Does the odor of sage evoke warmth, cheer, and holiday feasts for you? Sage has long been used to add savor, magic, and medicine to winter meals. Culinary sage is available at any grocery store, and sage is one of the easiest of all herbs to grow -- whether in a pot, on a windowsill, or in the garden. So, grab some sage, inhale deeply, and let me tell you more about this old friend.
Sage is Salvia, which means "savior." As a member of the mint family, it has many of the healing properties of its sisters. Of special note are the high levels of calcium and other bone-building minerals in all mints, including sage, and the exceptionally generous amounts of antioxidant vitamins they offer us.
Everywhere sage grows -- from Japan to China, India, Russia, Europe and the Americas -- people have valued it highly and used it as a preservative seasoning for fatty foods and a medicine for a variety of ills. The volatile oils in sage are antimicrobial and antibacterial and capable of countering a variety of food-borne poisons, as well as other infections.
A tea of garden sage can help
prevent and eliminate head colds
soothe and heal sore throats
clear the sinuses
speed up immune response to the flu
ease asthma and heal the lungs
aid digestion, especially of fats
improve sleep and ease anxiety
invigorate the blood
strengthen the ability to deal with stress
counter periodontal disease and tighten the gums
reduce profuse perspiration
help wean baby by reducing breast milk
The easiest way to use sage as medicine is to make a tea of it. The addition of honey is traditional and wise, as honey is a powerful antibacterial in its own right and magnifies sage's ability to ward off colds, flus, and breathing problems. If you have dried sage, a teaspoonful brewed in a cup of boiling water for no more than 2-3 minutes, with an added teaspoonful of honey, ought to produce a pleasant, aromatic tea. If it is bitter, the tea was brewed too long, or the sage was old or too-finely powdered, or you have the wrong sage. If you have fresh sage, use a handful of the leaves and stalks, brew for about five minutes, and add a spoonful of honey. Fresh sage tea is rarely bitter. Or, you can make a ready-sweetened sage tea by using your own home-made sage honey.
As the cold comes on and frosts threaten, I make my major mint-family harvests of the year, including pruning back the sage. Where I live, the frost won't kill the sage, but it will blacken the leaves and cause them to fall off. Before that happens, I take my scissors and cut the plants back by at least half. I coarsely chop the stems and leaves and put them in a jar. (For best results, I choose a jar that will just contain the amount of herb at hand. If there is unused space in the jar, oxidation will occur, and components of the herb can be damaged or altered.) Then, I slowly pour honey over the chopped herb, poking with a chopstick to eliminate air bubbles, until the jar is nearly full. A SAGE HONEY label completes the preparation. All that is left to do is to store it in a cool, dark place and wait for six weeks. From then on, or sooner if you really need it, the sage honey is ready to use. Just dig in! Put a heaping tablespoonful in a big mug of boiling hot water, stir and drink. Or let it brew for a few minutes, strain and drink.
Be sure to use Salvia sages, the ones with pebbly-fleshed ovate leave, not Artemisia sages which have white hairs on the backs of the ferny leaves. White sage, frequently sold as a "smudge" herb (that is, an herb whose smoke is used to create a protective field around a space) is a Salvia sage but it is too strong for use as a food or medicine.
I make honeys of other fresh mint family plants, too. (No, dried plants don't make good honeys.) Besides fresh sage honey I often make peppermint honey, lemon balm honey, rosemary honey, thyme honey, oregano honey, marjoram honey, shiso honey, and bergamot honey. They all help me stay healthy throughout the winter, and they all taste ever so good.
Although the tincture and essential oil of sage are available, I find them too concentrated and too dangerous for general use. Households with children do best when there are no essential oils on hand; fatal accidents have occurred.
I do make sage vinegar: by pouring room temperature apple cider vinegar over a jar filled with chopped fresh sage. Sage vinegar is not as medicinal as the tea but, with olive oil and tamari, it makes a delicious and healthy salad dressing. Two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily can reduce your risk of adult onset diabetes by half; two tablespoons of sage vinegar daily might just keep you alive forever, as the saying goes: "Why die when the Savior grows in your garden?".
Using herbs as allies to stay healthy and to counter life's ordinary problems is simple and easy, safe and effective. Herbal medicine is people's medicine. Green blessings grow all around you.