History and Folklore
The name Salvia derives from the Latin word Salveo, “to heal” or “to save” (more like, to salve, as in, apply a salve).
It has long been used in healing. An old proverb says “why should a man die who has sage in his garden?”. It was used in the Middle Ages to treat fevers, liver disease and epilepsy. In England, the tea drunk as a healthful tonic. It was also believed to strengthen the memory. An old English custom states that eating Sage every day in May will grant immortality. It was also said that a woman who ate sage cooked in wine would never be able to conceive and its fresh leaves were said to cure warts.
It is said that where sage grows well in the garden, the wife rules and that sage will flourish or not depending on the success of the business of the household.
During the Middle Ages, sage was used to mask the taste of rancid meat. Perhaps its antibacterial action also protected people from dying of rancid meat…
The Romans regarded sage quite highly and much sacrifice and ceremony was associated with its harvest. They believed it stimulated the brain and memory and used it to clean their teeth.
The Dutch in the 17th century traded Sage for tea with the Chinese.
This lovely perennial enjoys sun and well-drained soil. Keep fertilizer to a minimum. Most varieties are winter hardy. Sow seeds up to two weeks before the last danger of frost. Plants grown from cuttings do better than those grown from seed.
Russian sage ads an airy cloud of purple to the garden.
Common sage (garden sage, culinary sage) gets woody and bushy and is really neat-looking. Give it its own corner of the garden because it will take over.
White sage grows only in warm, arid regions. It requires low humidity and a great deal of sun and will not survive a winter frost so it must be grown indoors in northern regions, though it is not fond of pots. This herb has been over-collected in the wild, so if you use it and you can grow it; do.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest sage lightly for the first year to allow the plant to get established. Then large bunches can be harvested and hung to dry. The flavor is better if you freeze sage rather than dry it, though it does retain its flavor well when dried. Store dried in a sealed glass container in a cool, dark area.
Prune garden sage after it flowers and then don’t harvest anymore until spring so the plant has a month or two to recover and survive the frost.
White sage Salvia apiana is sacred in many Shamanic and Native American belief systems and is used for smudging, and other, ceremonies to purify the body. Smudge sticks made of white sage are often found in New Age shops and kits are heavily marketed to modern magical practitioners. Unfortunately, white sage can be difficult to grow in captivity outside of its native range, so is largely wild-crafted. This threatens native populations which are sacred to Native Americans. White sage is not part of European-based traditions and we really don’t need it. Our European spiritual ancestors burned a lot of different herbs in their practices, but white sage was not among them. If you feel the need to use sage, garden sage is a suitable substitute1. Indeed, most Salvia species can be burned by the non-indigenous witch and we can leave white sage to those to whom it is truly sacred. If you must have it, try to grow it yourself; buying and selling sacred things is disrespectful.
Sage is used in magical workings for immortality, longevity, wisdom, protection and the granting of wishes.
Sage is also believed to help alleviate the sorrow of the death of a loved one.
To make a wish, write your wish on a sage leaf and sleep with it under your pillow for three days and then bury it.
Add sage to mojo bags to promote wisdom and to overcome grief.
Burn sage at funeral and remembrance ceremonies to help relieve the grief of the mourners.
Sage makes a nice rinse for dark hair.
Sage’s attractive leaves hold their shape and fragrance well when dried and are an attractive addition to dried arrangements and potpourri.
Store dried sage in the same place as you store your potatoes to help them keep longer.
Sage tea has antiseptic qualities and makes a good gargle for sore throats.
Sage may boost insulin action, and therefore, a daily cup of tea may be helpful for those with diabetes. Use one or two teaspoons of dried sage leaves to one cup of boiling water.
Only Salvia officianalis is suitable for culinary use
Sage aids in the digestion of fatty foods and is therefore good for seasoning meats, especially pork. It’s also famously useful for stuffing poultry. It is also awesome in various bean and pork dishes, like split pea soup and vegetarian bean dishes.
Sage blossoms are good in salads or floated on top of soups.
Pineapple sage is good in fruit drinks, salads, and ham.
The most commonly used sage in spiritual practice, white sage, grows only in the American Southwest and can be very difficult to grow indoors in other areas. Rumors say that it is becoming rare due to overcollection but conflicting information says that it grows like crazy out there. You can get ethically sourced white sage, just ask questions. In my experience, garden sage works just as well and grows quite easily just about anywhere. If you have ethical concerns, it is a great option.