Sage History, Uses, and Recipes

Sage was once considered a medicinal cure-all

Spring of sage on wood
Roland Krieg / Getty Images

Sage is an herb from the mint family that has a sweet, yet savory flavor. Botanically known as Salvia officinalis, it is native to the Mediterranean region. Sage's botanical name comes from the Latin word "salvere," meaning "to be saved." Once prized for its medicinal value, the most popular use of sage these days is in the stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey. But sage is much too good to bring out only once a year for the holiday dinner.

Sage History

Sage has a very long and rich history due to both its medicinal and culinary uses. At one time, the French produced bountiful crops of sage which they used as a tea. The Chinese became enamored with French sage tea, trading four pounds of Chinese tea for every one pound of sage tea. In 812 AD, sage was one of the plants deemed so important that Charlemagne ordered it planted on German Imperial farms, no doubt due to the lucrative trade business as well as for its medicinal popularity.

In ancient Rome, sage was considered to have substantial healing properties, particularly helpful in the digestion of the ubiquitous fatty meats of the time, and was deemed a part of the official Roman pharmacopeia. The herb was used to heal ulcers, to help stop the bleeding of wounds, and to soothe a sore throat. The Chinese used sage to treat colds, joint pain, typhoid fever, and kidney and liver issues.

Sage Uses Today

In addition to its medicinal properties, sage has been proven to be a natural antiseptic and preservative for meat. When sage is made into a drink from the leaves, called the "thinker's tea," it has shown promise in treating Alzheimer's patients, as well as treating symptoms of depression. Three-lobed sage contains the flavone salvigenin, which may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Sage has also been shown to improve or eliminate hot flashes in menopausal women. Sage can also be used as a part of your dental health routine; not only is it proven to help soothe a sore throat and canker sores, but it can treat gum disease as well.

In addition, sage can be used externally for your hair, skin, and nails. Used as a rinse, it is said to improve the texture and tone of hair, as well as leave a nice shine. Sage steeped in water can also be used as a facial toner that controls oily skin. Tea tree oil, basil oil, sage oil, and arrowroot have been found to help vent and treat fungal infection in toenails.

Sage in Cooking

Because of sage's nutritional benefits, it is an excellent herb to incorporate into everyday cooking. A tablespoon of sage hasĀ 43 percent of the daily recommended serving of vitamin K and is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese. It contains much higher doses than the recommended daily requirements of B vitamins such as folic acid, thiamin, pyridoxine, and riboflavin, as well as healthy amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, and copper.

But it is also its unique flavor that makes sage an ideal herb to add to dishes. When combined with browned butter, the sage turns a simple sauce into something truly special, wonderful spooned over chicken and vegetables, and delicious with pasta like a butternut squash ravioli. A traditional French dish of scallops in a cream sauce uses sage to bring a warm, complex flavor to the sweetness of the shellfish. You can also incorporate sage into a lemon marinade for chicken, or in a compound butter for grilled steak. The herb also marries nicely with the flavor of orange in an easy-to-make yeast bread.