Clary Sage: The Ancient Medicinal Sage

The origins of clary sage lie in the Mediterranean region. The Latin name for clary sage is Salvia sclarea, which comes from the word clarus. Clarus means clear. The name comes from the plant’s effectiveness for removing dust and other foreign particles from the eye. It is used for this purpose because the seeds are mucilaginous, similar to chia and flax seeds. This means that clary seeds create a thick, slimy fluid when you soak them in water. You can use that fluid to wash the eyes. This herb has been used as an eyewash and in cooking since the 4th century BCE. Clary sage was documented by Greek philosopher Theophrastus as well as by 1st century CE Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder.

Clary sage was used for its medicinal properties throughout the Middle Ages in Europe. The 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper suggested dipping clary sage leaves in batter and frying them in butter. According to him, the fried leaves helped with back pain. He also warned about mixing the clary sage leaves with wine as he believed the combination acted as an aphrodisiac.

Like several other herbs, clary sage would make its way to America with the European colonists.

Today, the cultivation of clary sage takes place mostly in Europe, Morocco and the US. US cultivation of this herb is mostly in North Carolina.

Clary sage flavor profile

Clary Sage leaves have a similar flavor to its cousin, Salvia officinalis. The sage flavor can be likened to peppermint or rosemary mixed with citrus and camphor notes. Salvia officinalis is the common sage that is better known and more widely utilized in European cuisine. While clary sage is not as pungent, you will still need to use it in moderation to keep your food from becoming bitter.

Health benefits of clary sage

The sources of clary sage’s health benefits are constituent compounds that include:

  • Terpenes: Linalool and geraniol are terpenes in clary sage that provide antioxidant benefits. Geraniol also has antibacterial benefits.
  • Linalyl Acetate: Linalyl acetate is an ester with anti-inflammatory properties.

Clary sage and the essential oil extracted from it are used by practitioners of herbal medicine to treat:

  • Poor digestion: Clary sage is believed to be an effective treatment for flatulence and indigestion.
  • Female-specific ailments: Clary sage has long been prescribed by herbalists for menstrual issues including extreme pain. Its effects are said to come from the fact that it helps to stimulate estrogen production. It is also said to be valuable for easing symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes.
  • High blood pressure: Oil extracted from clary sage is said to be effective for lowering blood pressure, which means that it may be effective for preventing illnesses that arise from high blood pressure like heart disease and diabetes.

Common uses

Clary sage is great when eaten raw. The flowers have a long history of being added to salads. The leaves have traditionally been used to make fritters by mixing them into a batter and frying them in oil or butter. In addition to cooking, clary sage gets used in beverages like vermouths and liqueurs. It has also been used like hops in beer to make it bitter. It is said to increase beer’s potential for intoxication. It has been added to wines to make them taste like muscatel, which is why Germans call it muscatel sage. Clary sage is also a tea herb that you can use to make a tea with medicinal benefits.

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