Common garden sage, Salvia Officinalis, is a dear old friend who brings us many gifts that can be used in many ways. Sage can be used for seasoning, for healing and for spiritual rituals. It can be preserved in many different forms to be used in a variety of applications.
Sage has been used as a tincture, an infusion, an extract, a poultice and a spice. Sage can be frozen, dried or used fresh in these various forms.
The traditional method for drying sage is to tie the cut bunches together and hang them upside down in a cool, dark place. This is sometimes a little messy and results in dried leaves and other debris dropping on the floor beneath the hanging herbs. Some have found that it is possible to strip the clean, unblemished leaves from the stalks and pack them loosely in small brown paper bags. It is a good idea to shake the bags and examine the leaves periodically during the drying time to make sure the leaves are drying evenly.
Sage can easily be frozen, and some herbalists prefer this preservation method for the sage they use in cooking. Rinse the fresh picked sage and pat it dry. Put the loose bunches in freezer bags and freeze. It is not necessary to thaw the sage before using it in a recipe. Cooks who prefer this method claim frozen sage is closer in taste to fresh sage than the dried herb.
Sage has a long history of medicinal use. Ancient Egyptians and the early Greeks are known to have used it for fertility treatments and to stop bleeding. It has also been used for sore throats and respiratory problems. Sage is thought to be anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. It was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a medicine up until 1900.
Sage has been used to treat hot flashes and night sweats. It is a strong anti-hydrotic and has traditionally been used to reduce night sweats in tuberculosis patients.
To make sage tea with dried leaves, pour one pint of boiling water into one ounce of dried sage leaves in an appropriate container to steep. Drink the equivalent of half a teacupful per dose. You may also make a tea of ½ ounce of fresh leaves, a bit of sugar and a touch of lemon juice or grated rind for flavor.
Sage also works well for herbal vinegars. It can be used alone or combined with herbs such as oregano. Place a generous amount of sage in a bottle and fill with apple cider vinegar. Let it steep for six weeks to get the full flavor. Sage honey is also useful as a medicinal treatment. Use only the unblemished leaves of the plant. Pack them into a clean jar and cover with raw honey. Let the jar set for several days to strengthen the medicinal properties. To use it simply put a generous spoonful in a cup and add hot water, or, if you prefer, just take a spoonful like cough syrup to ease a sore throat.
Cooking with sage is not just for Thanksgiving. It is a good complement to apple dishes, green beans and pork. Soups and stews can also benefit from the addition of a bit of sage.
Native American culture has traditionally made use of sage in their smudging rituals. Small wands of dried sage are lighted and the smoke is used to cleanse and bless the gathering.
Garden sage is one of those plants that seems to thrive on neglect. It does well in hot dry soil and you will not need to water much between rains. It can be harvested right up until the first hard frost. It tends to get woody so cut it back to six or eight inches in the spring so that you can get the full benefit of this helpful and tasty plant.