Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Salvia officinalis L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Sage, Salvia officinalis L., is a perennial shrub native to southern Europe and Asia Minor. Also known as common or garden sage, the growing herb reaches a height of 0.6 meters, has gray to silver-green leaves with a velvety texture, and white, blue, or purple flowers that bloom from late winter to early summer. The plant is cultivated and collected from the wild in Yugoslavia, Albania, Turkey, Italy, Greece, the United States, Spain, and Crete (11.1-128).

The reported life zone of sage is 5 to 26 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.6 meters and a soil pH of 4.2 to 8.3 (4.1-31). The species is well suited to warm dry regions and grows best on a nitrogen-rich, clay loam soil located in the full sun. The plant is sensitive to extended dry periods with excessively high temperatures, and it will winter-kill when the temperature reaches about -100Cdeg;C.

For commercial cultivation, the plant can be established from seeds, by plant division, by layering, or from cuttings. Vegetative propagation is preferred for ensuring a rapid harvest and specific plant clones. The plantings last from two to six years, and the initial harvest is made in the first year. Generally, two or three harvests are taken just prior to bloom in subsequent years. Leaves and vegetative tops are harvested and dried in the shade or with low artificial heat to ensure retention of the color and the quality and content of the volatile oil (3.3-43, 14.1-8).

The essential oil, extracted by steam distillation, ranges from 1.2 to 2.5% of dry leaves. Constituents of sage oil include -thujone, camphor, linalool, 1,8-cineole, cis-ocimene, -thujone, sabinyl acetate and several other compounds (1.2-73, 6.4-102). The quality of the essential oil of sage differs by geographic region, but this may be attributable to the use of different sage species or types (2.9-116). The most common adulterant to sage oils is thujone, from the leaves of Juniperus virginiana L., red cedar. An oleoresin is obtained by organic solvent extraction.

The dried leaves and essential oil of sage are employed as seasonings for sausages, ground meats, stuffings, fish, honey, salads, soups, and stews. Sage is also used as a flavoring and antioxidant in cheeses, pickles, vegetables, processed foods, and beverages (6.4-104). The oil is used to extend the keeping quality of fats and meats (6.4-12). The plant is used in perfumes and cosmetics and as a natural insect repellent. Sage can be purchased as whole leaf, ground, rubbed, sliced, or cut.

As a medicinal plant, sage has traditionally been considered an antispasmodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, nervine, and tonic. The plant has also been used as a folk remedy against colds, diarrhea, enteritis, venereal disease, excessive perspiration, snake bites, sore throats, toothaches, and cancer (11.1-96, 14.1-16). The plant was thought to improve the memory. Sage has been reported to act as a bactericide and is used in mouthwashes and gargles (7.5-68, 11.1-128). The plant is also used as a convulsant and antisecretory agent, and as Salvin, a preparation of leaves used as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory agent in treating oral cavity disease (7.6-224, 14.1-8, 14.1-35). The name Salvia is from the Latin salvere, meaning "to heal," or "to be safe and unharmed" (11.1-128, 14.1-3).

Although five hundred species of Salvia and many varieties and chemotypes exist, only a few types of sage are commercially important. Dalmation sage, a type of Salvia officinalis L., serves as the standard sage to which others are compared, as it is considered to possess the finest and most characteristic sage aroma. Salvia fructicosa Mill., formerly known as Salvia triloba L. f., and native to some of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, may account for more than 50% of the culinary sage imported into the United States as common sage (6.5-140). This species is commonly referred to as Greek, Mediterranean. or wild sage. Salvia lavandulifolia Vahl., Spanish sage, is a small shrub sold as sage but of minor commercial importance. Salvia miltiorrhiza L. is used as a Chinese herbal medicine for treatment of menstrual irregularities, uterine bleeding, abdominal pain, neurasthenia, insomnia, hepatitis, mastitus, and hives (11.1-97). Leaves from Salvia lyrata L., wild sage or cancerweed, an herb native to the eastern section of the United States, are used as a folk remedy in the treatment of warts (11.1-101). Salvia tomentosa Mill., a native of the Mediterranean region, has been traditionally used to reduce abdominal pain and heal warts (7.1-63). Leaves of Salvia divinorum, Yerba de Maria, are used in some religious ceremonies because of their hallucinogenic properties (11.1-96).

Salvia elegans Vahl, formerly Salvia rutilans Carriere and known as pineapple sage, is a perennial shrub cultivated as an annual. Reaching heights of over one meter, the plant is characterized by decorative, fragrant leaves, which are employed in bouquets, and by scarlet flowers that bloom in autumn and are used in potpourris. Salvia leucophylla Greene, a perennial shrub native to the western United States, has been used as sage but is considered very inferior and not acceptable in commercial markets. Volatile monoterpenes emitted from the species are reported to have growth-inhibitory activity (1.8-93).

Indian and wild sage refers to Eupatorium perfoliatum L., a plant native to North America. Sage of Bethlehem actually refers to spearmint, Mentha spicata L. The sagebrush native to western portions of the United States and northern Mexico is of the Artemisia species.

Sage, as Salvia officinalis L. or Salvia triloba L., is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a natural seasoning and as a plant extract/essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]). Spanish sage is also recognized as safe for human consumption as a plant extract (21 CFR section 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997