Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is one of my favourite herbs. I am drawn to its delicate scent and flavour that sings through cooking. The best soup I’ve ever made was not only a half-rotted-vegetables-in-the-bottom-of-the-fridge soup, but also one where two tablespoons of dried sage were accidently tipped in. That soup brought my then-housemate back from the dead and the long list of its properties and benefits confirms that my hyperbole isn’t far off.
Native to the Mediterranean both Greeks and then Romans saw it as a sacred plant and gathering sage leaves soon became ceremonious. Since that time, until the invention of modern refrigeration, sage was used to preserve meat and we now know its terpene antioxidants act as a natural preservative. In the 10th century, Arabian physicians believed in its immortality and Europeans associated its use with witchcraft.
Throughout the Middle Ages it was extremely popular, cultivated under instruction from Charlemagne in France, and in England it was known to be farmed from at least the 15th century. The Chinese began drinking sage tea from the 17th century, trading with the Dutch at high prices. Ever since it has been an important contributor to food, health and healing.
The ancients knew sage’s power as a heal-all and today their understanding has been proven by science. Sage is a well-known phytoestrogen, meaning it works to significantly balance hormones in women by stimulating the liver and reducing toxic oestrogens in the body. The great soother, it reduces tensions in muscles, clears airways and aids when used in steam inhalation for asthma.
For the gut it is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-septic, and anti-spasmodic. That’s a lot of “anti’s” but the release and ease on a stressed digestive system, its bacteria and any infections, means harmony may be found. An old-fashioned recipe dictates boiling water poured into a pot containing a large handful of fresh leaves, adding the juice of a lemon and steeping for fifteen minutes before sipping. This drink was used for digestive, liver and kidney troubles, fevers and colds. Proven to treat dental infections and ulcers, sage extract was used medically and in toothpastes by the Romans (this makes sense as it is a cousin of mint!).
This relaxant theme continues to the nervous system. Not only is sage capable of treating nervousness and dizziness but also it is strengthening to a frazzled and strung-out nervous system. A warm bath with sage essential oil restores and rejuvenates.
Sourcing & Storing Sage
Fresh is best but you can keep dried sage for tumbling into soups and for a fines herbes mixture (which may include sage, basil, thyme, sweet marjoram and fennel) rubbed over chicken or fish.
An evergreen, sage is very hardy and can survive cold winters and warm summers. Because it seldom flowers, most of its oils and essence are in its flavourful foliage. A young plant is much more advantageous than using dried leaves and can be easily planted outdoors from March to May. Replacing the woody plants every few years is well worth the flavour and joy of watching the herb contribute to your table.
Fresh bunches of sage can be bundled in string and dried slowly for use in cookery or for burning to dispel odours. Burning sage has occurred for centuries and is thought to clear negative energy when its oils are released into a space. Burning either essential oil or dry leaves, sage is known to be cleansing, balancing, purifying and protecting. A peacefully purging process, sage can be burned for things like mediation or when suffering or recovering from illness.
A Final Note
The Latin Salvia is derived from salvere, to save; in the Middle Ages sage was referred to as Salvia salvatrix ‘Sage the Saviour’ and this rhyming-couplet emerged:
He that would live for aye
Must eat Sage in May.
This article was written by the lovely Jessie, you can read more of her Food for Thought articles below or follow her story on instagram.