Sage or Salvia Officinalis, of the mint family Lamiacaea, is one of the world’s most ubiquitous plants. Its scientific name is derived from the Latin word salvere meaning “to be saved,” which references its role as a curative plant often used in medicine. A perennial evergreen shrub, it has woody stems and fuzzy, silvery leaves that are celebrated in many culinary traditions, from British to Italian to North American. Its flowers, which appear in late spring and summer, range from blue to purplish. Despite being native to the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe, sage thrives in cooler, more changeable climates, and has been a constant in the English kitchen garden since the Middle Ages, loved for its flavour, fragrance and healing properties.
For years, sage has been revered for its health-giving, even life-extending qualities. The old Roman saying “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto?” means “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” Culpepper lauded its effect on the mind, writing, “Sage is of excellent use to help the memory, warming and quickening the senses,” and modern research has shown that, whether smelled or consumed, the herb does aid recall and memory. It also has a generally relaxing effect on the nervous system, with the fragrance working to soothe the excitable and boost the depressed.
It has myriad beauty benefits too for the skin and body; high levels of calcium, antioxidants and vitamin A counter visible signs of ageing such as the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and age spots. Its astringent qualities make it a great toner and sebum regulator, while a quota of beta-sitosterol is a valuable weapon in the fight against hair loss. Add the fact that sage is an effective deodoriser, helps reduces inflammation, and is a mild anaesthetic and you get quite the CV.
The ancient Egyptians used it as a fertility aid and to soothe snakebites; Pliny the Elder suggested it as an effective diuretic; Charlemagne wrote decrees recommending its cultivation around the Carolingian Empire; to this day, Turkish women use it to darken greying hairs. And in North America, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Thanksgiving turkey that isn’t filled to the brim with sage and onion stuffing.
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