Our garden Sage, a familiar occupant of the English herb bed, was
formerly celebrated as a medicine of great virtue. This was the
Elalisphakos of the Greeks, so called from its dry and withered
looking leaves. It grows wild in the South of Europe, but is a
cultivated Simple in England, France, and Germany. Like other
labiate herbs  it is aromatic and fragrant, because containing a
volatile, camphoraceous, essentia
All parts of the plant have a strong-scented odour, and a warm,
bitter, astringent taste. The Latin name, Salvia, has become
corrupted through Sauja, sauge, to Sage, and is derived from
salvere, to be sound, in reference to the medicinally curative
properties of the plant.
A well-known monkish line about it ran to this effect: Cur moriatur
homo cui Salvia crescit in horto? Why should a man die whilst
Sage grows in his garden? And even at this time, in many parts of
England, the following piece of advice is carefully adopted every
He that would live for aye
Must eat Sage in May.
During the time of Charlemagne, the school of Salerno thought so
highly of Sage that they originated the dictum quoted above of
Saracenic old pharmacy, but they wisely added a second line:--
Contra vim mortis non est medicamen in hortis.
The essential oil of the herb may be more readily dissolved in a
spirituous than in a watery vehicle. Of this, the active principle is
salviol, which confers the power of resisting putrefaction on
animal substances; whilst the bitterness and condimentary pungency
of the herb enable the stomach to digest rich, luscious meats and
gravies, if it be eaten therewith.
Hence has arisen the custom of stuffing ducks for the table, and
geese, with the conventional Sage and onions. Or there is no better
way of taking Sage as a stomachic wholesome herb than by eating it
with bread and butter. In Buckinghamshire a tradition maintains
 that the wife rules where Sage grows vigorously in the garden:
and it is believed that this plant will thrive or wither, just as the
owner's business prospers or fails. George Whitfield, when at
Oxford (1733), took only Sage-tea, with sugar, and coarse bread.
Old sayings tell of the herb, as Salvia salvatrix; naturoe
conciliatrix; and the line runs:--
Salvia cum ruta faciunt tibi pocula tuta.
recommending to plant Rue among the Sage so as to keep away
The Chinese are as fond of Sage as we are of their fragrant teas;
and the Dutch once carried on a profitable trade with them, by
exchanging a pound of Sage leaves for each three-pound parcel of
It was formerly thought that Sage, if used in the making of cheese,
improved its flavour.
Marbled with Sage the hardening cheese she pressed.
Sage, says Gerard, is singular good for the head and brain; it
quickeneth the senses and memory; strengtheneth the sinews;
restoreth health to those that hath the palsy; and takes away shaky
trembling of the members. Agrippa called it the holy herb,
because women with child, if they be likely to come before their
time, do eat thereof to their great good.
Pepys, in his well-known Diary says, between Gosport and
Southampton we observed a little churchyard where it is customary
to sow all the graves with Sage. In Franche Comte the herb is
supposed to mitigate grief, mental and bodily.
Salvia comfortat nervos, manuumque tremorem
Tollit; et ejus ope febris acuta fugit.
Sage helps the nerves, and by its powerful might
Palsy is cured, and fever put to flight.
 But if Sage be smelt for some time it will cause a sort of
intoxication, and giddiness. The leaves, when dried and smoked in a
pipe as tobacco, will lighten the brain.
In Sussex, a peasant will munch Sage leaves on nine consecutive
mornings, whilst fasting, to cure ague.
A strong infusion of the herb has been used with success to dry up
the breast milk for weaning; and as a gargle Sage leaf tea, when
sweetened with honey, serves admirably. This decoction, when
made strong, is an excellent lotion for ulcers, and to heal raw
abrasions of the skin. The herb may be applied externally ill bags as
a hot fomentation. Some persons value the Wormwood Sage more
highly than either of the other varieties.
In the Sage flower the stamens swing round their loosely-connected
anther cells against the back of any blundering bee who is in search
of honey, just as in olden days the bag of sand caught the shoulders
of a clumsy youth when tilting at the Quintin.
Wild Meadow Sage (Salvia verbenaca), or Meadow Clary, grows
in our dry pastures, but somewhat rarely, though it is better known
as a cultivated herb in our kitchen gardens. The leaves and flowers
afford a volatile oil, which is fragrant and aromatic.
Some have attributed the name Salvia sclarea, Clary (Clear eye)
to the fact of the seeds being so mucilaginous, that when the eye is
invaded by any small foreign body, their decoction will remove the
same by acting as an emulsion to lubricate it away. The leaves and
flowers may be usefully given in an infusion for hysterical colic and
similar troubles connected with nervous weakness. Also they make
a pleasant fermented wine. The Wood Sage is the Wood Germander,
 Teucrium scorodinia, a woodland plant with sage-like
leaves, containing a volatile oil, some tannin, and a bitter principle.
This plant has been used as a substitute for hops. It was called hind
heal from curing the hind when sick, or wounded, and was
probably the same herb as Elaphoboscum, the Dittany, taken by
harts in Crete. A snuff has been made from its powder to cure nasal
polypi: also the infusion (freshly prepared), should be given
medicinally, two tablespoonfuls for a dose: or, of the powder, from
thirty to forty grains. The name Germander is a corruption from
Chamoedrys, chamai, ground, and drus, oak, because the
leaves are like those of the oak.