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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.