Sage: The Wise One / Salvia officinalis

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Most of us know sage as a culinary herb — one that we grow in our gardens and use to flavor our dishes. For centuries sage has been valued as one of the best kitchen herbs and was traditionally cooked with rich, heavy foods. It is still a popular flavoring herb for meat dishes and stuffings.  As an aromatic spice, it improves digestion, breaks down fats, relieves indigestion and nausea, and stimulates the gall bladder to produce more bile. 

The plant originates in the Mediterranean — like many of our common culinary spices — and belongs to the Mint family of plants (a group that also holds many wonderful and aromatic plants such as basil, lavender, oregano, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, etc…)

Sage’s history goes far back in time: it was known to the ancient Greeks as an herb of immortality and to hold great healing properties. Its Latin name, Salvia, comes from the root “salvare” which translates as “to save” or “to cure.” There’s an old rhyme: “He that would live for aye should eat sage in May.”  To our modern eyes sage is a humble garden herb, but for centuries healers have recognized this plant as one of the greatest herbal remedies.  And for good reason…

Salvia officinalis has a deep affinity for the brain and nervous system and can be considered a tonic herb for both. It has a rejuvenating effect on the nerves, and can help to strengthen the mind and memory. Sage has been used by herbalists to address depression, anxiety and nervousness. It is especially good for the frazzled feeling we sometimes get when life is too busy or hectic — sage is one of my top herbs for what I call “city-dweller syndrome.”  From my own personal experience with sage I have found it has a unique action that seems to feed and nourish the nervous system. When using sage during stressful times it helps me to feel less anxious and more grounded. It helps me feel more at peace with how things are, and to feel more connected with day-to-day reality, i.e. appreciating what is rather than what I want things to be. Many traditions have noted that sage has the ability to enhance one’s inner wisdom… and so the word “sage” is applied to a person who is wise. The flower essence is especially beautiful and illuminating for enhancing inner knowingness.

Sage is cleansing, clearing and purifying. White sage is often burned as an incense to clear the air and make a space feel new and refreshed.  The essential oils contained within the leaf make sage highly antiseptic, giving it many applications. I like to use strong sage tea at the onset of a cold, or for any respiratory infections or sore throats. It also makes a fantastic mouthwash which supports healthy gums and leaves a clean, aromatic feeling.


There are many ways to obtain the benefits of sage. Use the dried leaf as a spice in meat or stuffings (especially for Thanksgiving!) I like to drink sage tea with honey — just steep 1-2 teaspoons of the dried leaf in 8 oz. hot water for at least 10 minutes. Then add a spoonful of local honey and sip whenever you are feeling anxious or stressed, or if you are starting to feel a bit under the weather. 

Sage Flower Essence can be used as well, and is one of my favorite essences. It helps one to distill wisdom from experience, and is especially recommended for people who find it hard to find purpose and meaning in their life.

RECIPE: Fresh Sage Infused Honey

Herbal honeys are a delicious way to enjoy the benefits of herbs, especially highly aromatic plants like sage. This honey can be enjoyed by the spoonful, added to hot cups of tea, spread onto toast, or made into sauces and salad dressings.

Fill a small 8 oz. glass jar with finely chopped fresh sage leaves. When using fresh herbs I generally fill the jar about 3/4 full.

Cover with local honey, stirring well to ensure that any trapped air bubbles come to the surface.

Label the jar with the date and ingredients.

Let steep for at least 1 week (if you can bear to wait!) up to 4 weeks before using. 

If you wish you can strain out the sage leaves through a course strainer (you may have to gently heat up the honey to make it more runny). Or, you can just use the honey as is, sage leaves and all.

Use up within 4-5 months.


Sage should be avoided during pregnancy since it can be stimulating to the uterus. It may also reduce the flow of milk during breast feeding and should be avoided by nursing mothers.


The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism by Matthew Wood
The Floral Healer by Anne McIntyre

Steph Zabel is an herbalist and educator based in Somerville, MA who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness sessions, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, a community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: and

This blog post — Sage: The Wise One / Salvia officinalis  — is for general health information only. This blog post is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.