Sacred Sage

The Plant and Its Many Uses

Brief History of Use

Salvia officinalis, known as common sage or garden sage, has been used by humans for thousands of years. Sage is in the mint family (Lamiaceae) and originates in the Mediterranean region, but it has naturalized in other places around the globe. Traditional use of sage includes using it as a spice flavoring in cooking using the leaves, boiling the leaves to make a tea infusion with essential oils, and inhaling the water extracts from the leaves via steam baths. Sage tea has been used to aid and/or treat headaches, abdominal pain, ulcers, indigestion, common colds, and many other disorders. There are also variations in the sage plant for different uses, such as Golden Sage which is strictly used ornamentally, or Berggarten Sage which is bred not to flower. (Illustration by F. E. Kohler in 1897).

Scientific Findings

In scientific studies, sage and its chemical components have been shown to have strong antibacterial activity, and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, other studies have shown that the essential oil extract of the sage plant blocks the chemical messenger enzyme linked to Alzheimer's Disease, acetylcholine. Due to the glandular hairs on the leaves of sage, chemical content is highest in the leaves of the plant. Some chemicals are terpines, sesquiterpines, and ketones like thujone - which is found in higher amounts in S. libanotica than other sage-related plants. Because of the wide range of common uses of the sage plant, irrational use happens, and when used improperly sage can have toxic side effects, mainly linked to the camphor and thujone components in it. Some side effects include epileptic reactions, spasmolytic effects, loss of equilibrium, and other issues regarding the central nervous system. Just as well, pregnant women are advised not to use sage in any way because of the harmful effects on infants, even just in breast milk. (Photograph taken by Dr. G. Mazza).


E. Levetin, K. McMahon. (2012). Plants and Society. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Company.

H. Gali-Muhtsab, C. Hilan, C. Khater. (1999). Traditional uses of Salvia libatonica (East Mediterranean sage) and the effects of its essential oils. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 71, 513-520.

Illustration by Franz Kohler.

Photograph taken by Dr. Guiseppe Mazza.