Ingredient spotlight: Sage
Ingredient spotlight: Sage
If there was only one plant I could have in my garden, it would be sage.
Its delicious aromas are fabulous to cook with, but it’s far more than that - sage is a wise old herb and ancient medicine in the East and West alike.
In fact, its scientific name Salvia officinalis is derived from the Latin salvere, ‘to be saved’ – referring to the numerous curative properties of the plant.
Let’s have a look at some of its traditional uses, most of which have been backed up by modern research.
Sage for winter sniffles
Imagine if there was a single herb that could stop a cold in its tracks. And what if that herb was widely available and easily sourced the world over?
Well - there is! Sage is a super-herb when it comes to colds, coughs, flu - literally any viral or bacterial infection.
Traditionally used as a gargle to soothe sore throats, mouth ulcers, inflamed gums & tonsils, sage contains many potent anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial compounds.
For example, ‘rosmarinic acid’ has shown strong anti-viral activity against Herpes simplex and HIV, and ‘carnosol’ is a powerful anti-inflammatory (1). These compounds are present in other aromatic herbs like rosemary, too.
So whenever you next feel a cold coming on, think sage! Infuse the fresh leaves with a bit of lemon juice, cayenne pepper and honey, and drink 3 or 4 cups a day for the best results.
My favourite clinical use for sage is in treating tonsillitis, mixed with echinacea and propolis tinctures. Good results have also been seen in acute viral pharyngitis, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (2).
Sage for old age
In the 16th century, herbalist John Gerard said of sage: “It is singularly good for the head and brain and quickeneth the nerves and memory”.
Fast forward to 2008, and a single 2.5g dose of sage significantly enhanced memory compared to placebo in 20 healthy elderly volunteers over a 6-hour period (3).
It’s also been shown to have mood and cognition-enhancing effects in healthy young volunteers, working to reduce anxiety and increase ‘alertness’, ‘calmness’ and ‘contentedness’ (4).
Sage is also a hugely untapped resource where Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment is concerned. In one trial, 60 drops of sage were given to 42 patients with mild-moderate Alzheimer’s, daily for 4 months. A significantly better outcome than placebo was seen with no side effects (5).
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Sage for women’s woes
Sage is thought of as an inwardly-acting herb, helping to conserve strength and prevent dispersal of forces in the body – giving some traditional background to its modern use in hot flushes and night sweats.
Sage’s oestrogenic activity helps make the transition to menopause smoother. In an open trial in Switzerland, 71 patients were given a tablet of fresh sage daily for 8 weeks, and the average total number of hot flushes decreased by 50% after 4 weeks and 64% after 8 weeks (6).
Sage can also be a great help to young women with low oestrogen levels, manifesting as depression or insomnia, irregular or light periods, poor fertility and low libido.
1. Poeckel et al. (2008) Carnosic acid and carnosol potently inhibit human 5-lipoxygenase and suppress pro-inflammatory responses of stimulated human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. Biochem Pharmacol 76(1):91-7.
2. Hubbert et al. (2006) Efficacy and tolerability of a spray with Salvia officinalis in the treatment of acute pharyngitis - a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with adaptive design and interim analysis. Eur J Med Res 11(1):20-6.
3. Scholey et al (2008) An extract of Salvia (sage) with anticholinesterase properties improves memory and attention in healthy older volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 198(1):127-39.
4. Kennedy et al. (2006) Effects of cholinesterase inhibiting sage (Salvia officinalis) on mood, anxiety and performance on a psychological stressor battery. Neuropsychopharmacology. 31(4):845-52.
5. Akhondzadeh et al. (2003) Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther 28(1):53-9.
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