The raw power of sage: Home Medicine Cycle 12

Sage is ancient and helps ground me in those things I love best. Sage reminds me of the land where I was born in dry Eastern Oregon. And now it recalls years of cooking for my family. When in doubt, toss in a handful of sage! Beyond that it has antioxidant properties and can help build strength and energy.

In 2007, a medical study found that smudging with sage for an hour can clear 94 percent of bacteria from the air in a closed room. Not only is this useful in preventing the spread of disease when someone in your household is sick, it also helps to fight lower levels of bacteria that build up in the air. They might not make you overtly sick, but you may be more tired than you need to be because your immune system is battling a blend of cooped up bacteria.

As it turns out, indigenous cultures that smudge with sage to purify a sacred space were on to something. That's the way it often is. Empirical studies end up confirming what ancient herbalist practices hammered out over the centuries.

Sage flowers - image by Kurt Stuber with GNU Free Documentation License

Sage flowers - image by Kurt Stuber with GNU Free Documentation License

The common garden sage that we use most for medicine and cooking is actually native to the Mediterranean area of Europe and the Middle East. In mid-June it is finally starting to really get going in our climate a bit further north. It is a low plant with soft, gray-green leaves and woody stems. It's smell is distinct and, to me, instantly comforting. I believe that ancient people must have known instinctively that sage would be a beneficial herb because the smell is so enticing. 

The most common way that I use sage is simply in cooking. It is pungent enough that you don't want to put it in everything, lest all of your dishes taste the same but when I use sage I use at least three times the amount called for in cook books. It is one of those things like garlic. Some people consider it a spice to be used sparingly. I consider it to be a vegetable, if a strongly flavored one. Bland chicken noodle soup for sick days will become instantly fantastic with a handful (or two) of sage. Essentially any gravy or broth can be vastly improved with generous amounts of sage.

One of my favorite busy-mama recipes for weekday nights when we've run out of leftovers is to make a thick gravy out of some chicken stock from the freezer (easiest way is to heat the broth, mix 3-4 tablespoons of flour in a cup of sour cream and add the sour cream to the boiling broth while stirring briskly). Also add generous amounts of fresh or dried sage to your gravy. Cut long strips of red bell pepper and let them soften a bit in the gravy. Then pour the finished sauce over whole-grain noodles. Kids love it and it' s very fast. Like mac and cheese, but a bit more healthy.

Sage leaves - image by  Jonathunder  of Wikipedia with GNU Free Documentation License 

Sage leaves - image by Jonathunder of Wikipedia with GNU Free Documentation License 

For a bigger dinner I will often rub a chicken or half a turkey with butter, garlic, salt, pepper and copious amounts of sage, thyme and rosemary. There are people who will eagerly come a hundred miles or more for one of my turkey dinners based on this recipe. (For best results, melt butter and combine with crushed garlic, salt and pepper to taste depending on size of the turkey and a couple of handfuls of crushed sage and then lift the skin of the turnkey and rub this mixture in everywhere you can reach before baking.)

All this delicious cooking has more medicinal benefit than you might think. Sage contains exceptionally high levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Cooking with sage can help protect the cells of your body from damage caused by free radicals, those nice-sounding but ultimately unfriendly atoms that cause cell death, poor immune system response and chronic disease. Tossing sage in your soup is more than just yummy. It's like taking an expensive antioxidant, immune-support supplement from a high-end health food store (except, of course, that many of those supplement are over-processed and don't actually work very well).

Sage can also be used as a tincture and is useful in that form for three primary purposes:

- to mitigate or prevent Alzheimer's (There has been a clinical trial showing its effectiveness.)

- to lower harmful cholesterol levels and support "good" cholesterol

- to regulate glucose in people with diabetes or to prevent diabetes

- to raise dangerously low blood pressure (I have tried this personally to good effect.)

This painting of the sage plant and its parts (from  Koehler's Medicinal Plants - 1887) is particularly helpful in correctly identifying sage. (Public domain image)

This painting of the sage plant and its parts (from Koehler's Medicinal Plants - 1887) is particularly helpful in correctly identifying sage. (Public domain image)

Dosage with sage tincture should be small (half a teaspoon daily) and closely monitored. Any of the conditions listed here should be discussed with a doctor as well. To make an effective tincture for these problems, see my post on making vodka tinctures

As is made clear by the study on cleansing harmful bacteria out of the air using sage smoke, this herb also has antimicrobial and antiviral properties that make it useful in treating sore throats as well as cuts and scrapes. In Europe, sage is used in many pharmaceuticals for the treatment of sore throats. You can make your own at home which will be far more effective, if you make honey syrup or candies including a lot of strong sage tea. In a pinch, just brewing a strong sage tea and adding honey will also help. 

Stubborn sores or cuts on hands or feet can be helped by soaking in a strong sage infusion (tea). And finally, I always make a disinfectant salve during my annual salve making bonanza, which includes a large portion of sage infused oil.

Sage salve is particularly helpful with raw scrapes that are likely to be a bit dirty (such as if you fall off your bike on gravel). Disinfectants such as iodine often won't go deep enough into the skin if small particles of dirt have been embedded in the skin. Wash the cut or scrape out as best you can and use a liquid disinfectant (iodine is good but so are a lot of tinctures I describe in these posts - sage, St. John's Wart or Yarrow tinctures are all good choices for emergency disinfectants) . Then dry the area and rub in sage salve to reach a deeper layer of skin.

See my infused oil and salve making recipe to learn how to make your own homemade healing salve that is less-processed and thus far more effective than those you can buy commercially.

I hope these herbal recipes and tips are helpful. My goal is to take back my health and live on the earth in a sustainable way. I am happy to share what I'm learning on the journey with others because the more of us who do it, the better our future will be. Feel free to add your own experiences using the comment icon on the lower left and share this article with your friends using the icon on the lower right.

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Please note: This doesn't constitute medical advice for a specific ailment in a specific individual. It is always a good idea to discuss your health problems with a doctor because we're all different.