Smudging, or using scented smoke and incense in rituals, was a practice of ancient peoples, and it has carried over into modern times. Native Americans used sage and other herbs to spiritually cleanse an area, and today some tribes still do. The 'negative energies' that are supposed to be eliminated by the burning of sage were thought by Native Americans to be banished through purification by smoke.
Sage releases smoke with a strong scent when burned because of the aromatic oil in its leaves. The smudging rituals, like so many other venerable practices, tend to have roots in common sense. White sage, in particular, has been found to cleanse the air of impurities when it's burned. Distilling the oil from sage and making an alcohol tincture with it are two other ways to reap its medicinal benefits.
Historic Benefits of Sage
The reason Salvia apiana (sacred sage, white sage, bee sage) has a cleansing effect on the air is that it has antimicrobial properties. It's likely that waving smoke from burning sage leaves into all corners of a room eliminates bacteria from the air that could otherwise end up in our lungs. Salvia officinalis, or common sage, is the type of sage generally used in culinary, cosmetic and medicinal products.
Ancient Egyptians used sage to treat infertility, and Greek physician Dioscorides declared that "aqueous decoction of sage" stopped wounds from bleeding and cleansed sores. He also recommended gargling with it. In the Middle Ages, one herbal guide stated that sage, "is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members."
Today, sage is taken in tea, as a stimulant tonic and as a flavorful addition to recipes. One medicinal use that's been found to be effective is the treatment of inflammation of the mouth and throat. Modern scientists have found that sage in a liquid solution can deactivate bacteria like E. coli and Staphylococcus. It's also been touted as a preventative for diabetes, depression, heart disease and cancer, among other diseases and ailments. Let's examine some of the reasons for these claims.
Antioxidant - Anti-Inflammatory - Antiseptic
The antioxidant properties of sage help eliminate free radicals, molecules that can cause damage to the body. Inflammation has been identified as one of the primary causes of disease, so any natural remedy that can help control it is valuable. The antiseptic properties of sage have been promoted since antiquity, and today a primary focus is on using sage extracts for good oral hygiene.
Rosmarinic acid, luteolin and apigenin are all antioxidants in sage that seek out and destroy free radicals. These unstable molecules can cause oxidative stress in the body that makes it more susceptible to damage and disease. Free radicals have also been implicated in changes to the DNA of cells, leading to the formation of cancers.
The rosmarinic acid in sage also helps control inflammation, and the phenolic acids present in this natural herb are effective against bacterial invaders. One reason that sage is an effective treatment for inflamed gums and mouth tissues is that these mucous membranes easily absorb the compounds in sage. For the same reason, it's a useful herb for treating stomach ailments.
Sage has been identified as a beneficial herb for both mental and physical health. Drinking sage tea is said to have a calming effect, and some people drink it to alleviate depression. There's speculation that the properties of the herb stimulate areas of the brain that improve clarity and cognition. The herb also has a long tradition as a remedy for indigestion, asthma, mouth sores and skin diseases.
Encouraging results have been noted in studies of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. One meta-analysis examined a wide range of scientific literature on the effects of sage on cognition. Researchers found a strong correlation between the use of sage and improved mental function. The authors of this wide-ranging compilation found preliminary evidence that sage can "enhance cognitive skills and guard against neurodegenerative disorders."
Ingesting sage may be an effective means of lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers have noted lower fasting blood sugar levels in people that ingest sage daily. The properties of sage may mimic drugs used to control adult-onset diabetes, regulating the glucose released by the liver. Ingesting sage three times a day can also lead to an increase in high-density lipoprotein, or 'good' cholesterol, and a decrease in low-density lipoprotein, or 'bad' cholesterol.
Sage has traditionally been used by women going through menopause to alleviate sweating caused by hot flashes. It has a positive impact on digestive disorders, and this is crucial since inflammation in the gut has been identified as a precursor to intestinal disease. Regular consumption of sage is recommended by herbalists as a digestive disorder preventative.
The anti-spasmodic compounds in sage alleviate muscle tension, one reason it's reputed to be a general relaxant when taken in tea. The anti-spasmodic effect can also lessen the severity of menstrual or stomach cramps. The rosmarinic acid in sage is a natural diuretic that treats the symptoms of diarrhea. Adding sage to a humidifier may improve breathing, and sometimes it's used to lessen the severity of an asthma attack.
Medicinal Compounds in Sage
One reason sage is such a powerhouse herb for health and wellness is that it contains vitamins and nutrients that we need. Sage contains magnesium, potassium, folate, phosphorus, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and K. Other compounds in sage have known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The phenolic acids, flavonoids and oils in sage contribute to the herb's many health benefits.
Natural sage has no known negative effects. However, as a member of the mint family, it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Also, as with any essential oil, you shouldn't consume sage oil directly. Instead, the extract is valuable for aromatherapy and as a component of cosmetic products. Including fresh sage in your diet is another way you can benefit from the healing properties of this remarkable herb.
Long-term consumption of large amounts of sage isn't recommended. It contains trace amounts of a neurotoxin called thujone. The European Union has set the maximum safe amount of thujone at 25 mg per day, or the equivalent of 3-6 cups of sage tea. Sage that's picked in the spring has lower levels of thujone that sage harvested in the fall.
Health and Beauty Applications
Sage is an ingredient in many beauty products designed to improve skin and hair. Be sure to choose a reputable company for your supplies. Check the labels of any beauty products you purchase to make sure that genuine herbs are used rather than dyes and chemical fragrances.
Sage essential oil is extracted from the leaves and buds of the plant using steam, then distilled into a potent oil that's used as a health and beauty aid. When you apply a lotion containing sage oil to your face, it gives your skin antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. For example, the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of sage are useful for controlling acne.
Free radicals can break down cells in the collagen layer beneath your skin, accelerating the formation of wrinkles. The antioxidants in sage increase circulation in the skin and assist in cell turnover, acting as a natural exfoliant. This protects your skin from damage and can prevent premature wrinkles. Remember that sunscreen should be part of your daily skincare routine, with herbal treatments and vitamins used as extra protection against the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Improved circulation also directs blood flow to the scalp, and this aids in maintaining healthy hair. Sage is an aromatic herb that gives your hair a pleasant scent. When it's combined with lavender, it's a useful treatment for flaky skin on the scalp, or dandruff.
Don't use sage essential oil directly on your skin or scalp since it could cause irritation. You can find products containing sage oil, and it's also beneficial to mix a drop or two with a carrier like coconut oil. Argan oil and jojoba oil are especially recommended as carrier oils for hair treatments.
There are four ways to incorporate sage into your routine to take advantage of its soothing properties. Besides drinking it in a tea, you can use it in aromatherapy, massage, and in a relaxing warm bath. It also gives soap a pleasant fragrance.
For aromatherapy, add a couple of drops of the essential oil to your diffuser or humidifier. Sage essential oil in a carrier like avocado oil or coconut oil will bring the benefits directly to your skin and the muscles beneath. For a warm bath, try steeping it like tea and then pouring it all into the bath, leaves included.
Culinary Uses of Sage
Sage has an earthy, slightly peppery taste that goes especially well with pork or fish. A sage rub can be made with other herbs and spices to coat a pork roast or fish for grilling. You can use the leaves whole or add ground sage to recipes like soups and stews. Cooking with the fresh herb is the best option for enjoying the beneficial properties of the phytochemicals in sage that enhance health.
Recipe: Sage Tea With Honey and LemonThis is an easy herbal tea to make. Adding honey and lemon to it not only improves the nutritional value but also gives it more flavor and helps it go down smoothly. You'll want to use a tea diffuser for the sage or strain it after it steeps.
- 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried sage per cup
- Bring the desired number of cups of water to a low boil in a pot.
- Remove it from the heat and turn the burner to its lowest setting.
- Add the sage and stir it around in the pot.
- Cover and place it back on the burner to steep.
- After five minutes, strain if needed.
- Pour tea and add honey and lemon to taste.
A Beneficial Herb
There are many ways to take advantage of the nutritional, medical and cosmetic benefits of sage. It can be used in an aqueous solution (tea, compresses), as an essential oil, in beauty products, and in aromatherapy. The burning of bundled sage has been identified as a means of removing bacteria from the air we breathe. Once you have determined the quality and purity of the sage, there are many ways to use this beneficial herb in maintaining mental and physical health.