How many times have you wanted to sage away your problems, bad juju-related or not? I’m right there with you. After all, Salvia, sage’s genus name, is derived from salvere, the Latin word meaning “to heal” or “to save.” From the Egyptians, to the Romans, to the Greeks, to Indigenous cultures, the aromatic herb has a far-back history touting medicinal and spiritual benefits.
While there are hundreds of sage species, you’re likely aware of commonly used white sage (Salvia apiana) and culinary sage (Salvia officinalis). Oh, and you might’ve heard of diviner’s sage (Salvia divinorum), a variety with hallucinogenic properties.
From cleansing energy to healing ailments, herbalists maintain sage is worth a place in your feel-good arsenal of natural remedies. “Garden sage, just regular old culinary sage, has been used historically for anxiety and depression, colds, digestive complaints, and more,” says Sarah Corbett, clinical herbalist at Rowan + Sage. “It’s a lovely hot, pungent, warming herb.”
What are the benefits of sage?
One teaspoon of ground sage contains 10 percent of the daily value of vitamin K, which helps assist our bodies with bone health and blood clotting. The herb also reaps small amounts of other nutrients like magnesium and vitamin A. And that’s just the beginning.
1. Sage is packed with antioxidants
The fuzzy leaves are stacked with antioxidants that boast anti-inflammatory properties and help protect against free radicals. Herbs in the mint family, like sage and rosemary, include antioxidant powerhouses carnosic and rosmarinic acids. These specific polyphenols may even contain anti-cancer and memory-boosting properties.
2. Sage has antimicrobial properties
Historically, people have used sage internally and topically as a cleansing herb. “Sage is generally seen to be highly aromatic, and therefore rich in antimicrobial compounds,” Corbett says. That’s thanks to its volatile oil content, she says, which early research supports. Research also suggests sage essential oil can be an effective disinfectant against airborne microorganisms, can banish body odor when used as a deodorant, and can treat wounds and skin infections caused by staphylococcus.
3. Sage can boost cognition
“I use sage sometimes with clients who have a very damp constitution, an herbal term for people who tend to be sluggish and have low cognition,” Corbett says. “Its heating, drying element can also help with improving memory.” From smelling its essential oil and experiencing an improved mood and reduced anxiety, sage can be just what the doctor (herbalist) ordered.
4. Sage can help with digestive complaints
Good news for your gut, says Corbett. Research reveals sage extract might be able to help curb diarrhea, so you can leave the Pepto Bismol in your medicine cabinet this time around.
5. Sage might have added benefits for women
In traditional medicine, people use sage as a natural way to quell hot flashes during menopause. For the new mommas, sage can be helpful if you’re trying to wean off breastfeeding or are producing too much milk, although its effectiveness is more anecdotal, so take with a grain of salt (not literally). “Its drying, stringent quality can help to dry up breast milk,” Corbett says.
Why do people burn sage?
The centuries-old practice of burning herbs in ceremonies and rituals has gained new life in our wellness culture—especially sage. But before you DIY a bundle to try cleansing negative energy an ex left wafting through your apartment, here’s something to consider.
Native American cultures have long burned white sage, a sacred smudging tradition Corbett says people have latched onto despite red flags of cultural appropriation and overharvesting. White sage is an endangered plant that only grows in certain parts of North America, and Corbett warns much of the white sage bundles aren’t sustainably sourced. “Fumigation for medicine and spiritual healing is not just a Native American thing, but using white sage is,” she says. “This specific tradition of ‘smudging’ that we know today is a Native American right.”
That said, you can totally burn regular garden sage you grow on your windowsill or find at the grocery store and still reap the fresh air perks of smoke medicine. “You can burn aromatic herbs to potentially cleanse air of bacterial pathogens,” Corbett says. “We only have a few studies on that, but it’s been used this way for hundreds of years.”
Beyond literally fumigating your space (don’t forget to open the windows), you can turn burning sage into a ritual all your own. As you clear the air and walk through your home, embrace your intentions and mindfulness. The earthy aroma not just smells divine, but can help you relax and introduce a fresh start to a stale space. “We know people have been looking to plants for spiritual connection and healing,” Corbett says. “Burning herbs that have an aromatic or pleasant scent is one way we facilitate that connection.”
How to consume sage
To make sage tea, or “thinker’s tea” as it’s called in a nod to its wisdom-boosting attributes, Corbett recommends adding two teaspoons of sage to eight to ten ounces of hot water and steep for 15 minutes. Don’t let the bitter sips scare you off, as a warm mug of sage tea does wonders for a sore throat and may help to lower cholesterol. As sage contains thujone, a compound that is toxic in large amounts, avoid drinking sage tea all day, every day.
Now to the kitchen. Sage adds an earthy and pungent flavor to savory dishes, from fall-evoking butternut squash soup, a warm salad reminiscent of Thanksgiving, to a brown butter and sage sauce fit to douse on nearly anything. Corbett gives a shout to incorporating the herb in a breakfast sweet potato hash. And that’s some sage advice.
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