The botanical name given to sage comes from the Latin ‘salvere’ meaning to be well and refers to the healing properties of the herb. Sage was widely used to steady the nerves and was said to sharpen the wit and the brain.
Common sage, salvia officinalis, is a well-known, strong-smelling evergreen shrub which grows 1-2 ft (30-61 cm) high. The narrow pointed leaves are a dull greyish-green and have a rough wrinkled texture. The attractive pale violet-coloured flowers bloom in August, growing on long spikes which stand out above the foliage. It makes an attractive small shrub in the border and if kept cut back can be used as an edging plant. Other varieties of sage are the broad-leaved and the purple- or red-leaved sage. Less familiar are the golden-leaved sage and the pretty tricolour with leaves of white, purple and green, but all the varieties have the same properties and can be used in the home in similar ways.
In the kitchen, sage is perhaps best known in sage and onion stuffing, used with pork and rich poultry such as duck and goose. Sage can be added to soups and meat casseroles and put in the water when poaching fish. It is also used for flavouring cheese and bread. Sage jelly makes a delicious accompaniment when served with cold meats. A fresh leaf gives a good flavour when added to apple juice and other fruit cups and summer drinks. Sage has a warm, strong taste, so needs to be used lightly in any dish, otherwise it will dominate other flavours.
Sage, grown in ordinary garden soil, likes a dry sunny spot in the border, preferably in light soil in a sheltered position. Plant sage in the spring and, once established, remove the tops of the shoots to encourage bushy growth. It should be pruned back in October after flowering. Sage is propagated mainly by cuttings taken in the spring; they should be kept well watered in a dry spell during the first season. It can also be grown from seeds sown in March under glass and transplanted in May into their flowering position, setting the plants 12 in (30 cm) apart. After four or five years sage plants should be renewed.
Sage leaves for drying can be picked at any time during the growing season but always before the plant begins to flower. They are then dried and stored in the usual way.
Sage helps in the digestion of rich foods and heavy meals and can be taken in the form of sage tea after a meal. It should not be taken internally on a regular basis for longer than two or three weeks as the stimulating effect may prove to be too strong and produce giddiness or sickness. Sage tea is helpful for those going through the menopause who are subject to hot flushes (flashes) and night sweats. It reduces and prevents excessive perspiration. A small glassful can be taken two hours before going to bed.
* To make sage tea: Pour 1 cupful of boiling water on to a small handful of chopped sage leaves. Leave it
to infuse for 5 minutes then strain and sweeten with honey to taste.
You can make another, delicious, sage tea: Pour 4 cups of boiling water on to a large handful of chopped sage, 3 tablespoons of sugar and the grated rind of a lemon. Leave to stand for 30 minutes before straining. A small glassful of warm sage tea will help to soothe a nervous headache.
A cup of sage milk can be very effective in helping to ward off a cold.
* To make sage milk: Pour a teacupful of boiling milk on to 2-3 whole sage leaves and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Strain and drink hot at the first symptoms.
Sage is used in the form of an infusion as a mouthwash for infections and inflammations of the mouth, bleeding gums and to regulate the flow of saliva. As a gargle it is an effective remedy for a sore and inflamed throat, tonsillitis and laryngitis.
* To make the gargle: Pour ½ cup of malt vinegar and ½ cup of water on to a handful of fresh chopped sage leaves in an enamel pan with 2 teaspoons of honey. Bring the mixture slowly to the boil and simmer for 5— 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain carefully into a jug. Gargle with the warm mixture when required.
A decoction of sage can equally well be used as a gargle for throat infections.
* To make a decoction: Pour 2 cups of water on to a handful of chopped sage leaves in an enamel pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for a further 10 minutes. Strain and use the hot decoction to gargle until relief is obtained.
A strong decoction of sage leaves used in the form of a compress, or used to bathe the affected part, will help to heal cuts, scratches and abrasions, eczema and virulent spots.
* An instant remedy for insect bites is to apply well crushed fresh sage leaves to the bite to reduce the pain and irritation.
Sage embrocation is helpful for easing muscular pain, for rheumatism, sciatica and for loosening stiff and painful joints.
* To make an embrocation: Melt 2 heaped tablespoons of pure lard or shortening in an enamel pan. Add 1 heaped tablespoon of chopped herb and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain carefully through muslin or cheesecloth into small stoppered pots. Cover when cold.
* Dried ground sage leaves can be put in a muslin or cheesecloth bag and held under the nose to clear a stuffy cold in the head.
Sage is used in many beauty care products, in creams and toothpastes, in hair lotions and shampoos. Oil of sage can be purchased from some chemists (pharmacies) and specialist herb shops.
Sage is a good hair tonic and the infusion, used as a hair lotion, can be rubbed on to the scalp every other day to ensure healthy shining hair. It is particularly good for dark hair, strengthening the hair and deepening the natural colour.
* To make the infusion: Pour a cupful of boiling water on to I½ tablespoons of fresh crushed leaves. Leave to stand for 15 minutes then strain into screwtop bottles. Keep in a cool place and use within a few days. After shampooing the hair and rinsing in plenty of plain water, use warm sage infusion and rinse through the hair several times to leave the hair soft and shining.
For large pores, use the cooled infusion as a face lotion and compress. Dip pieces of lint into the lotion and place over the skin, pressing lightly. Relax for 10 minutes then remove the compress and wipe the face with cold water. The lotion can be used daily dabbed on to the large pores with a piece of cotton wool, and left to dry.
A face pack using sage will also help to shrink large pores and can be used on younger and oily skin.
* To make a face pack: Add a little strong infusion to a mixture of yoghurt and honey and mix to a thick paste with some Fuller’s earth or fine oatmeal. Cleanse the face thoroughly and smooth the pack over the skin, avoiding eyes and mouth, Use cold water compresses over the eyes. Lie down and relax for 10-15 minutes. Wash the face pack off with warm water and finish by splashing the skin with cold water.
For the older or very fair skin a warm sunflower or almond oil face compress will help against a tendency to dryness.
* To make a compress: Use lint soaked in the warm oil and cover the face, avoiding the eyes and mouth. After 10 minutes remove the lint and carefully wipe the face. Finish with a compress of warm sage infusion. Remove the compress when it is cold and finally splash the face with cold water. The sage compress will help to refresh the skin and shrink large pores without making the skin too dry.
Sage cream is a useful remedy for distressing cold sores which occur on or near the mouth.
* To make sage cream: Melt together 3 tablespoons of almond oil and 3 teaspoons of beeswax. Stir in 1½ tablespoons of oil of sage and beat together until the mixture is cold. Pour into small screwtop pots and store in a cool place. This cream will also help to soothe chapped lips.
Apart from its culinary value in flavouring strong meats and game the medicinal properties of sage cover a wide range of ailments. As a drink sage tea and ale were popular during the Middle Ages and sage leaves were eaten with bread and butter.