These first herbal heroes don’t even scratch the surface though, as just the kitchen garden at Zaytuna Farm contains at least 25 herbs at last count. Today’s star is the wise and wonderful Sage. Sage is either an aromatic plant native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, one of two North American plants with silvery-grey leaves, or a person of deep wisdom. Our garden sage is both the plant of European origin and a carrier of deep wisdom.
Salvia officinalisis the guest in our garden but the salvia genus contains 750 species. Many but not all are valued for their herbal uses, some are more common as decorative cottage garden plants. Whilst green or garden sage is used for most culinary purposes and does have medicinal value, red sage is preferred for medicinal purposes by some herbalists. Pineapple sage makes a great addition to a garden for kids, as they contain a sweet nectar that can be sucked out after picking the flower.
Our garden sage has grey-green, soft, velvety leaves with fine hairs covering them. She will grow up to 1m tall in ideal conditions, which are Mediterranean dry temperate. In general she likes loose, well-drained, alkaline soil and plenty of sun. In the sub-tropics of Zaytuna she also grows well but can be susceptible to fungal diseases in wet and humid weather. It’s possible to grow her in a pot and move her under cover during the rainy season to minimise the chances of fungal and rot issues. At Zaytuna she’s happiest in spots where she’s got plenty of morning sun, and some overhead cover from trees, neighbouring plants or overhanging buildings.
Sage is perennial and can be propagated by seeds, cuttings or root division. She’s said to be a good companion plant, and help repel white cabbage moth, making her an especially good neighbour for cabbage, onion, carrots, tomatoes and rosemary, but not so neighbourly with basil or cucumbers.
Sage contains Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3 and C, as well as a variety of minerals and volatile oils. In traditional kitchens throughout her native growing regions Sage is used as a digestive aid, said to stimulate the production of digestive juices. She’s sometimes drunk as tea before or after a meal, but also added to rich or heavy meals, such as beef, duck, goose, liver, stuffings, stews, soups and bean dishes. It has a warm, slightly bitter taste and should be used sparingly in cooking. Pineapple sage, leaves and flowers, make a refreshing addition to summer drinking water.
Medicinally, sage has been used for her effects on the respiratory and digestive systems, energy levels, to aid memory, to relieve kidney diseases, cramps, excessive sweating, hot flashes, inflammatory skin conditions, toothaches, coughs and colds. Sage with honey, lemon or apple cider vinegar is a traditional remedy for sore throats and coughs. Sage infused in oil can relieve pain and increase circulation when used for massage on sore muscles. It’s also been widely used to relieve anxiety and nerves, sharpen memory and improve concentration. “How can a man grow old who has sage in his garden?” was a saying when herbal medicine was the only kind available, and recent studies support the benefit of sage for memory and concentration.
While sage in food is safe, it’s not recommended in medicinal quantities during pregnancy. Sage is reputed to help dry up breast milk, so might be useful during weaning but should not be taken in large amounts whilst breastfeeding. Sage essential oil is the subject of some controversy, and should never be used in pregnancy or with young children, with some experts suggesting that it should not be used at all. Clary sage essential oil is not the same and is commonly used to help with issues relating to female hormones and tension.
Sage is also a bit of a star in the herbal beauty cabinet, used throughout the ages as a hair rinse, to darken grey hair and relieve dandruff. Sage tea or sage infused vinegar (diluted) are both common ways to apply a sage hair rinse. It’s also a powerful ingredient in a herbal toothpowder, especially for weak or swollen gums due to its astringent and antimicrobial qualities.
Sage is a welcome guest here at Zaytuna. She’s not the easiest plant to grow in the subtropics but just the aroma of fresh sage makes her presence worth the effort.
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne
How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life? By Isabell Shipard
Herbal Remedies by Nicola Peterson
375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols by Jeanne Rose
Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret
Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young