The Benefits of Sage

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

Have you ever ventured out in the local mountains and brushed along certain plants and smelled the earthy fragrance? What about while preparing to eat a meal you endure the aroma that is wholesome. You may even have seen or bought these popular plants at your favorite nursery (Green Thumb) or garden center. Even grocery stores or pharmacies supply these herbal supplements. These aromatic Sages are commonly used as a beautiful landscaping plant and many varieties are used for seasoning foods and have tremendous health benefits. Many of you already know what it smells like but have you ever wondered what is the secret behind what you are actually inhaling, why are they important, and why is Sage so useful? Sages have a multitude of uses not only for culinary, herbal, and medicinal uses but they are a stunning garden plant that beautifies your landscape, provides food for pollinating insects, and flower for an extended period of time. Some Sages can bloom almost year round especially if you live in the moderated coast range. Many can take high summer heat, low water once established, and some varieties tolerate poor soil.

Salvia comprises about 900 species, spread throughout the world, some of which have great economic value since they are used as spices and flavoring agents by perfumery and cosmetic industries. They were also used for centuries in folk medicine as medication against fever, rheumatism, perspiration, sexual debility, and in the treatment of chronic bronchitis, as well as mental and nervous diseases. Some Sages are used to manage pain and anxiety. You can even use Sage just like Vicks Vapo Rub. The word Salvia is derived from the Latin verb salvare which means to save or cure. Whether you use the name Salvia or Sage, they are both used interchangeable.

Many plants comprise of different essential oils and are produced in various parts of the plant such as in the flower, seeds, bark, root, leaves, or wood and can be responsible for the distinctive smell or flavor of the species. Among the plants notable for their essential oils and used as a source of health benefits, fragrances and flavorings are: dill, ginger, orchid (vanilla), and pepper but today I want to focus on, Sage.

The chemicals inside the leaves and stems of Sage are made of different essential oils or monoterpines and other substances which makes these special plants so unique to your sniffer. There are so many Sages in the world and each one contains differing amounts of these chemicals. The two most common oils are Camphor and Eucalyptol also known as cineole (are found in Eucalyptus). Through the years studies and scientific findings have found that many Sages that have these oils are equipped with powerful antioxidants. Popular Sages like the California native White Sage (Salvia apiana), Garden Sage ( Salvia Officinalis) and its cultivars like ’Bergamot’ have been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. Some Sages especially Garden Sage are also recognized for the use of spices, other natural seasonings and flavorings. The antioxidant activities make them useful as natural preservatives in food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. If you ever wonder why people use Sage in turkey stuffing during Thanksgiving it is because of its antibacterial, antifungal, and preservative properties. Sage is largely used as a savory food flavoring either as dried leaves or essential oil. The properties of the oil also make Garden Sage very promising as a source of botanical insecticides, in-fact some insecticides Green Thumb carries contain these oils.

The genus Salvia (Sage) , is the largest member of Lamiacea or Mint family of plants. Popular and well known members of the Mint family include Basil, Lavender, Thyme, Rosemary and of course Mint and all these plants have similar properties as Sage containing oils and other substances that make them useful. Each member has their own oil and other chemicals e.g. Rosemary (Rosemary oil) , Thyme (Thyme oil), Mint ( Mint Oil), Lavender (Lavender Oil), and so forth.

The flowers of Sage come in different colors like red, blue, purple, pink, lavender, scarlet, and white. Their floral arrangements are in the form of whorls of two- lipped flowers and many are evenly spaced along the flower stalks. Some types have branched spikes. Many are aromatic, some sweet, (like Garden Sage) yet others are flavorful and strongly scented like Black Sage. Sages are hummingbird magnets, encourage birds, and some have essential oils that are used beyond the traditional landscaping.

The essential oil make up in Sages vary depending on type of Sage, climatic, seasonal, and environmental factors.

The world of Sages is so diverse and a useful group of plants depending on the variety. There are attractive in the garden but not so much to Gophers. They are also important sources of nectar for honeybees, bumble bees, native bees, beneficial insects the like tiny wasps, hover-flies, and midges. Most Sages are quiet climate and soil-adaptable and are often cold hardy once well established.

Garden Sage is considered to have the highest amount of essential oil compared to the other types. Many Sages are native to the Mediterranean region making them well suited for planting in our own climate and some are even endemic to our own state of California. One of the most popular native Sages is White Sage. Some cultures and rituals even call for burning a bundle of White Sage to ward off evil spirits and invite in good luck. When you burn and smudge the Sage, it releases the chemical that helps cleanse the aura and the physical environment. Many people claim that burning Sage smudge sticks and spreading it inside their house helps them relax and feel good about themselves. They claim it to be an excellent stress reliever and use it as a spiritual/ ritual for self-care. On the other hand, Garden Sage (Bergamot Sage) is often used in all-natural items like candles, shampoos and other beauty and body products. With a slightly sweeter fragrance the most common garden Sage is Bergamot. The California native Clevland Sage (Salvia clevlandii) and its selections like Winifred Gilman and Aromas (aptly named) tops the list of many Sage enthusiasts for having strong fragrance. Some even use the foliage as a substitute for culinary Sage (Garden Sage). Purple Sage (Salvia leucohylla) on the other hand has light to rosy pink flowers with whitish to gray foliage.The aroma of Purple Sage is similar to Garden Sage. You can use dried or fresh Purple Sage leaves as a substitute for commercial Garden Sage in cooking. Allen Chickering Sage is a hybrid of both Purple and Clevland Sage and produces noteworthy garden fragrance. Other important and popular cultivars of Sages that provide lasting color, great aroma, and other great attributes are Mexican Bush Sage (purple flowers), Indigo Spires Sage (blue flowers), Germander-Sage (light blue flowers), Hot Lips( red with white flowers), Chiapas Sage (fuchsia flowers), Waverley Sage (purple/ blue with white flowers), and Autumn Sage (various colors depending on variety). These Sages are not known to be culinary, herbal or medicinal but make excellent landscaping plants. Of importance and should be noted is that Rosemary is now considered a salvia (Salvia rosmarinus).

Whether you choose to have Sages in your garden for herbal, therapeutic or medicinal uses, keep in mind that all Sages work excellent in any garden where you could enjoy the fragrance, birds, bees, flower color for a long percoid of time, attract humming birds, drought tolerant, and relatively low maintenance plants. Most Sages prefer a well drained soil and an area in your yard that receives abundant sunshine. Come explore the wide variety of Sages and other cool plants you can incorporate in your garden at your favorite Green Thumb Nursery.

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