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What is Sage - Maybe you don't know (4)

What is Sage – Maybe you don’t know

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Welcome to a journey of discovery, as we delve into the world of an herb that you may think you know, but there is so much more to unravel. It’s sage, a plant that has graced our kitchens, adorned our gardens, and found its place in numerous traditional remedies, yet still holds secrets waiting to be revealed.

We invite you to venture beyond the well-trodden paths of common knowledge and explore sage from a fresh perspective. As we unfold the layers of history, culture, and science that surround this remarkable herb, you’ll find that it is more than just an aromatic ingredient or a pretty perennial.

Join us as we explore the lesser-known tales and the fascinating intricacies of sage, an herb that never ceases to amaze. Let’s embark on this journey together, for it’s time to discover – what is sage, maybe you don’t know.

A glimpse into the world of this aromatic herb

What is sage? Sage, or Salvia officinalis, is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, treasured for its culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses. Native to the Mediterranean, this iconic herb belongs to the expansive mint family (Lamiaceae) and stands out among the 900 species in the Salvia genus due to its wide recognition and use.

What is Sage - Maybe you don't know (4)
Native to the Mediterranean, this iconic herb belongs to the expansive mint family (Lamiaceae)

Sage’s visual characteristics are as appealing as its aromatic ones. Its grayish leaves, woody stems, and blue to purplish flowers present a charming sight in gardens. These leaves, oblong and wrinkled, are the heart of this herb’s magic. When rubbed, they release a potent, complex aroma—a delightful blend of peppery, minty, and citrusy notes.

It’s this sensory profile that has earned sage a revered place in kitchens worldwide. Its robust flavor elevates dishes, from stuffings and roasts to hearty stews. Yet, the story extends beyond the culinary world. Its historical medicinal use and the ongoing exploration of its potential health benefits highlight sage as a plant of immense value. Unveiling sage, we discover an herb that is as versatile as it is vibrant, a true testament to the richness of the plant kingdom.

A trip down memory lane

The rich tapestry of sage’s history begins in the Mediterranean, its native region, and weaves its way through thousands of years and across countless cultures. The story is as complex and compelling as the herb itself, revealing its profound impact on medicine, religion, and daily life in various civilizations.

Ancient times

In ancient times, the Romans held sage in high esteem, referring to it as the “Holy Herb“. They used it for a myriad of purposes, from warding off evil to treating snakebites, and enhancing women’s fertility. Sage also played an integral role in their religious rituals, further solidifying its status as a plant of significant cultural importance.

What is “Holy Herb’? Holy Herb” is a term often used to refer to the plant Verbena or Vervain, a plant that has long been associated with divine and supernatural forces. In ancient Egypt, it was called “tears of Isis,” and in ancient Greece, it was dedicated to Eos Erigineia. During the early Christian era, there was a folk legend that Common Vervain was used to staunch Jesus’ wounds after his removal from the cross, leading to its name, “Holy Herb.” In Wales, it’s also known as “Devil’s bane.” The generic name for this plant is derived from the ancient Roman term for sacrificial herbs considered very powerful​.

Holy Herb" is a term often used to refer to the plant Verbena or Vervain, a plant that has long been associated with divine and supernatural forces
Holy Herb” is a term often used to refer to the plant Verbena or Vervain, a plant that has long been associated with divine and supernatural forces

Middle Ages

However, the Romans were not the only ones to recognize its potential. During the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the Frankish king and Lombard emperor, recommended the cultivation of sage. This led to this herb being grown extensively in monastery gardens throughout the Carolingian Empire. Sage’s cultivation in these gardens was a testament to its revered status and a key factor in its spread across Europe.

Who is Charlemagne? Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great,  was a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. He was the king of the Franks and Lombards and later became the emperor of the Romans, marking the restoration of the imperial title in the West after more than three centuries.

During the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the Frankish king and Lombard emperor, recommended the cultivation of this wonderful herb
During the early Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the Frankish king and Lombard emperor, recommended the cultivation of this wonderful herb

Throughout the Middle Ages, sage continued to be highly regarded. Many sayings and writings of that time referred to its healing properties and value. It was even called S. salvatrix, speaking volumes about the esteem in which it was held.

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Prominent scholars and physicians of the time, including Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen, all recommended sage for various uses. It was used as a diuretic, a hemostatic agent to stop bleeding, an emmenagogue to promote menstruation, and a tonic to improve overall health.

Recent history

Even in more recent history, sage has found mention in various texts for its beneficial properties. For instance, John Gerard’s Herball (1597) praised sage for its positive effects on the brain and nervous system. Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615) even shared a recipe for a tooth powder made of sage and salt.

This historical journey, from ancient times to the Middle Ages and beyond, highlights the deep-seated connection between this herb and human civilization. It showcases sage’s multifaceted roles as a culinary herb, a medicinal plant, a religious symbol, and a cherished garden plant. Taking this trip down memory lane, we can truly appreciate the remarkable legacy of this herb and its enduring relevance today.

Even in more recent history, this wonderful herb has found mention in various texts for its beneficial properties
Even in more recent history, this wonderful herb has found mention in various texts for its beneficial properties

A flavorful journey

An exploration of sage wouldn’t be complete without venturing into the world of culinary delights it offers. It is truly a magical herb that transforms any dish it graces with its robust, complex flavors.

Sage’s flavor profile

Sage’s culinary uses are as varied as they are delicious. Its potent, slightly peppery taste, with subtle hints of mint, eucalyptus, and lemon, can enhance a wide range of dishes. Sage’s aromatic leaves are used both fresh and dried, with each form offering a unique flavor profile to the dish it is used in.

Sage in traditional Italian cuisine

In traditional Italian cuisine, sage is a star ingredient. Butter and sage sauce, or “burro e salvia,” is a classic Italian recipe where sage leaves are sautéed in butter until crispy and then used to dress pasta. The butter takes on the sage’s flavor, creating a rich, aromatic sauce that perfectly complements the pasta.

What is “sautéed”? “Sautéed” is a term used in cooking to describe a method of cooking food, particularly in a pan over high heat, with a small amount of oil or fat. The word “sauté” is French and it means “jumped” or “bounced,” referring to the action that the food takes in the pan.

Sage in meat and poultry dishes

This herb also pairs well with rich meats like pork and duck
This herb also pairs well with rich meats like pork and duck

Sage also pairs well with rich meats like pork and duck, cutting through the fat and adding a layer of complexity to the flavors. It’s also a popular addition to poultry stuffing, especially during festive seasons. The herb’s hearty flavor profile stands up well to long cooking times, allowing it to infuse the stuffing with its distinctive taste.

Sage in sweet recipes

It can also be used in sweet recipes
It can also be used in sweet recipes

But the culinary charms of sage aren’t limited to savory dishes. It can also be used in sweet recipes, where its unique flavor adds an unexpected twist. For example, sage-infused syrups or sugars can be used in desserts or cocktails for a herbaceous note.

Health benefits

In addition to its flavor, sage also offers potential health benefits. It’s a good source of vitamin K, and contains small amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and B6, along with calcium and iron. These nutritional benefits, coupled with its vibrant flavor, make it a valuable addition to any kitchen.

Whether you’re crafting a simple weeknight dinner or a festive holiday meal, sage can elevate your culinary creations to new heights. Its unique flavor, versatility, and potential health benefits make it a herb worth exploring in your cooking adventures. The culinary charms of sage, indeed, offer a flavorful journey that’s as enriching as it is delicious.

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A medicinal marvel: An exploration of therapeutic potential

Sage, with its rich, aromatic flavor, is not just a culinary delight. It’s a medicinal marvel, its use as a therapeutic agent spanning thousands of years and various cultures. From ancient Rome to the Middle Ages and even today, sage’s potential health benefits have continued to captivate us, sparking both traditional uses and modern scientific research.

What is Sage - Maybe you don't know (4)
Sage is a medicinal marvel, its use as a therapeutic agent spanning thousands of years

Historical uses for medical purposes

Historically, sage has been used for a wide array of medical purposes. The Romans and Greeks used it as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, and a styptic to stop bleeding. Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen, prominent physicians of ancient times, recommended sage as a hemostatic agent, an emmenagogue to stimulate menstruation, and a tonic to boost overall health.

S. salvatrix

In the Middle Ages, sage was sometimes referred to as S. salvatrix, or “sage the savior,” due to its perceived healing properties. This herb was believed to improve memory and quicken the senses, strengthen the sinews, restore health to those with palsy, and alleviate tremors. John Gerard’s Herball (1597) and Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615) attest to these uses.

Modern scientific validation of medicinal properties

While some of these historical uses might be based more on folklore than on evidence, modern science has begun to validate some of sage’s medicinal properties. It has been found to contain a variety of active compounds with potential antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. These compounds include rosmarinic acid, camphor, and various flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Potential health benefits

Research suggests that sage may help reduce blood glucose levels, making it potentially useful for managing diabetes. Other studies indicate that this herb might have cognitive-enhancing effects, supporting its historical use for improving memory and brain health.

It’s important to note that while these studies provide promising insights, more research is needed to fully understand sage’s therapeutic potential and how it can be best utilized in modern medicine. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment regimen.

The exploration of sage as a medicinal marvel underscores the plant’s remarkable versatility. From its flavorful contributions in the kitchen to its potential health benefits, sage truly is a wonder of the plant kingdom​.

The joy of growing

Cultivating sage at home can be a rewarding experience, offering not only a ready supply of this versatile herb but also the satisfaction of nurturing a plant from seed to maturity.

  • Sage is a hardy, perennial plant that thrives in well-draining soil and full sunlight. Its resilience to various climates and relatively low maintenance needs make it an ideal candidate for both novice and seasoned gardeners.
  • The visual allure of this herb is undeniable. Its grey-green leaves and beautiful purple flowers add a touch of charm to any garden. This ornamental appeal, coupled with its aromatic presence, makes sage a delightful addition to herb gardens, flower borders, or even as a standalone pot plant.
  • Beyond aesthetics, growing sage at home allows you to explore its culinary and medicinal uses firsthand. There’s a unique pleasure in harvesting your own leaves for a homemade recipe or a DIY herbal remedy.
  • Moreover, cultivating sage can provide a deeper connection to this herb’s rich history and symbolism. As you watch your plant grow, you partake in a tradition that spans cultures and centuries—a truly gratifying experience.

In essence, the joy of growing sage lies in its simplicity, versatility, and the rich connection it offers to the natural world.

What is Sage - Maybe you don't know (4)
Cultivating sage at home can be a rewarding experience

Harvesting and storing: Preserving the bounty

Harvesting and storing sage correctly is crucial to preserving its potent flavor and health benefits. With the right approach, you can enjoy your homegrown or store-bought sage all year round.


To harvest sage, simply snip off the leaves or stems with a pair of garden scissors. The best time to harvest is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets too hot. This is when the plant’s essential oils, which give sage its signature aroma and flavor, are at their peak.

After harvesting

After harvesting, sage can be used fresh or dried for later use. To dry it, bundle the stems together and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area. Once the leaves are completely dry, they can be stripped from the stems and stored.

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When it comes to storage, sage should be kept in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight and heat. Dried sage retains its flavor for about a year, after which it starts to lose its potency.

Harvesting and storing properly can extend the life of this aromatic herb, ensuring that you have a steady supply ready for your culinary exploits or therapeutic uses. It’s a simple process that can significantly enhance your life experience.

A sip of sage tea: A soothing experience

Sage tea, with its unique flavor and potential health benefits, offers a soothing experience. Steeping fresh or dried leaves in hot water releases a delightful aroma and imparts a warm, slightly peppery taste to the tea. Known for its calming properties, sage tea is often consumed for relaxation. Beyond its soothing qualities, this kind of tea also offers potential health benefits. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been explored in research, hinting at its potential as a beneficial herbal drink. A sip of sage tea is thus a blend of comfort, flavor, and wellness, making it a cherished part of many tea traditions.

The symbolism: More than just a herb

Sage carries profound symbolism in various cultures, transcending its tangible uses. In the realm of spirituality and folklore, it has been imbued with meanings that resonate with wisdom, protection, and purification.

In ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, sage was considered a sacred herb. The Romans referred to it as the “holy herb,” utilizing it in their religious rituals, a practice that reflected their deep reverence for the plant. Sage was believed to ward off evil, symbolizing protection and sanctity.

In native american cultures

In Native American cultures, sage is often used in smudging ceremonies, a ritual for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. The burning of sage is thought to dispel negative energy and promote healing and wisdom.

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In Native American cultures, sage is often used in smudging ceremonies

In the language of herbs

In the language of herbs, sage is symbolic of esteem and domestic virtue, often associated with longevity and good health. Its name, derived from the Latin word ‘salvare,’ means ‘to save,’ underscoring its historical connection to healing and protection.

This symbolism of sage enhances our appreciation for this herb. Beyond its culinary and medicinal uses, sage also serves as a powerful symbol, adding a spiritual dimension to its rich profile. Sage, indeed, is more than just a herb – it’s a symbol of wisdom, protection, and purification.

What is Sage - Maybe you don't know (4)
In the language of herbs, it is symbolic of esteem and domestic virtue

A lasting legacy of an herb extraordinaire

As we conclude our exploration of sage, it’s clear that this herb is more than just a simple plant. Its influence spans from the culinary world to the realm of medicine, from garden delights to spiritual practices.

Sage is a testament to the wisdom of nature, offering us not only a versatile ingredient for our recipes, but also a potential wellspring of health benefits, a symbol of protection and wisdom, and a beautiful addition to our gardens. Its story is a rich tapestry woven through centuries and across cultures, underscoring the interconnectedness of nature and human life.

As you sip your sage tea or sprinkle sage in your favorite dish, remember the remarkable journey of this herb, and may it inspire you to explore further the endless wonders that nature has to offer.

Where to buy

Experience the cleansing and healing power of sage with Sagesmudge store! Discover a wide selection of high-quality sage products, meticulously sourced and crafted to elevate your spiritual practices and well-being. From traditional sage bundles to sacred smudging kits and other aromatic offerings, our store offers the tools you need to create a sacred space and invite positive energy into your life. Embrace the ancient wisdom and sacred traditions of sage smudging today. Visit Sagesmudge store and start your journey towards purification and spiritual renewal!

Here’s to sage – an herb extraordinaire, a medicinal marvel, and a culinary delight!

Author Linh Vu
Linh Vu

“Herbs are the friend of the physician and the pride of cooks.” ~ Charlemagne.