Sage has been the savior of many holiday stuffing recipes. But to a medieval European healer, this humble plant was considered a lifesaver, so much so that it was given the Latin name "salvia," from the verb "to save." This common herb originated in the Mediterranean and is now grown and used all over the world. Sage is used in cooking, ceremony and herbal medicine.
Sage is a common kitchen herb that is easy to grow and eat. The fresh or dried leaves are used in cooking. Sage has a strong, musky flavor and a pungent aroma. It is a good companion for fatty meats like duck and goose and is often used to flavor sausage. Sage is also an important ingredient in the stuffing used in traditional holiday turkey dinners.
Bundles of dried sage leaves are used in the Native American smudging ceremony. This bundle, called a smudge stick, is lit on fire so that just the tip burns. The smoke rising from the stick is used to clear negative influences from an area. Smudging can be done at the beginning and end of formal ceremonies and to mark life transitions. Smudging originated with North American tribes and is used today by many other spiritual traditions. Sagebrush, sweetgrass and cedar are also used for smudging.
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Sage is used as an astringent herb in traditional herbalism. Astringents reduce congestion and swelling in tissues. Sage leaves brewed into a tea are used to relieve a sore throat. The tea reduces local swelling, which relieves the pain. Sage's historical use to fight infection may soon be verified by modern science. In a preliminary study conducted in Iran in 2010 and published in the "Journal of Zhejiang University," a species of sage demonstrated bactericidal activity against the microbe Brucella. Further study is needed on the medicinal properties of sage to verify these findings.
Sage is safe to consume in food. Medicinal doses of sage are quite a bit higher than normal cooking amounts, so use caution. Pregnant women should avoid taking sage as a tea, tincture or in other medicinal forms. Consult your health practitioner before adding any herb to your health regimen.
- Botanical.com: Sage
- BBC Good Food Glossary: Sage
- Sacred-Texts.com: Smudging
- Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth; Sharol Tilgner, N.D.
- Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B: In vitro assay for the Anti-Brucella Activity of Medicinal Plants Against Tetracycline-resistant Brucella Melitensis
Stephanie Draus is a naturopathic doctor and assistant professor of clinical sciences at National University of Health Sciences. She has practiced in Chicago as a health consultant since 2005. She is a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.