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What Is Sage Used For? Sage Benefits & Uses for Skin, Memory & More
April 10, 2018
For many Americans, the aroma of cooked sage evokes memories of holiday meals — everything from Thanksgiving, Christmas, roasted turkeys, baked chickens and, most of all, sage dressing. But this popular herb has long been used for far more than its distinctive flavor. For centuries sage has been one of the most popular ingredients for herbal medicines around the world. In fact, sage benefits range from improving memory to combating obesity and balancing cholesterol — and that’s not all.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the amazing sage plant — not to be confused with clary sage — and reveal some of its more uncommon applications, as well as discuss the top six sage benefits along with eight more uses that provide even further sage benefits.
What Is Sage?
Sage is a perennial, evergreen shrub with grayish-green leaves and a woody stem. The most common type grows to about two feet high and two feet wide. In late spring or early summer, sage plants produce flowers that range in color from lavender and white to pink and purple. Another identifying feature of sage plants is their texture. Each leaf is covered with tiny, hair-like structures called trichomes.
Common sage (salvia officinalis) is a member of the mint family and thought to have originated in the Mediterranean. Now this popular culinary herb can be found in many regions and is a favorite addition of kitchen herbalists around the world. Variants of the sage plant are also used as ornamental shrubbery.
Recipes containing sage call for it in both fresh and dried forms. “Rubbed” sage is a powder that has been literally rubbed off the leaves of the plant. This powder is exceedingly delicate and fluffy. Sage is also available in essential oils and extracts, and all of these forms provide some truly remarkable sage benefits.
For thousands of years, sage has been an essential ingredient in the practice of traditional medicine, whether we’re talking traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine. Traditional herbalists have used sage to treat a wide variety of ailments and complaints, including swelling, infection, pain relief and memory enhancement. Sage tea has been recommended for its ability to ease digestion, curb diarrhea and provide relief to woman experiencing intense menstrual pain. Sage had also proved to be an effective counter to sores and infections of the mouth. Prepared as a gargle or mouth wash, it’s even been used to relieve discomfort associated with sore throats, bleeding gums and mouth-related ulcers — and these are just some of the traditional safe benefits and uses.
Perhaps because of sage’s prevalence in traditional herbal medicine, researchers have turned their attention to the herb in an attempt to study these sage benefits in clinical trials. The results of this research are quite surprising, as sage has proved effective at treating a wide range of ailments.
What Are the Health Benefits of Sage? Top 6 Sage Benefits
- Helps with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms
- Treats Diabetes Symptoms
- Balances Cholesterol
- Combats Obesity
- Treats Menopausal Symptoms
- Anti-Diarrheal Activity
1. Helps with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms
Traditional medicine has long recommended common sage (Salvia officinalis), Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) and Chinese sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) to treat declining mental functions and memory loss associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at theUniversity of Otago in New Zealand conducted clinical trials using the extract of Spanish sage. In vivo and participant studies using both rats and humans with Alzheimer’s were examined, and “in a study in healthy volunteers essential oil administration produced significant effects on cognition.” Participants in the study experienced a reduction in neuropsychiatric symptoms and an overall increase in mental attention. (1) This lends credence to the claim that sage benefits include its ability to help improve mental capacities associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study out of Northumbria University in the U.K. administered doses of Spanish sage essential oil to participants before testing them for cognitive performance and mood ratings. These participants displayed an increase in the speed of recall in memory-related tests. They also reported an overall improvement in “alertness,” “calmness” and “contentedness.” (2) These mood-enhancing qualities are of particular interest to researchers treating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. As those diseases progress, patients often experience episodes of intense irritability, so the sage oil treatments may offer some relief to those conditions.
2. Treats Diabetes Symptoms
Sage’s ability to lower glucose levels has been proven in animal studies. For instance, researchers out of the University of Minho in Portugal gave mice and rats common sage tea to test its antidiabetic effects. They concluded that ” its effects on fasting glucose levels in normal animals and its metformin-like effects on rat hepatocytes suggest that sage may be useful as a food supplement in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by lowering the plasma glucose of individuals at risk.” (3)
In addition, mice that were fed a high-diet to induce obesity were treated with sage to see if sage benefits for diabetes were exhibited in the obese mice. The mice were treated with either sage methanol extract or a control for five weeks. As a result, the mice given the safe saw insulin sensitivity improvements along with reduced inflammation, leading researchers to conclude that “sage presents an alternative to pharmaceuticals for the treatment of diabetes and associated inflammation.” (4)
3. Balances Cholesterol
A pilot study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences evaluated the benefits of sage tea on six healthy females volunteers 40 to 55 years old. Specifically, researchers looked at blood glucose regulation, lipid profile and cholesterol. They found that after four weeks of sage tea consumption, there were no real effects on glucose regulation, but “an improvement in lipid profile was observed with lower plasma LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels as well as higher plasma HDL cholesterol levels during and two weeks after treatment.” (5)
4. Combats Obesity
Increased body weight and obesity are known to contribute to an array of health complications, including type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Researchers developing natural alternatives to weight-loss control methods studied the effects of the methanolic extract derived from the leaves of common sage. Animal-based tests indicate that the methanolic extract inhibited the absorption of fat in the pancreas, leading to a decrease in overall body weight in mice fed a high-fat diet. (6) These findings may lead the way to further natural alternative treatments for obesity.
5. Treats Menopausal Symptoms
Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, nighttime sweating and occasional palpitations. These symptoms arise from hormonal imbalances, namely lowered estrogen levels.
In 2011, Swiss researchers substantiated the long-held belief that sage tea could provide relief for hot flashes and related menopausal symptoms. In this study, 71 patients were treated with a once-daily tablet of fresh sage leaves for two months. Patients reported a clear decrease in hot flashes during this time, with severe flashes reduced by 79 percent and very severe flashes reduced entirely. (7) The results offer a clear indication that sage is a viable treatment for menopausal symptoms, providing patients and caregivers with natural treatment options.
6. Anti-Diarrheal Activity
A study conducted by researchers in India sought to understand the relationship between sage and possible anti-diarrheal effects. The data from the in vitro and in vivo research suggested that an extract of the sage leaves inhibited gut motility and curbed spasmodic activity of the gut. This study provided support for the medicinal use of sage to treat not only diarrhea, but also abdominal colic. (8)
What Is Sage Used For? 8 Common Sage Uses
- Sage in Your Garden: Sage is a commonly available and easy-to-grow addition to any backyard garden. Sage needs full sun and well-drained soil. If you practice companion gardening, plant sage next to broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage plants.
- Sage as Garden Pest Control: The tastes of sage leaves repels some common garden pests, such as carrot flies and cabbage moths. This natural deterrent reduces the need for potentially toxic insecticides.
- Sage Attracts Pollinators: Pollinators like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies can’t resist the flowers of the sage plant. Healthy sage plants can help support pollinator populations while ensuring that your other plants and vegetables get pollinated. (9)
- Burning Sage: Many Native American communities burn dried bundles of sage as part of their ceremonial practices. More commonly known as “smudging,” the act of spreading the sage smoke throughout an area is believed to dispel negative energy and promote healing. (10) Most commonly, the dried bundles, known as smudging sticks, consist of white sage, which is distinct from the garden-variety sage, though dried common sage could be used as well. In some beliefs, the smoke from the sage creates a barrier that prevents negative spirits from entering the room in which the ceremony is performed.
- Sage-Based Household Cleanser: Sage can add a distinct aroma to a DIY cleaner. A mixture of sage, vinegar, alcohol and a drop of dish soap is all it takes to create an all-purpose cleaner for your home — one that’s much more safe than the average home cleaning products.
- Homemade Sage Bath Salts: Add sage essential oils to a mixture of Epsom salts and sea salt to create soothing and fragrant homemade healing bath salts.
- Sage Essential Oil for Your Skin: The presence of camphor and camphene in sage essential oil can help combat fungal infections of the skin, such as dermatitis and athlete’s foot. (11)
Where do all these amazing sage benefits and uses come from? The wonderful sage nutrition profile.
One tablespoon (about two grams) of ground sage contains approximately: (12)
- 6.3 calories
- 1.2 grams carbohydrates
- 0.2 gram protein
- 0.3 gram fat
- 0.8 gram fiber
- 34.3 microgram vitamin K (43 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 33 milligrams calcium (3 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligram iron (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (3 percent DV)
- 118 international units vitamin A (2 percent DV)
- 8.6 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
In addition, sage contains some vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, folate, potassium, zinc and copper.
Types of Sage + Sage vs. Clary Sage
Sage has many different varieties and cultivars. In total, there are more than 500 different types of sage. Some of these varieties produce different colored leaves, different shaped or colored flowers, or a different flavor. Common sage varietals include:
- Golden Sage
- Pineapple Sage
- Tricolor Sage
- Dwarf Sage
- Greek Sage
One common question is the distinction between common sage and clary sage. Both types of sage are often found as essential oils and used in aromatherapy practices. However, their chemical components are quite different.
Clary sage oil is made from the buds and he leaves of the clary sage plant (Salvia sclarea). Common sage essential oil is primarily composed of ketones, whereas clary sage is composed of esters. In effect, this means that common sage oil is more reactive than clary sage oil.
Related: Red Sage: A TCM Herb that Boosts Heart Health & More
Where to Find Sage + Sage Recipes
Fresh sage plants are commonly available in most home and garden centers during the early spring planting season. Look for lush, firm leaves with a healthy green color and soft light-gray “hairs.” Be sure to place sage bushes in a well-drained, sunny part of your garden.
Picked fresh sage is often sold alongside other culinary herbs in grocery stores. Again, the sage leaves should retain their green color and soft texture. Inspect the leaves for signs of discoloration or spotting. If at all possible, opt for organic produce so as to avoid any complications arising from pesticides.
Sage is also available dried in the spice section of most grocery stores. Dried sage lasts longer than fresh leaves, but you need to adjust your recipes accordingly.
There are many recipes calling for sage as a flavorful and aromatic addition to poultry and pork dishes. It is particularly good when paired with a fatty meat, such as duck, because the herb tends to aid digestion. Sage adds a slightly peppery, savory taste to dishes, and it may be used either fresh or ground. Because sage has a strong flavor, it is best to use sparingly, especially if using dried sage.
In Italy, it is often chopped fresh and mixed with melted butter to serve as sauce for pasta or gnocchi. Sage leaves can also be lightly battered and deep-fried for a garnish or savory snack. In British cooking traditions, it is commonly paired with rosemary, thyme and parsley. Americans often associate sage’s flavor with traditional Thanksgiving recipes. Sage and onion stuffing is a popular accompaniment to turkey or roasted chicken.
Here is a sage tea recipe to get you started, along with addition sage recipes below in order to get all the wonderful sage benefits into your life:
In addition to its medicinal properties and extensive use as kitchen herb, sage is a popular ingredient in herbal teas. Sage tea is soothing, flavorful and naturally caffeine-free.
To make your own sage tea, simply pour a cup of boiling water over a tablespoon of sage leaves and allow it to steep until it reaches the desired strength. Strain out the leaves before drinking.
Here is a sage tea recipe that adds a hint of sugar and lemon to the mix and can be served hot or cold.
- 4 cups of water
- ½ ounce of fresh sage leaves (roughly 45 leaves)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Bring water to a boil.
- Lower water to a simmer. Add sage leaves, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir well.
- Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or to taste, stirring occasionally.
- Strain out zest and sage leaves. Serve hot or chilled.
Here are some more sage recipes to try for both food and body care:
History of Sage
Commons sage’s Latin name, Salvia officinalis, references its widespread use as a medicinal herb. Salvia can be traced back to the root salvere, which means “to be saved” or “to cure.” The term officinalis refers to a specific room in a monastery called an officina. The officina acted as a storeroom for herbs and medicines.
Sage appears in written texts as far back as the Roman naturalist and historian, Pliny the Elder. Pliny describes how sage was used as a local anesthetic, a diuretic and a styptic.
In 800 A.D., the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne decreed that every farm in his empire must grow sage for the benefit of the nation. (13)
Medieval herbalists included sage in a mixture called Four Thieves vinegar. This concoction, which along with sage contained strong white vinegar, wormwood, cloves and other herbs, was thought to prevent the spread of the plague. Present-day researchers suspect that the aromatics contained in the sage and other herbs actually worked as a flea repellant. Unbeknownst to the medieval herbalist, it was actually the fleas that carried and transmitted the plague.
Final Thoughts on Sage Benefits
- Our storied relationship with sage goes back thousand of years. This versatile herb has proven to be more than just a common spice. Sage’s many medicinal applications continue to impress researchers and caregivers, offering us new insights into the connections between our health and the natural world.
- Sage benefits include helping with Alzheimer’s and dementia, treating diabetes symptoms, balancing cholesterol, combating obesity, treating menopausal symptoms, and relieving diarrhea.
- Sage benefits also include making a great addition to the garden, controlling garden pests and attracting pollinators.
- You can also burn sage to improve mood, use it in household cleaning products, add it to bath salts and use sage essential oil for skin benefits.
- You can add ground sage or sage leaves to a variety of recipes in order to get these sage benefits into your life.