(Image: purple sage)


Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial, evergreen dwarf shrub, which can grow up to 2 feet, and is characterized by woody stems, purple/blue flowers, and grey/green leaves.

It is part of the mint family, Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean and the Balkan region (a peninsula and cultural area in South-eastern Europe).

The botanical name, Salvia, is derived from the Latin word salvere which means ‘to be saved’.

Sage was a sacred ceremonial herb of the Romans, being associated with immortality, and was used by the Greeks as a ‘coronary herb’ because it flushed disease from the body and relieved strain on the heart. In the Middle Ages sage was ingested as a tea to treat colds, fevers, memory and concentration loss, inflammations, ulcers, and many other ailments.


There are approximately 8 different types of sage, each differing in appearance and use. These are:


  • Garden sage (Salvia officinalis): This is the most common type of sage, and is used for cooking, tea brewing, decoration, and medicinal use


  • Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans): This variety of sage has tubular red flowers and is used mainly for medicinal purposes


  • Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia): This type has silver/grey leaves, and produces small, blue/purple tubular flowers. It is not a culinary form of sage, and is also not part of the sage genus


  • Purple sage: This sage has smoky purple leaves, and is generally less hardy than the common garden sage


  • Golden sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’): Golden sage has the same aromatic and flavour properties as common sage. This herb has variegated leaves with more golden tones, as opposed to the common grey/green colour. It is also less hardy than common garden sage


  • Berggarten sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’): This variety of sage is very similar to garden sage, with the only difference being that this plant is bred so that it will not flower, and the leaves are a grey/blue colour


  • White sage (Salvia apiana): This type of sage is native to south-western United States and north-western Mexico, and has whitish leaves and white/lavender coloured flowers


  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea): This sage variety is used for culinary purposes, along with tea, and medicinal purposes. The flowers of this plant are lilac, pale blue, pink, or white, and are shaped in whorls at the top of the stems, with the upper lip curled up. The leaves are often ovular or heart shaped, in pairs, and covered with fine silver/white hairs. It also yields a specific essential oil called ‘clary oil’ which is used topically and in aromatherapy. It is also biennial, meaning that it blooms every other year



  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Sage can be applied topically or ingested and has been found to be effective in treating anything from mild inflammations to arthritis, gout, and inflammation of the cardiovascular system. The flavonoids and phenolic compounds found in this herb are responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties


  • Is antiseptic and antibacterial: It is therefore effective in treating: throat infections, oral abscesses, gum infections, Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph), Escherichia coli (E.coli), Salmonella, and yeasts such as Candidiasis


  • Antispasmodic: Sage is helpful in reducing tension in smooth muscle, relieving asthma attacks, removing congested mucous in the airways, and preventing secondary infection


  • Relieves indigestion: The bitter component of this herb stimulates upper digestive secretions, intestinal mobility, bile flow, and pancreatic function. The oil has a carminative effect (reduces flatulence), and helps to stimulate digestion


  • Relaxant: It is used to treat nerves and dizziness


  • Reduces the symptoms of menopause: Sage has an specific effect on female hormones resulting in an oestrogenic like effect which helps to balance hormones and treat menopausal symptoms


  • Improves memory and cognitive function: Even small amounts of sage, whether smelled or consumed, have been shown to improve recall abilities and memory retention. Therefore this herb is also effective in treating and preventing cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia


  • Antioxidants: Many chronic conditions and degenerative diseases are caused by free radicals, the products of cellular metabolism that attack healthy cells, resulting in mutation. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals and prevent them from causing oxidative stress to the organs


  • Improves the immune system: The antimicrobial properties in sage aid to treat and prevent bacterial and viral infections, resulting in a stronger immune system


  • Increases bone strength: This is due to the high levels of Vitamin K, an essential vitamin that isn’t found in many foods. The body requires Vitamin K to develop bone density and also protect this bone density as we age


  • Treats skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis: Sage is so effective at treating these ailments due to its anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties


  • Manages diabetes: There are certain chemicals and extracts in sage that mimic diabetes drugs and act to inhibit the release of stored glucose in the liver, and prevent fluctuations in blood sugar


  • Controls excessive lactation: Sage promotes an oestrogenic effect which can reduce and suppress the production of breast milk


  • Improves fertility


  • Treats anxiety and depression: When sage is used, particularly in aromatherapy, it tends to have a very calming effect on an individual, and can also act as a sedative. Sage contains thujone (a gamma-aminobutyric acid), and serotonin. Sage also slows down the release of the enzymes that break down acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. Higher levels of acetylcholine result in a better mood


  • Reduces menstrual cramps


  • Pineapple sage is particularly effective at lowering blood pressure


  • Used as a natural hair dye for grey hair


  • Anti-aging properties: Sage is thought to help reduce aging signs such as wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots due to the antioxidants present


  • Prevents oily skin: Sage inhibits the production of sebum which causes oily complexions


  • Treats hair loss: Sage contains beta-sitosterol, a compound which has been found effective in treating baldness. It also encourages new hair growth, as it helps improve circulation


  • Treats excessive sweating


  • Is high in Vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc



  • Tea: Add 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried sage leaves to 1 cup of hot water. Steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add lemon or honey for taste


  • Tincture: Wash, dry, and chop sage leaves and put them in a jar that can be tightly sealed. Pour a pure spirit such as vodka over the leaves and leave in a dark place for approximately 1-2 weeks, shaking the mixture daily. Lastly, strain the leaves. This tincture can be used as a mouthwash, to treat sore throats and ulcers, as a toner for oily or problematic skin, and on external wounds


  • Mouthwash: Steep 2 tablespoons of sage in a cup of hot water, then add salt, and gargle


  • Sore throat remedy: Steep 1 tablespoon of sage in a cup of hot water and add raw honey. Drink 2 – 3 times per day


  • Cleaning agent: Half fill a 250mL spray bottle with water, and fill the other half with vinegar. Then add 30 drops of sage essential oil and mix


  • Add sage to recipes when cooking


  • Burn sage as a smudge stick to cleanse the air and remove negative energies



Sage is part of the mint family therefore individuals who are allergic to mint may also find that they are allergic to sage.

Avoid using this herb during pregnancy and breast feeding as large amounts can be toxic.

Certain types of sage are not meant for culinary uses and can be toxic when ingested.

Nontoxic varieties of sage include: Garden sage, Pineapple sage, Russian sage, Golden sage, Berggarten sage, Clary sage, and White sage.

Do not use Clary sage when drinking alcohol. Sage may interact with other drugs so consult with a physician before taking it.



The Herb Companion – Edited by Alison Candlin