Monday, June 11, 2012

Sage Advice: The Many Uses of 'Salvia Officinalis'

Back in 2005, during the first summer at our current home, my husband built a couple garden boxes for me. I was so excited to have a garden -- so many plans, so many high hopes. Anyway, I decided to plant a few herbs in one of the boxes. Nothing fancy, really, just some cilantro, chives, thyme, rosemary, and sage. Seven summers later, the chives are still growing and that small little sage transplant I bought (on a whim, mostly) at Walmart has almost completely taken over half that 4' x 4' garden box.

I've tried to dig part of the sage up and clip it back, but it is a tenacious plant. I even divided it and gave half to my mom to transplant in her yard a couple summers ago. It's bigger and stronger than ever. You'd think I would be thrilled, but I actually started to hate that plant that was taking over my garden box. I mean, I like a little sage when I cook, but there's no way I could possibly use that much sage.

So, in the chilly and muddy days of early spring, as I was making plans for my garden, I made the decision to dig up the sage completely. It was taking up precious space, after all. But then something changed my mind: the BBC show, Victorian Farm

Victorian Farm is this fascinating show featuring a historian and two archaeologists who lived like Victorian farmers for a year. I'm such a history geek as it is, but when you add in self-sufficiency, gardening, and homemaking to the mix, well, it's nerdy girl heaven. Anyway, in one episode, the historian, Ruth, shows how various home remedies were made during the time and she started talking about all the benefits of sage. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Since then, I've decided to keep my ever-thriving sage plant (though I'm going to divide it again and give some more to my mom since hers -- oddly enough -- struggled and died), learn more about it, and devote the entire garden box to herbs, both for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Here are a few uses for common sage (or salvia officinalis, if you want to get all scientific) -- some I've tested, some I've been meaning to test for a while, and some that I just learned about!

Cooking:  This is the only way I've really used sage, at least internally. It's a great herb for poultry dishes. At Thanksgiving, my mom always asks me to bring some of my dried sage for the stuffing and as a garnish for the Thanksgiving turkey. I also use dried sage when I'm making chicken stock. Poultry isn't the only food goes well with this herb -- check out this great link I found with lots of recipe uses for fresh sage.

Medicinal Uses:  I'm not a doctor nor am I experienced in herbal remedies, so take all of this advice at your own discretion. As of now, I'm just curious and learning all about all the ways to use herbs for common maladies. Here are a just a few medicinal uses for sage that I've read about, both in books and online:

  • Sore throats: This is what sage was being used for when it was mentioned on Victorian Farm (I wish  I could include the YouTube link, but, unfortunately, all the episodes were removed). Sage leaves contain a natural astringent and antiseptic tannins that are said to bring relief to sore throats. In the show, she made a simple tonic out of hot water, sage leaves, a little vinegar, and some honey. She let it steep for a little while, gargled with it, and spat it out. Simple enough. Around the same time, I read about making sage gargle in a book called Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots (it was like the universe was sending me a sign to not kill off my sage plant or something).  The recipe is similar to the one I watched on Victorian Farm. In the book, the author suggests packing a wide-mouthed jar with dried or fresh sage leaves, then covering the leaves completely with apple cider vinegar. Adjust a lid and a ring and close tightly. Store the jar in a cool, dark place and shake the mixture daily. After a couple weeks, pour the mixture of sage and vinegar through a strainer and store the liquid in a bottle. Gargle when a sore throat strikes. I plan on giving this one a try, for sure. 
  • Dandruff:  Apparently, you can use a variety of herbs to get rid of dandruff. Check out this link for a recipe for natural dandruff shampoo using sage leaves, water, castile soap, and essential oils.
  • Womanly Issues:  From what I've read, sage has been used since ancient times for various female needs. Sage tea is said to help with symptoms associated with menopause, especially hot flashes and night sweats. It's also said to help regulate irregular menstrual cycles. However, everything I've read so far has said NOT to drink sage tea while pregnant, since it can cause uterine contractions (unless you want them to happen at the end of your pregnancy - I'll need to keep that in mind since both of my boys were born at 41 weeks. Be sure to check with your doctor or midwife first, though). Sage is also said to help dry up your milk supply when you're done with nursing. Ah, the joys of being a woman...
From everything I've read, sage should be avoided in large doses, especially if you have epilepsy. Just because something is natural that doesn't mean it doesn't have side effects. As I mentioned previously, I am certainly not a doctor (I have a degree in English, people), so do some research of your own and/or consult a pharmacist or doctor. 

Bug Repellent: I'm excited to test this use for sage next time we go camping or when we use our backyard fire-pit this summer. Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide released from campfires and grills, so a bundle of dried sage tossed into a campfire is supposed to help keep mosquitoes away. (Sidenote: Sage is super-easy to dry. You can find my how-to here.) I also learned that besides mosquitoes, other bugs that particularly don't like sage are flies, cutworms, and ticks. 

Aesthetic Appeal:  Sage is really pretty when it flowers. That section of my garden where the sage is taking over has a pretty splash of purple in it (and bees love it -- I'm more than happy to draw bees to my garden!). I use flowering sage often when I make arrangements to display in the house (pictured above is a bouquet from my yard filled with sage flowers, yarrow, and Jupiter's beard). Sometimes I'll only use sage and put a big bunch of it in a vase. Not only does it give a room some color, but it also gives off a nice, earthy smell. By the way, if you're in my neighborhood and you want a sage bouquet, let me know (though it's getting past its prime now). Believe me, I've got plenty.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopYour Green Resource, and Little House Friday.}

1 comment:

Unknown said...

hi... i was reading your blog,,, awesome... do you still have the sage,,, i wanted to know how did you started with it.

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