scientific name: Salvia officinalis
other common names: Garden sage, salvia, meadow sage, salvia virgen
growing areas: Native to southern Europe; widely cultivated
physical description: Sage is a perennial evergreen shrub that grows about 3 feet high. Its leaves are oval, green, and velvety. Its flowers, which bloom in the summer, run from white to purple.
traditional uses: Like many medicinal herbs, sage is widely used in cooking. But sage also has a long reputation for treating a number of medical conditions, and its genus name, Salvia, derives from the Latin, meaning "to cure." Historians also note that a medieval saying by Italian medical students asserted, "Why should a man die who grows sage in his garden?" According to herb expert Michael Castleman, sage was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a meat preservative, as a memory enhancer, to treat problems such as epilepsy and snakebite, and to promote menstrual flow.
In more modern times, sage has been used as an antiseptic and astringent, a digestive tonic, an antiperspi-rant, and a method for controlling irregular menstruation and menopausal problems. A preparation of sage is used as a gargle for sore throat, mouth ulcers, sore gums, and tonsillitis. In Costa Rica, sage Is used for wounds, arthritis, asthma, and problems with-the prostate gland. It is also a commonly used herb among Mexicans. In Europe it has been used to lower blood sugar in diabetics.
availability and dosage: Dried leaves are available in food stores and in botdnicas for further home preparation. Sage is also available through suppliers as a liquid extract. The dosages vary according to the herbalist. For a gargle, a weak infusion is recommended, using from one to four leaves. For menstruation problems, a tincture of up to 4 milliliters of leaf extract has been recommended by some experts. Fresh sage leaf is also applied directly to stings or bites as a treatment.
contraindications: Use of sage should be avoided by pregnant women because of the herb's reputation for causing abortions. Diabetic patients also have to use sage cautiously because of its ability to lower blood sugar. Fetrow and Avila recommend that it be used carefully by persons already receiving anticonvulsants.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
While it has a long history as a medicinal herb, sage is viewed with caution by some doctors, pharmacists, and herbalists. In their professional handbook on alternative medicines, Fetrow and Avila advise that sage can interact with anticonvulsants, disulfiram, insulin, and other diabetic therapies. Herb expert Michael Castleman cautions that sage oil is toxic and should not be ingested. But he also notes that one toxic chemical contained in sage, thujone, while causing convulsions, is mostly eliminated by the heat of infusion preparation using plant leaves.
medical research: None noted.