A perennial herb that is hardy in zones 8-11. Grows to 3 feet and has a pineapple scent and brilliant red flowers that bloom in mid-to late-spring to fall. Plant in full sun with well-drained soil. Use for drinks, chicken, cheese and in jams and jellies. Pinch to keep bushy. The green leaves make a good tea. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. The flowers are also pineapple scented and can be used fresh or dried.
History Its botanical name is a clue to its medicinal importance. Salvia comes from salvare which, in Latin, means “to cure.”
The earliest of all the Chinese herbal texts, The Divine Husbandman’s Classic (Shen nong Bencaojing) listed Dan Shen as an herb that invigorates the blood. It is still used as a circulatory remedy.
Clary sage has long been perceived as a weaker version of true sage, but it is still significant and was once commonly used to treat eye problems. In 1652, Culpeper recommended a decoction of the seeds to draw out splinters and thorns.
Sage has long had the reputation for restoring failing memory in the elderly; and, like other memory-enhancing herbs, for some unknown reason, it was planted on graves.
It is said that when the British started importing tea from China, the Chinese so valued sage that they would trade two cases of tea for one of dried English sage. However, it is noted that in the 17th century, Dutch merchants were trading three chests of China tea for one of sage leaves.
The Romans considered it a sacred herb and would gather it with ceremony. The appointed person would make sacrifices of bread and wine, wear a white tunic, and approach with bare feet and, of course, be well washed. Roman instructions also advised against using iron tools. This is sensible being that iron salts are incompatible with the herb.
The Aztecs used seeds from the Salvia species as a food. They were toasted, ground into a flour, and added to cornmeal to make a thick drink called “chianzotzolatolí”. “Chia” seeds are still used today to prepare cold beverages with lemon and sugar — as well as being a popular fast-growing plant sold on ceramic animals.
Native American healers mixed sage with bear grease and applied it as a salve to heal skin sores and wounds. They also used the woody stems as a toothbrush. The Cherokee used sage to relieve asthma, coughs, and colds. They also used a leaf infusion to treat diarrhea. The Mohegans used it to treat intestinal worms.
Thujone is the notorious ingredient in absinthe, which is said to have been the cause of Vincent Van Gogh’s insanity.