“He who would live for aye, must eat Sage in May”
English – Unknown
I know, I know it’s been a long time coming but life, ya know…it happens sometimes! Anyway…Sage! Sage (Salvia officianalis) is about as common as common can be when it comes to herbs…in fact it’s so common I almost considered a different herb for this instalment but in the spirit of simple Kitchen Witchery I’ve chosen a easily obtainable supermarket favourite for the ‘S’ instalment of the Alp-herb-et.
Growth and Cultivation
Sage is native to the Mediterranean and was likely introduced to the British Isles by the Romans (along with so many of our well known herbs). Like Rosemary, Sage likes free draining compost, I use garden compost with grit added. I grow Sage in a terracotta pot in full sun which checks its growth but I have grown sage in previous gardens in the soil and been pleasantly surprised how big it can grow….about 2 feet. It is classed as a woody shrub just like Lavender and Rosemary. Its leaves are relatively large, up to 2” typically and are a silvery grey-green colour which feel soft and velvety to the touch, when rubbed or crushed the leaves exude a heady musky and undeniably sagey aroma that instantly makes me think of roast chicken!
Sage can be grown from seed or from semi ripe cuttings in just the same way you would lavender or rosemary although sage cuttings seem far more susceptible to rotting off so I don’t cover with plastic and just leave on a warm sunny windowsill in sandy compost topped with grit which I mist regularly. They can be potted on when signs of growth are apparent. These days, it’s even possible to by potted sage plants from supermarkets!
The problem I have with Sage is that it tends to look very haggard and leggy after a while, lots of thick brown wood with few fresh stems. Like rosemary and Lavender you should avoid pruning into the thicker woody stems and instead prune gently and regularly to keep the plant fresh and compact.
Depending on how often you use Sage, the plant will flower in summer and like all members of Lamiaceae family, has nettle like flowers which are usually lavender coloured although there are white and blue cultivars available. It’s very much liked by Bees although my sage never gets opportunity to flower!
I’ve already mentioned Roast chicken which for me isn’t complete without Sage and Onion Stuffing…it’s a classic! To make, gently fry a medium onion in a little butler and oil which you then add to a bowl containing 30oz breadcrumbs and a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh sage (half has much dried). Bind everything together with a beaten egg, season and roll into balls, stuff into a baking tray or into the meat! Easy! I actually love this with slow roasted Pork Belly in fresh rolls with Apple sauce too!
I also use Sage with Pasta quite a lot. Just melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a small pan over a medium heat, add about 5 large sage leaves cut into slithers and fry in the butter for a few moments and spoon over the pasta. It’s especially good over pumpkin or spinach ravioli.
Sage is also very nice with cheese and can be incorporated (dry) into cheese scones or biscuits to eat with cheese but use dry sage sparingly…otherwise everything just tastes like that famous British freeze dried stuffing brand!
Medicinally, the whole of the upper herb (stem, leaves and flowers) may be used. Historically Sage was famed for its heath giving and restorative properties and was imbibed in great quantities throughout southern Europe. I use Sage primarily as a gargle and mouthwash for sore throats, gums, mouth ulcers and so on. It’s an excellent antiseptic and seems to be especially effective for mouth and throat infections as well as maintaining general oral health; it even helps brighten the smile! You can make a simple mouth wash / gargle by steeping a handful of sage leaves in a pint of Vodka for a fortnight, shaking regularly. Strain and then dilute this with half the volume of water. You can add other ingredients such as cloves or mint to also keep the breath fresh.
Just like its fragrance would suggest, Sage is a robust herb which strengthens and supports. Sage tea, popular in the far east is an excellent tonic for the blood and great for calming nervous conditions…headaches, tension, anxiety and related tremors or palpitations. Rosemary has many of these properties but is contraindicated in people with high blood pressure so Sage may be a valid substitute in these cases.
Another use for Sage is as a hair rinse. For those with dark hair Sage will bring out the natural shine and lustre and even darken the hair (those with light hair use Chamomile instead). Simply brew up a strong infusion of sage and rinse hair after shampooing.
Just a warning on the essential oil. Sage essential oil is incredibly potent and known to cause convulsions, dizziness and vomiting. If you are looking for all the benefits of sage in oil form (antiseptic, and mood lifting for example), then always substitute with Clary Sage (S. sclarea) which has all of the same benefits Sage essential oil can bring.
Love them, or loathe them (as I do I’m afraid) everyone is bound to be familiar with sage smudge sticks. Sage is famous for its cleansing, purifying even sanctifying properties and most commercially sought after smudge sticks are often those containing White Sage (Salvia apiana) which has an especially potent sagey aroma but can be made with garden sage just as easily should you feel inclined to do so, I personally prefer Mugwort and Pine for this sort of thing but each to their own.
To make anything ‘smudge stick’ like you only need dry short bunches of herb and bind with thin thread into a typically smudge sticky shape…though if like me, by the time you have burnt a few holes in your carpet and got sick of keep lighting the thing you will probably wish you just made a simple regular incense and used that instead!
Whilst I don’t make use of Sage much in incense form, Sage is an ingredient in my Four Thieves Vinegar which I do make use of regularly to purify the home and magical objects! I find this much easier to incorporate into daily life by just mixing with usual floor or window washing water for example when doing routine house cleaning… no faffing around required!
Culpepper assigns Sage to the planet Jupiter…the great benevolence of the heavens which is equally assigned to Chesed on the tree of life. Imagine a great benevolent and merciful King upon his throne loved by all, a King Arthur of sorts and you will have some idea of the power Jupiter / Chesed represents. Blessing, good fortune and abundance are under Jupiter’s stabilising and benevolent rule. Use Sage therefore in all magical acts concerning good fortune, luck, well wishing, blessing and in situations where you need to bring a little harmony. And, like all good King’s, Jupiter is responsible for defence of the realm, Sage is therefore equally apt to use in magic relating to protection of the home and to ‘bless’ wrong do-ers.