“We are happier in many ways when we are old than when we were young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage.” – Winston Churchill
Whether you cultivate wisdom or herbs, make sure you grow sage.
Sage has been elemental in my kitchen of late: two snowstorms and many big pots of soups later, I am happy to have this culinary collaborator and mighty medicinal plant in my pantry and in my life.
Some of the reasons might surprise you. Of course, fabulous flavor and amazing aroma make it the perfect plant to season many dishes. Beyond taste, sage goes the extra mile for health and well-being.
Sage’s scientific name, Salvia, originates with the Latin word salvus or salvere, which has been translated to mean ‘save,’ ‘healing,’ and ‘safe.’ It has also been called S. salvatrixor or ‘Sage the Saviour.’
It is not unexpected, then, that an Old English proverb asks, “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” This herb’s medicinal abilities are numerous. Herbalist Culpepper, like other medicine men, is a big fan. He and other sage healers sung its praises when they observed that it is “good for diseases of the liver and to make blood, and it stayeth the bleeding of wounds and cleaneth ulcers and sores, arrests spitting or vomiting of blood in consumption, is profitable for all pains in the head coming of cold rheumatic humours, as also for all pains in the joints, cureth hoarseness and cough, helps the memory, warming and quickening the senses.”
This herb’s accolades go on, as do its advocates, without so much as a pause for breath. “The juice of Sage drunk with vinegar hath been of use in the time of the plague at all times. Gargles are made with Sage, Rosemary, Honeysuckles and Plantains, boiled in wine or water with some honey or alum put thereto, to wash sore mouths and throats, as need requireth. It is very good for stitch or pains in the sides coming of wind, if the place be fomented warm with the decoction in wine and the herb also, after boiling, be laid warm thereto.’”
No doubt there were more of its virtues to extol, but these tributes cannot go on forever.
Above and beyond Culpepper’s list is sage’s alleged ability to make one “immune from the ill effects of old age, and render humans ‘immortal.’”
It was even known as an antidote against “the biting of serpents,” and a remedy for graying hair. Emotions, too, could be lifted. We are told we can count on this herb for a “comforting cure for the sorrow caused by the death of a loved one.”
Protecting sage in the garden was advised for other purposes, too. Vigorous garden growth was said to indicate a home ruled by the wife; robust sage meant a strong woman and profitable business! Two very good omens.
Be sure not to overdo it when it comes to sage. Some sources list it as toxic in large amounts and especially advise pregnant women to limit their intake. For all other, enjoy it in foods, tea, beer, and any other concoctions that inspire its ingestion.
Herbs are helpful to our health, and this particular one is especially so. Benjamin Franklin managed to combine the potent powers of herbs and patience (perhaps while waiting for his soup to simmer) when he said, “Time is an herb that cures all Diseases.”
Sage words indeed.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.