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Some Thoughts on Salvias:
"For use and delight"

By Mary Ober
Potomac Unit, The Herb Society of America

Salvias for Use

"In these times of fashionable rages
Let us honor enduring sages.
Known to cure, to mend, to ease;
Companion to cooks; splendid teas."
—Andy Doty

Native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, sage has been cultivated for centuries. Dioscorides described many medicinal uses for Elelisphakon (his name for sage) as well as recommending it for dyeing the hair black. The botanical name Salvia is derived from the Latin salvere, meaning to be in good health, and was first used by Pliny, the Roman scientist and historian, in his Natural History. The 17th Century herbalist Gerard said "sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members."

Sage was important to the Colonists as a cure for failing memory, nervousness, indigestion, consumption and worms. In folk medicine sage was used for many ailments including inflammation of the mouth and throat. Sage's constituents, primarily volatile oils and tannin, make it useful in treating these conditions. Another folk use, to suppress perspiration, has been confirmed by repeated experiments.

Sage tea has long been popular as an herbal tea, either alone or combined with other herbs. Mrs. M. Grieve provides a recipe for Sage Tea, "a pleasant drink, cooling in fevers and also a cleanser and purifier of the blood. Take half an ounce of fresh sage leaves, 1 oz. sugar, the juice of one lemon or 1/4 oz. grated rind and infuse in a quart of boiling water. Strain after one hour."

Today we depend on sage to season our turkey stuffing and to flavor sausage, breads, and cheeses.

Several cultivars of Salvia officinalis provide ornamental interest in the garden and the leaves may be used in the same ways as Salvia officinalis:

  • 'Berggarten' with large rounded leaves
  • 'Purpurascens' with purplish red leaves
  • 'Tricolor' with grey/green, yellow and rose leaves
  • 'Icterina' with green and gold leaves
  • 'Albiflora' with white flowers

Salvia officinalis is a hardy, low, semi-evergreen shrub, propagated by seed, division or cuttings. Other species are perennial, biennial or annual and are native throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the world. Most are fragrant and many have healing properties. The diversity of flower color is amazing, with brilliant reds and blues, all shades of violet as well as yellow and white.

This English proverb reflects a belief of many through the ages:

"He who would live for aye
Must eat sage in May."

In the National Herb Garden, Salvia officinalis is found in the Beverage, Culinary, Dioscorides, Industrial and Medicinal Gardens. >>

Page 1 Salvias for Use
Page 2 Salvias for Delight: Annuals and Bedding Plants
Page 3 Salvias for Delight: Perennials
Page 4 Salvias for Delight: Tender Perennials
Page 5 Source Books and Further Reading; Plant and Seed Sources

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