Herb of the month: Sage

Last update: 14.06.17 First posted: 12.06.17 by in

Sage might not be the first herb you think of for summertime, but June and July are the best months to harvest its strong-scented, silvery leaves. Right now, sage is growing with abundance in the Apothecary Garden, attracting beautiful little mint moths (pyrausta aurata) to sit on its leaves.

Mint moth on sage

Pick a good bunch of the leaves now, before the plants start to flower, and spread them out to dry on kitchen towel or a clean, dry tray: you will have a stock of the herb which will last you through the year and taste far better than anything you can buy in a small jar from the supermarket!

Sage leaves drying

Most people know sage for its delicious savoury flavour: great in stuffing, or tossed with fresh pasta and butter. The herbalist Maud Grieve, writing in 1931, described how “country people” in her time used to eat the fresh leaves with bread and butter: “there is no better and more wholesome way of taking it.” Like many culinary herbs, sage is a carminative, aiding digestion and helping to relieve bloating and wind after heavy meals. Including it as an ingredient when cooking is an excellent way to “let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food” – as Hippocrates recommended.

But aside from its culinary uses, sage is one of the most useful healing herbs around. Even its botanical name, salvia officinalis, refers to its healing properties: salvia from the Latin ‘salvere,’ to be in good health, and officinalis from the ’officina,’ the traditional medical storeroom of a monastery. The essential oil rich leaves are antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It will check excessive perspiration, and is very helpful for women who experience hot flushes and night sweats as their body goes through the changes of the menopause. It also acts as an emmenagogue, helping to regulate menstruation and alleviate pain.

Sage is my favourite remedy to help cure sore throats. Next time you find yourself suffering from a mild throat infection or a cold, try this simple kitchen remedy and see if it works for you: take a small handful of fresh sage, or a teaspoonful of dried sage, and place it in a cup, fill the cup with boiling water and cover to keep the volatile essential oils in the infusion, then remove the cover after 5 minutes, strain the liquid and mix with honey to taste. You can now drink your sage infusion as a tea, or leave it to cool and use it as a gargle.

For anyone who is trying to give up caffeine, a cup of sage tea is a great way to start the day. Recent placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated improved memory, attention, alertness and mood following single doses of sage extract, and its effect on cognitive performance is comparable to the effect of the caffeine found in coffee. As John Gerard wrote in 1597, “sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory”.

Sage in the Apothecary Garden

Please be aware, though, that you should avoid consuming too much sage when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sources:
Lawless, J. – Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils
Grieve, M. – A Modern Herbal
Kennedy and Whiteman – ‘Herbal Extracts and Phytochemicals: Plant Secondary Metabolites and the Enhancement of Human Brain Function’ – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042794/

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