkaline soil in sun. Salvia miltiorhiza needs moist, sandy soil; tolerates partial shade. Most sages dislike damp conditions and low light in winter; they are often hardier in dry, sunny positions. Sages grown in a greenhouse are prone to spider mite, aphids, and whitefly. Many sages become woody and sparse with age and should be replaced every 4-7 years.
By seed sown in spring (species and annuals only); by basal or softwood cuttings in spring and summer; by semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and early autumn; by division (S. miltiorhiza). Salvia lyrata, S. sclarea and S. viridis may self-sow freely. Salvia greggii is grown as an annual in areas with cold winters.
Leaves are picked for immediate use, or before flowers open for oil distillation and drying; dried leaves are used in infusions, liquid extracts, and tinctures. Roots are lifted in late autumn and winter, and dried for pills, decoctions, and tinctures. Ripe seeds are dried for use in macerations, or pressed for oil. Flower spikes are cut in summer. Galls (S. pomifera) are picked in spring, and candied.
60-80cm (24-32in)
1m (3ft)
Syn. Alba

Has white flowers.
Has chartreuse-yellow leaves, green along the veins.
Height: 45cm (18in)
Width: 60cm (2ft)
Has a dense, compact habit, and large, broad leaves.
Height: 45cm (18in)
Syn. Dwarf, Nana

Has small leaves and a dwarf, compact habit.
Height: 20-25cm (8-10in)
Width: 60cm (24in)
Has crinkled leaves with crisped margins.
Holt's Mammoth
Is vigorous, with large leaves and a fine flavor; rarely flowers.
Height: 1m (3ft)
Has yellow-variegated leaves.
Kew Gold
Has a compact, dwarf habit, and yellow leaves.
Height: 30cm (12in)
Width: 45cm (18in)
(Purple Sage)

Has purple-gray foliage.
Purpurescens Variegata
Has purple-gray leaves with irregular pink variegations.
Has irregular pink and ivory variegation. Tends to be less vigorous tand hardy than the species.
White Dalmation
Has small, very pale gray-green leaves and a superior, less bitter flavor.
Parts Used:
Leaves, oil.
An astringent, antiseptic, tonic herb with a camphoraceous aroma. It relaxes spasms, suppresses perspiration and lactation, improves liver function and digestion, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant and estrogenic effects. Many herbalists regard 'Purpurescens' as more potent than the species.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for indigestion, gas, liver complains, excessive lactation, night sweats, excessive salivation (as in Parkinson's Disease), profuse perspiration, (as in tuberculosis), anxiety, depression, female sterility, and menopausal problems. Externally for insect bites, throat, mouth, gum, and skin infections, and vaginal discharge. Combined with Potentilla erecta (See, Tormentil) as a gargle and with Chamaemelum nobile (See, Roman Chamomile) and Filipendula ulmaria (See, Meadowsweet) for digestive problems.
Culinary Uses:
Leaves are used to flavor meat dishes (especially pork), liver, goose, soups, stews, sauces, sausages, saltimbocca (and Italian dish of Veal and Ham), eels, and stuffings for pork and poultry; also as an ingredient of sage Derby cheese (England) and American sage cheese. Fresh or dried leaves are made into tea.
Economic Uses:
Oil is ued as a fixative for perfumes; also added to toothpastes and cosmetics.
Toxic in excess over long periods.
Contraindicated during pregnancy and for epilepsy.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp 353-356