“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29)
As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and most will be dressing their plate with a delectable mixture of bread crumbs, onion, celery, butter and sage (among other ingredients), it seems befitting to write about a herb that has become pretty synonymous with this holiday.
But, before I go any further, there’s this:
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Though we may also dress our tables with cardboard cutouts of Pilgrims and First Nations’ peoples, and though I also found this herb in “A Handbook of Native American Herbs,” sage is NOT native to North America, but a southern European plant that has long been naturalized here. I was thinking of smudge sticks, which I use to clear negative energy from a room, my home, even a client, before they enter a room or home, and how popular culture has connected them to Native American culture. As the book in question does not say how long this herb has been naturalized in this country, perhaps it does fit into the Native American materia medica botanica, but I will refrain from making a direct connection and instead, share a use found in this book that I also learned about when I worked in living history: a tea made with sage leaves is an excellent gargle for a sore throat (Hutchens, 1992; OSV Training Materials, 2017).
An herb tea, or infusion, is made a little differently than a cup of, say, Lipton tea. With herbs, you heat the water and remove it just before it boils (too hot will kill the natural healing properties of the plants). Then you pour the hot water over the herbs, cover the cup, or teapot, and allow the herbs to steep at least 20 minutes so that whatever you’re brewing will be strong enough to take effect. In this case, this is a gargle so you would use it the same as a swig of Listerine or Scope. If the flavor is too strong (and even the herbalist here considers it slightly gag-inducing in such a raw state), a bit of honey will counteract its astringent taste and have the added benefit of further soothing that raw throat.
**Another note here: when heating the water (or herbs, when making a decoction), it is not recommended to use cast iron as the iron may change the desired effect. Also, NEVER use Teflon-coated, no-stick pots and pans–even for cooking food. There has been too much controversy surrounding their negative effects on our health and, like the iron in cast iron, may leach into whatever you infuse. Metal pans/tea kettles are a better vessel; ceramic, glass, etc. vessels for steeping in.
Renowned herbalist and champion of natural rearing of animals, Juliette de Bairacli Levy says that sage’s very name bespeaks its healing property. It’s Latin name, that is: Salvia officinalis. Salvia comes from the Latin word, salvere, to be well (de Bairacli Levy, 1991). She, too, recommends it as “first-rate…for the treatment of all disorders of throat, lungs and ears” and as external “application for bruises, watery swellings and tumours”. Further, she says that our neighbors south of the border, the Mexican peoples, “make brushes from branches of the herb, using them to cleanse and dry off the sweating bodies of their horses and cattle, the leaves being both absorbent and invigorating to tired flesh”. In her book The Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat, she also recommends it for mastitis…in dogs, cattle, goats, etc., the latter of which are more prone owing to the unnatural removal of their calves and kids for commercial milk production. In this case, you would infuse the leaves as above for a gargle but instead bathe the udders (or breasts if a dog or cat) with the sage “tea” 4-5 times a day, making sure to gently press out all milk beforehand. The area should then be “bathed with a brew of elder and dock leaves – one handful of each brewed in 1 1/2 pints of water” (de Bairacli Levy, 1992).
In humans, many of the same uses seem to apply. Herbalist Michael Tierra recommends it for “excessive perspiration, night sweats” to “clear vaginal discharge and to stop the flow of milk” and says it is also “useful for diarrhea, dysentery, the early stages of cold and flu, sinus congestion, bladder infections and inflammatory conditions” (Tierra, 1998). In this case, the infusion is made with 1/4 ounce of sage to a pint of hot water steeped “in a closed vessel for 10 minutes”. He also recommends combining it with equal parts rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), peppermint (Mentha piperica) and wood betony (Betonica officinalis) for headaches…and, again, I’m finding mention of its uses as a gargle for sore throats. Though I could not find any specific remedies mentioned in his wife’s book, Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra does mention how white sage (Salvia apiana) has become endangered due to over-harvesting.
And, lastly, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar recommends sage as a facial tonic, hair rinse, in foot soaks, to aid digestion (which is probably why it is added to stuffing/dressing on Thanksgiving Day, considering our over-consumption at mealtime this day), help lower cholesterol, as part of a throat spray(!), and to combat hot flashes. This last one combines 2 parts each of black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), and sage, 1 part each of blue vervain (Verbena officinalis) and chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus) and a measure of mint for taste. These are combined together in their dried form. Then a teaspoon of the mixed herbs is infused for 30 minutes (see sage infusion above) and 1/4 cup is drank throughout the day as needed, not exceeding 3 cups in a 24 hour period (Gladstar, 2008). She recommends, if the tea’s taste is too strong, to instead fill a couple of OO size capsules and take 1-2 capsules 3-4 times each day.
Though I knew all of this stuff, having read these books many times over (as their tattered spines will attestify), I always appreciate the reminders as I peruse them yet again to share the love and knowledge that herbs have given to my life. I hope this little powerhouse, sage, will enrich the quality of your life, too…even if it is only to enrich the flavor of your Thanksgiving Day stuffing. Bon appetit!
May God bless you & keep you!
De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. The Complete Handbook for the Dog and Cat. London, England: Faber and Faber, 1992.
De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. The Complete Handbook for the Farm and Stable. London, England: Faber and Faber, 1991.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing, 2008.
Hutchens, Alma R. A Handbook of Native American Herbs. Boaston, Massachusetts: Shambhala, 1992.
Tierra, Lesley,L.Ac, Herbalist, A.H.G. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley, California: Crossing Press, 2003.
Tierra, Michael, L.Ac, O.M.D. The Way of Herbs. New York, New York: Pocket Books, 1998.