For more then 4000 years sage has had a reputation as a miraculous herb that cures many diseases. In some nations of the Old world it even had a reputation for holiness. A Roman scholar and writer named it Salvia by the Latin noun salvum which means the savior. Even today it is called so in many countries. There are records in writing that the ancients used sage not only as a medicine or spice but also in a various ceremonies: the Egyptians for embalming and mummification; the Romans had a ritual performance while harvesting it; American Indians were throwing it in the fire and worn it around the neck in a ritual dance.
In the early Christian era people used it’s smoke to purify their homes from evil, until incense took sage’s place in religious ceremonies, shrines and houses.
There is also a tale that St. John the Baptist gave sanctity and eternal immutability to sage at the same time as to St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).
Sage was declared a state plant by Charlemagne in his strict regulations Capitulary, as one of the 72 plants that were commanded to be grown in all rural, urban and monastic gardens (along with the parsley, common houseleek, dill, lemon balm, fanugreek etc.)
Sage was also highly appreciated in the Far East – for the crate of sage the Chinese would give you three crates of tea.
Sage achieved all that fame primarily because of the countless examples of it’s healing effects. From the ancient times it was used as a cure for virtually all diseases. That is why sage is found prescribed in physician’s recipes in ancient Egypt, Hellas and Rome, in the East and in the West and in monasteries and in the witch craft. In the Middle Age there was a popular handbook on it’s curative effects on rheumatism, diseases of the mouth and throat, indigestion, inflammation of the bladder, night sweats…
GROWING, HARVESTING AND DRYING SAGE
Sage (lat. Salvia officinalis) is a wild low bush with spear and oval, velvety leaves covered with dense hairs on both sides. It grows in rocky parts of the Mediterranean (look at the picture of sage that grows at Croatian island Rab).
Young plant is a bright green to purple, blooms in small white, blue or pink spikes on top of the stem. In time, stem becomes woody, it’s life time is six to seven years.
Sage is a plant of the sun and the heat, highly sensitive to frost and too much moisture. Therefore in the continental climate region, especially in the northern parts, only cultivated and nurtured plants can grow.
Sage should be sown in April and May. It can also be grown from seedlings. Flowerbed in the garden should be fertilized two-three weeks before the sowing, and every month and a half after germinating, with a fertilizer that contains the mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The best place for the sage is peaceful, sunny and sheltered from the wind. Sage is not particularly sensitive to the type and amount of soil, so it can be grown in the pot in the house or on a sunny window. There it can be nurtured only till summer. If the leaves start turning yellow, it means that it needs more living space and soil. Transplant it then into the part of the garden that meets it needs.
By the winter, sage will be developed. After the danger of freezing, in the early spring, prune the older, woodier branches by about a third. Do not prune main branches.
The leaves are harvested before flowering in April. After that sage will grow new leaves, and they can be harvested throughout the year. The flower is collected in May and June. Dry leaves and flowers separately in a shady and airy place. Sage flower is favored by bees, and it’s honey is highly praised as especially tasteful and salutary. It is very rare, even in the Mediterranean. Croatian island Cres is famous for it.
WHAT CAN SAGE CURE
General platitudes that “sage purifies the blood and the whole body” doesn’t really mean anything.
However, it has been proven that sage has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects, which means that sage is a good fighter against bacteria, viruses and various fungi and inflammation. It also heals the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, bladder and kidney channels. It helps with diseases of the oral cavity, throat and tonsils. It is good for cough, runny nose, bronchitis, colds and flu. It also soothes down female periods and hormonal problems. It helps t patients with neurosis and depression, regulates sweating in sickness as well as in puberty, adolescence and menopause. Improves memory and may prevent Alzheimer’s. Sage is also used against the skin diseases, healing festering wounds and sores. It’s even mentioned as beeing e a mild aphrodisiac.
For the healing purposes sage can be prepared as tea, infusion, tincture, oil, bath, compresse, brandy and wine. Tea and infusion are the most common ways to use sage in treatment of health problems .
Put one teaspoon of chopped dried sage leaves into a quarter-liter of boiling water. Let it boil in the open pot for three more minutes over low heat. Remove it from the heat, and let it macerate for ten minutes. Strain it and drink two to three cups a day, depending on the problems. If there is a sore throat, tonsils and respiratory diseases, sweeten the tea with honey, but cool it first under 40 degrees Celsius.
Pour 2,5 deciliter of boiling water in the cup over the tablespoon of dried, crushed sage leaves. Leave it be so for half an hour. Strain and drink warm. For problems with the digestive organs drink one cup half an hour before meals, three times a day. The infusion is effective for rinsing and gargling in diseases of the throat and mouth.
SAGE IN MILK
Boil one tablespoon of dried leaves in a quarter-liter of milk for three minutes. Cool it till lukewarm and add two tablespoons of honey. Drink it during the day, taking one by one tablespoon frequently. It is an antitussive that can be given to older children.
TINCTURE OF SAGE
This tincture is prepared by puttint 20 grams of chopped sage leaves in 1 deciliter of 70% alcohol. Let it macerate in a warm place (not in the sun) for a month, then drain and transfer to a suitable glass bottle. Use it with the help of the dropper: put 10 to 15 drops in a small amount of water, juice or tea and drink it or use it for mouth washing or gargling, depending on the health issue. Repeat it three times a day. CAUTION: Usage of sage tincture is prohibited for pregnant women and children!
This is one of the old recipes: squash some fresh sage leaves, spread it on a clean linen piece of cloth or sterile gauze and lay it to the wound or abscess .
Put 20 dag of fresh sage leaves into five liters of cold water: it would be best to use spring water. Let it macerate for 12 hours. After that, pour it into the tub with a hot water bath. This is a very good treatment for urination problems and skin diseases.
In case of the skin disease pytiriasis versicolor it is effective to take this bath and drink sage tea, because it makeso changes in the structure of sweat and that helps reducing skin problems.
SAGE OIL USAGE
For a sage bath preparation you can also use sage essential oil. Pour ten drops in half a liter of milk. Stir well before pouring into the tub with the water prepared for bath.
Sage essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation method: the best oil comes from a young leaves and branches of sage. It is used not only for a bath preparation, but also for inhalation in respiratory and sinus infections, combined with oils of similar actions to achieve the best effect. Sage oil is also used to rinse inflammed mouth and throat, for massage, and for air-refreshing and disinfecting.
SAGE AND HONEY BRANDY
Macerate 250 sage fresh or dried leaves in 1,5 liter of brandy, preferably the best quality neutral grape, through three weeks, away from sun. Strain and mix it with a half a kilogram of honey of your choice – from the color and taste neutral acacia to the strong and harsh chestnut. Pour it in brandy bottles, gag them well and shake turning them up and down a few times. Let it maturate for another two weeks before you start to drink it. This brandy is best to serve chilled in the refrigerator – don’t use ice cubes because you will dilute the very intense and particular taste. Drink it in small quantities, as a very tasteful and worthy digestif. It will ease digestion of heavy meals, calm the stomach pain and remove fatigue.
Put 10 dag crushed sage leaves (fresh or dried) in a liter of quality red wine. Let it macerate for two weeks in the sun; shake it and turn it upside down at times. Strain it and pour in a bottle. Keep it at room temperature, and serve after dinner as digestif, in small liqueur glasses.
If you have a field of sage or, even better, if you can pick Dalmatian sage on Croatian coast or islands, you have a major component for a very tasteful, healthy and easy-to-make sage syrup. You will need to collect 100 sage flowers (to be more precise, this should be 100 whole flower spikes on top of the branch). In addition, you will also need 4 kilograms of sugar, 4 liters of water and 10 lemons.
As first, boil sugar and water (preferably spring water). Cool this syrup down and add juice from 10 squeezed lemons, stir it, and then pour 100 sage flowers in. Stir it again, mildly. Let it macerate for two days, then drain trough gauze. Distribute the whole amount of syrup in bottles sterilized in hot water or oven. Cap them well. Keep it in a cold and dark place. This syrup can be drunk just like any other fruit syrup: mixed with water, in lemonade or as a supplement to juices, smoothies and cocktails.
COOKING WITH SAGE
As a spice, sage should be dosed carefully and not as a competition to other spices. It goes well with soups, vegetables, cheese, pasta, fish and meat. If you add it to veal liver or grilled pork skewers (put one leaf between two peaces of meat), you will get an exceptional taste.
Here are a few recipes for meals with sage.
Pasta sauce with sage
Spicy sauce with sage and gorgonzola cheese is a great topping for spaghetti, fusilli, macaroni or, even better, gnocchi.
Ingredients: 10 sage leaves, 20 dag gorgonzola cheese, 4 dl cream for cooking, 1 dl olive oil, onion, a clove of garlic
Heat the olive oil in the broad pan and gently fry the sage. Remove the leaves and start frying chopped onion in the same oil, shortly, just until it limps. Then add chopped garlic and fry it briefly. When the garlic limps, put diced gorgonzola and cream for cooking into the pan and stir it with the spoon until it becomes uniform slurry. Pour over pasta served in a dish.
Cheese with sage
This is quite a simple and refreshing summer dish .
Ingredients: 3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, 250 dag of cottage or ricotta cheese, a clove of garlic, half a lemon juice
Chop sage and garlic into tiny pieces and mix it with lemon juice. Add it all to a dish with cheese and stir well all ingredients together. Leave in the fridge overnight.
Here is a proposal for an exclusive buffet for a special occasion that deserves champagne.
Ingredients: 1 handful fresh sage leaves, 10 dag flour, 1 dl white wine, salt, pepper, egg, oil
Wash and dry fresh sage leaves thoroughly. Prepare them as if youwere going to fry a Parisian steak, with a small change: instead of milk, use good dry white wine to scramble with the egg, add some salt and pepper, 10 dag of flour and mix it until you get a tick paste. Pour in the sage leaves, stir them well until all are covered with paste. Heat the oil in the pan, as for chips, spill the paste with sage leaves, separately, and fry them until they turn gold and crispy. Take them out of oil to the paper towel, to absorb the grease. Serve them warm as snacks with chilled champagne. Or, even better, on chilled slices of mozzarella cheese with the glass of champagne. French camambert is out of the question: it is already sufficiently aromatic itself, and adding sage would bring confusion to our senses.
Sage chips can be served also as an everyday snack, with some local mild chutney and hard or semi-hard, preferably goat, cheese and the same white wine that you scrambled the egg with.
WARNING: Be careful with sage!
Sage acts like any other effective remedy. Besides calcium, potassium and sodium, the most important component found in the whole stalk and most of the leaves is the sage essential oil. Dried plants contain 1.6 to 2.7 percent of essential oil. The main ingredient of sage essential oil is thujone: depending on the habitat, time of the year and the day thujone percentage rises up to 60. It is thujone that gives to the sage that strong distinctive and intoxicating scent which exudes the entire Mediterranean during summer. Thanks to thujone sage is antiseptic. But the same thujone can be aggressive to the central nervous system and cause serious health effects. That’s why people who suffer from epilepsy and those with high blood pressure shouldn’t use sage neither as drink, food or medicine. Pregnant women, nursing mothers and older children can consume it carefully. When it comes to sage tincture they should not use it at all.
Nobody should consume sage for a longer time in a higher amount or concentration on an every day basis. Consequences of exaggeration can be agitation, rapid pulse, dry mouth, insomnia, dizziness and even fainting.
There is a general rule that usage of sage as everyday therapy with tea, infusion and tinctures shouldn’t last for more then three weeks or a month, and after that you should pause at least for a two weeks period.
Before healing yourself with sage please consult a medical doctor. Recipes and healing advices in this article are result of a l life-long experience of the author, and they are given with the good intention to inspire our readers to consider using natural remedies as an option. All claims in this article can be used only as an opinion of a non-medical person.
Written by Mladen Gerovac
Photographed by Robert Kaštelan