A perennial sub-shrub with a
taproot and a square, hairy stem, which is woody at the base and
branches towards the top. The greyish-green stalked leaves are
opposite, oblong to oval or lanceolate, wrinkled above, hairy and
persistent. The two-lipped, blue-violet, reddish-violet or white
flowers are arranged in whorls in terminal spikes. They are
attractive to bees. The fruit consists of four nutlets. All parts
of the plant are strongly aromatic.
Sage is native to the Mediterranean region but it has long been cultivated elsewhere in Europe for culinary and medicinal purposes and several varieties have been developed. It is commercially grown in central and southern England. It is still collected on a large scale from the wild in northern Mediterranean countries. The generic name, Salvia, is from the Latin word salvere (= `to be in good health'); the old French word saulje (also from salvere through salvia) has given us the modern English name. Sage was traditionally used as an aid to conception.
The leaves are used medicinally. Their constituents include an essential oil (up to 2.5 per cent) with thujone (15-35 per cent), borneol, cineole and camphor, also bitter compounds (salvin and picrosalvin), oestrogenic substances, resin and tannins. These substances give Sage antiseptic, antifungal, astringent, diuretic, carminative, antidiarrhoeal, antispasmodic and antidiaphoretic properties. It has a wide variety of medicinal uses. In herbal medicine, for example, it is used in an infusion to reduce sweating and lactation, and to treat colds and coughs, nervous conditions and gastrointestinal disorders. A tincture prepared from the fresh leaves is also used in homeopathy.
Sage should not be taken in large doses for a long period because of the thujone it contains.
The essential oil, obtained by steam distillation of the partially dried leaves, is used by the pharmaceutical, perfumery, liqueur and food industries.
In cooking Sage is usually used with pork, but it is also good with other meat dishes and in salads and spreads.
Flowering time: June to July