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Sage as a Plant Teacher

Updated: Oct 16, 2021



Salvia officinalis - The Saviour Sage

Salvia is named after the Latin word, salvus, meaning wellness, and officinalis denoting a medicinal & culinary herb. Salvia officinalis is the common garden sage, and has a rich documented use throughout our ancient European history. It was once known as Salvia salvatrix, meaning the Saviour Sage, and this herb has a rich history as a natural herbal medicine.

Common Names

- Sage: meaning Salvus - wellness or Salvere - to save

- Save: To keep and store safe

- Herbe sacree: Sacred herb

- Sauge: French for sage

- Salbei: German for garden sage

- Lilifagus: Norse for 3 lobed sage

- Asfaqs: Arabic For compassion


Salvia’s history of use is literally biblical, being an agent of herbal medicine even in stories of Joseph, Mary & Jesus, some 2000 years ago. It seems that wherever you are at in life, it might be a little healthier and longer with the presence of some form of Salvia plant alongside you. Sages worldwide can often be used ubiquitously for culinary, spiritually & ritualistic purposes, though alter medicinally in components especially when it comes to the artemisias. Ancient France once grew crops of sage for trade with Chinese teas at 4 pounds of tea for 1 pound of sage. It was featured in old Roman pharmacopoeias as a healing herb, and many rulers across England & Europe sanctioned the mandatory cultivation of sage in royal gardens. Sage also has a history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.

“Dioscorides (a Greek physician) maketh but one kind of Sage, but… now are there found more kinds, the which, though they differ one from another much in roughness and smoothness, in greatness and smallness, and in diversity of colours, yet in my judgement do agree in one virtue and property.” ~ William Turner (1551)

Distribution & Physiology

Sage is a Mediterranean plant at heart, growing from the lands of Italy & the Middle East by birth, and now cultivated throughout the world as the most common sage. By the hands of Romans or monks from the Middle Ages carried as food, ornaments and medicine, it has naturalised in southern & central Europe, thriving in a climate that is dry and cool. This Salvia will not grow readily in wet or clay ridden soil, preferring the full sun of temperate conditions with low humidity. If these conditions are met, you will be blessed to witness a small shrub of around 60cm with oblong leaves rich in volatile and pungent oils. The leaves don a fine white pubescence, giving the leaf a silvery blue appearance. The flowers are delicate and small, as is the way of the Lamiaceae, former Labiatae.

Lamiaceae : Mint family : Labiatae

The mint family has perhaps the largest amount of medicinal herbs. It has over 150 genus’ and 3500 species in the world. To ID a Lamiaceae you are looking for a square stalk and simple opposite leaves. If it’s aromatic, it’s almost surely mint family (stinging nettle & lemon verbena can be confused for the mint family however so watch out. If the plant is in flower, you will be looking at a pattern of 5 united petals; lobed 2 up 3 down; embraced by a whorl of 5 united sepals (leaf like protective enclosure for the petals); 4 stamens inside the flower; 2 longer than the others. Some of the other Lamiaceae herbs are the basil, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, thyme, and mints. They are generally rich in volatile oils which mean they are spicy & stimulating > warm the body, open the pores, promote sweating!

Sage in full flower

Doctrine of Signatures

The energetic architecture of the universe is a language communicating the individuated being within the cosmic Self. When it comes to herbal medicine, over the lifetimes, an association between the valid knowledge of the natural world has been interpreted by our ancestors into a translation of its use. It is a way to "acquaint all sorts of people with the very Pith and Marrow of Herbarism” (William Coles). The way that a plant looks can tell us about the disease or organ or even type of person it is a medicine for. “The idea is that the shape, colour, appearance, environmental niche, taste, smell, etc., of a plant or medicinal agent will display the tell-tale signs, marks, or configurations indicating how that agent may be used in medicine.” (Matthew Wood).

Let’s start with with habitat; the environment is functional medicine. Sage grows in full sun, so it will bring dryness and warmth to the body. It likes to dry out before watering. This means it is a herb for treating dryness and working with the liquid balance. It doesn’t grow just anywhere, and is a little picky with it’s conditions, so it isn’t for everyday herbal use. The colour of sage is silvery white; white is a very purifying colour. The texture is a coating of sticky, fine hairs on its leaf. This can speak to the treatment of hair itself such as the skin or places in the body with fine hair-like structures, like the lungs and digestive tract. The stickiness suggests it will unstick clots in the body. Let’s look at it’s smell. Aroma and is one of the first impressions we experience of our environment. Aromatic & pungent, which is also how sage tastes. Aromatics can deeply penetrate, and suggest a downward flow on fluids. They are also purifying, and move wind (gas). The active principles of most aromatic herbs are highly antiseptic or germicidal and contain valuable antibiotic principles. This taste will stimulate the liver as a natural medicine.

Planetary Influences

All plants have a connection with the planets. The etymology of the word plant comes from plantare - ‘to drive with the feet’ or perhaps from planta - ‘sole of the foot’. Planet derives from the Latin term planeta ‘to wander’. Together, a wandering sole of the foot. And they both share the same root word pele - ‘to spread’. Using the system of the zodiacs and planets is a way of understanding the energetics of a plant, and when used in synergy with astrological timings, can enhance the effects of the herbal medicine. These astrological herbal medicine systems date back into ancient Egypt and beyond, a time when the bodies of stars, our and bodies, were not seem so separately. Officinalis is said to be under the rulings of Jupiter and the Moon. Lunar herbs can have a connection with night time, dreaming, intuition, spirits and the colours white or silver. The moon rules fluids in the body of animals, plants, and even our planet. Fluids are always wandering in circulation, and in the body are excreted as saliva, sweat, reproductive fluids, and urine. Jupiter is expansive and amplifies energy, giving off more than it receives. Herbs under its guidance support prosperity, good fortune and longevity. Together we see a picture of a natural medicinal herb working with the cleansing of emotions, builds spiritual energy, is involved in the movement of fluids, and essentially a longevity tonic.


The magickal properties of sage translate across most all salvias. Not only is sage thought to extend the life (what is more magickal than this!?) but a cleansing & purifying aroma diffuses from its leaves. When burnt as smudge, this cleanses the energetic body from density, bad luck, sickness, and evil spirits. Sacred white sage is said to activate old memories in the DNA and bring them forward for ancestral healing. However Salvia apiana is severely endangered in the wild, and common sage or other local dried aromatic salvias can be used in place. The protective qualities of sage mean it can be a plant used for offerings in fire ceremonies, on altar spaces and incorporated into spell casting.

A prosperity ritual: Take 3 sage leaves from a fresh bush, close down your eyes, and imagine your life with greater abundance, greater giving and generosity. Then say.. “Sage imbue me with your power, draw prosperity and abundance to me at all hours. So Mote It Be” … placing the sage leaves inside your purse or wallet and carry it around with you for 3 days. Offer these leaves back to the garden, or burn then offering gratitude back to the plant spirit.


- Pungent : uplifting, cleansing & breaking up of canker

- Bitter : acts on the digestive organs (liver & gallbladder), detoxifying in large doses, nourishing in small

- Astringent : drying fluids, knitting tissues together where it has been opened

- Oily : nutritive food for cells, works on digestion

- Slightly warming : stimulating & uplifting

This makes Sage is acting on the tissues states of relaxation (no tone - fluids can’t be held in) , atrophy (wasting), and depression (cold & slow).


Fixed and volatile oils (thujone, camphor & eucalyptol), tannins, bitters, resin, vitamin K (very high), vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese.

Actions & Uses

“Sage is good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have palsy, and taketh away shakey tremblings of members.” ~ Gerard’s Herbal (1597)

The main organ systems sage works on are the nervous, immune, digestive and respiratory systems. Sage regulates essentially all fluids in the body. Something that should be noted however is that the properties of sage do change with the way it is prepared.

- A hot tea - enhances the aromatics & warning stimulation to internal secretions

- A cool tea - decreases secretions in the body such as those of lactation, sweating, salivation, and mucous in the throat & lungs

- A luke-warm tea - enhances the astringency & bacteriostatic nature (stops bacteria growing), making it ideal for treating a sore throat


Sage makes a wise elder. It improves mood & cognition in animals, humans & even those with dementia. Parts of the essential oil inhibit acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme targeted by Alzheimer's drugs. Notably sage has been used to clear and sharpen the mind when there is mental lethargy, or poor memory. It would be very appropriate to use sage when there is a head cold alongside a flu or fever.

Immune system

Sage inhibits the growth of certain harmful bacteria. An echinacea & sage spray at 15% strength reduces a sore throat within 2 hours for those with pharyngitis, which makes it as successful as sprays containing lidocaine or chlorhexidine, some pharmaceutical alternatives. It is active against Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae - all UTI’s - as well as Staphylococcus aureus - making it especially useful in infectious diseases. It can be used as a douche for vaginal candida infections, otherwise internally as teas & tinctures. As a smudge it protects against infections. Sage essential oil is somewhat antiviral against influenza, and effectively used through a herbal medicine inhalant to thin the mucous and improve air flow. Tincture of sage can be used for treating an ear infection internally as 30 drops hourly. Sage can be incorporated into a cream for the topical treatment of the herpes virus’ as it is somewhat active against Herpes Simplex 1 & 2.

Integumentary system (skin) & Musculoskeletal

Sage benefits the skin and promotes tissue repair when there are wounds, bites, sore muscles or chronic infections as a natural medicine healer. This plant has the ability to strengthen sinews, skin and tendons. It does this through building fat whilst reducing the loss of fluids. So someone with tight or malnourished tendons would benefit from sage. Sage is indicated for withered and dry skin. Sage dries up secretions, thus is can aid in stopping excess sweating (also lactation & menstruation thus is not indicated during pregnancy or breastfeeding). German health authorities endorse sage as a treatment for sweating with weak oestrogenic properties useful for menopausal women with night sweats & hot flushes. Sage is known to help grow hair when there is sparsity, with a doctrine of signatures for white fine hair on the leaves. It can also treat dandruff, so a hair rinse is very appropriate.

Digestive system

Digestion starts in the mouth, and sage shines in throat sprays, lozenges, and through oral use. It can help treat red inflamed gums and sore throats as well as excess salivation. Sage’s antibacterial properties justify its use within gastroenteritis treatments or minor GI infections. Separate to the work on bacteria, it can reduce intestinal cramping and stimulate digestive enzymes through its action on the gallbladder, even mopping up phlegm in the gut. It is indicated for weak digestion, sluggish appetite, bloating, issues of the mucosa lining, parasites and chronic diarrhoea. When it comes to cooking, it can be combined with beans to help reduce any gassy side effects. Cooking sage renders the fats in food to be more digestible due to the bitters & oils. These flavours stimulate the gallbladder to increase bile production and actually digest fast. This also stimulates the metabolism to move things through the bowel, up-taking more fats from the churning chyme and ultimately improve lipid levels in the body all the way to the cells. This then benefits hormones and steroids in the body both in production & transportation. What a full power natural medicine!

Cardiovascular (heart) & Circulatory system

Sage is a key tonic herb for building qi in the blood. It tonifies the blood, building strength internally. When the veins are blue or black and the extremities are cold, then sage can be helpful. It moves blood stagnation and warms & stimulates a depressed state. This means it can remove coagulation in the blood or clotting by thinning the blood, this improves the function of the heart. Again we see this pattern of moving stagnation but it does so here incrementally and therefore not risking stroke by releasing large clots. Sage is indicated for weak vein health, in line with the dry malnourished pattern we see repeating. It can also raise blood pressure naturally.

Nervous system

A randomised double blind trial of 36 people with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) showed that a mix of astragalus and salvia root significantly decreased fatigue scores. It can be used to treat nervous tension, like that in epilepsy or tremors and for insomnia before bed as a cup of tea but this is in a homeopathic style dosing without much repetition as prolonged used can cause the same symptoms. For some people it can cause excitation however. As Matthew Wood explains, “Sage can preserve the nervous system when it is under profound assault by viral, bacterial and febrile diseases.” If an illness is accompanied with drowsiness and lethargy, it is indicated.

Respiratory system

Sage is commonly seen in protocols for the ENT (ear-nose-throat), especially when symptoms also descend into the lungs. It promotes expectoration and resolves phlegm in the lungs. This combines its antimicrobial actions, with its anti-inflammatory actions. A sore throat that is dry & ticklish would be an indication for sage, especially with mucous not moving out of the lungs. There may be a dry, unproductive cough. At this point, there have been 6 identified anti-inflammatory compounds in sage, which may make it a useful herb in the treatment of asthma - opening the alveoli, thinning any mucous present, and improving air flow. It would also be useful when there is upper chest aches and pains alongside a respiratory condition.

Kidneys & Bladder

As it astringes tissue to not lose fluids, it can be used when there is increased urine secretion and when there are UTIs as a natural medicine.

Endocrine (hormonal) systems

Sage can restore function of the adrenal cortex which cascades into hormonal axis’. It can treat uterine blood deficiency and bring balance to delayed or scanty periods with cramping. Sage can balance out both excess and depleted sexual desire in both men and women. For women, especially useful when there is dryness in her sexual organs or too much spotting of white discharge. It can be used to dry up breast milk when a mother is ready to stop lactating, the same reason why it is not appropriate during breastfeeding. It may even be useful in treating breast cysts (think cankor, fluid, inflammation). For a man, if he too easily ejaculates, a pattern of leaking fluids, then sage can be used to strengthen the tissues from loss of fluids. Sage is especially great for post-menopausal women transitioning function away from the ovaries; look for an accompaniment of dryness.


Sage ale was a principle brew of beer in the Middle Ages and considered a way to sophisticate beer, being wholesome and medicinal. It is pleasant tasting although quite bitter and especially inebriating. All aerials of the plant are used to amplify these effects including seeds & flowers, allowing an effect of insane exhilaration of spirits, followed up by a severe headache. This is likely due to the thujone content, a volatile oil also found in wormwood used to brew absinthe.


Tincture fresh in flower: 1:2 or dry 1:5 50% ethanol. 30-60 drops/day.

Dry herb: 1-3g infused in water 3 times a day


It is not recommend to dose for more than 3 weeks as it can be too drying a herbal medicine, and take breaks every 5 days due to the thujone content. Not to be used at all when breastfeeding unless it is desirable to dry up the milk. As it is stimulating, it can cause too much excitation in some people especially if in an activated state of fever or with epilepsy (nervous excitation). Caution also during pregnancy to not be used. It can help morning sickness, and can prevent early delivery of the baby but must be used under guidance, other texts say it can bring on labour so it is not recommended.

The Sage Person

A heavy headed character, who is dull and low in their spirits. If not feeble children or the elderly with greying or thinning hair, they might just be malnourished and lacking robustness. They would be prone to respiratory and throat infections, perhaps they have a dry cough that lingers and their voice may be quiet and suppressed. They have a weak immunity going on. They are likely clammy to the touch and sweat easily, although their skin could be soft or dry. Their hands and feet perspire and are cold to the touch. Their tendons might be notably weak, tight and dry or perhaps not even visible. Their digestive fire is weak, and they are prone to wind tension in the form of gas or bloating. Their personalities are watery and sensitive, of the phlegmatic and melancholic humour.

In The Garden

“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”

~ Old Proverb

Sage is being used in bioremediation or phytoremediation, meaning the healing of the soil with plants as medicine. Both clary sage (S. sclarea) and common sage (S. officinalis) are accumulators of heavy metals, with significant tolerance to the ions of lead, zinc, cadmium and copper and may be useful in reclaiming heavy metal build up from the soil around smelting plants. Sage will attract pollinator bees which can be great for a garden.


Sage Gargle : 2 teaspoon dry sage, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cup of water - bring to the boil, add herbs, steep for 15 minutes, gargle every hour all day without swallowing.

Sage Honey : 1/4 cup dry sage, 200ml honey. Gently heart honey in a saucepan and add sage, stirring for 10 minutes. Pour into a jar and let it sit for 2 to 3 weeks. Scoop out of the jar and reheat to liquify and strain sage out with a fine mesh. Store in a dark cupboard for 1 year. Use 1 tsp. honey in 1 cup hot water with fresh lemon, or straight off the spoon. Externally, apply a thin layer to wounds before gauzing and bandaging & change daily.

Decoction for flus : 28g dry sage, a pinch cayenne, 3 cups water, one lemon juice, honey to taste. Bring herbs & water to boil and reduce liquid by half. Add honey & lemon & store in fridge, drinking as often as required.

Respiratory Steam : 56g dry eucalyptus leaf, 28g dry sage, 28g dry juniper berries, 4L water. Boil herbs in the water, remove from heat and steam face with a towel to cover. Breathe steam. Repeat as many times as necessary until there is little smell left. Can replace the herbs with 30 drops of each essential oil or use the liquid lukewarm as a wound wash.

Sage Vinegar : 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 heaped handful fresh sage leaves or 2 tbsp. dried, 2 cups water boiled. Pack a bowl full of sage (shredded if fresh) and cover in boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes, strain and pour into vinegar jar.


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