What Is Sage?
People around the world know and love sage’s strong, unique flavor. This pungent herb also goes by the names common sage and garden sage, and its scientific name is Salvia officinalis.
Sage is a member of the mint family, and its strong flavor means it usually gets used in small amounts. Other members of this family include oregano, rosemary, basil, and thyme.
This herb’s history of medicinal use goes back centuries, and sage is full of surprising benefits and nutrients you might not expect to find in your spice rack.
Sage is very high in vitamin K, and it also contains vital minerals like magnesium, zinc, and copper.
In addition, sage can provide other health benefits like:
Antioxidants help combat free radical molecules in our environment that can damage our cells, leading to cancer. Sage contains antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E in small amounts. It also has over 160 types of polyphenols, another type of antioxidant.
Sage has several types of acidic compounds that also act as antioxidants. Chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, ellagic acid, and rutin have all been linked to benefits such as lower cancer risk, memory improvement, and improved brain function.
One study found that drinking tea made from sage both raised antioxidant defenses and lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol. People in the study who drank two cups of sage tea every day saw these benefits, as well as an increase in good cholesterol levels.
Sage has been shown to have antimicrobial effects that aid in killing plaque. One study using a sage-based mouthwash showed it successfully killed cavity-causing Streptococcus mutans bacteria.
In another study, an essential oil made from sage killed Candida albicans fungus and stopped it from spreading
Sage is also commonly used to treat mouth problems like cold sores, but more data is needed to definitively prove it works in humans.
May ease symptoms of menopause
The body naturally experiences a decline in estrogen levels during menopause. That decline causes side effects like hot flashes, excessive sweating, vaginal dryness, and irritability. Sage has been used as a traditional medicine to reduce these symptoms.
This may be effective because sage has estrogen-like properties, allowing it to bind to certain receptors in the brain and ease symptoms like hot flashes and excessive sweating.
One study showed a significant reduction in the number of hot flashes experienced by people taking a sage supplement over an 8-week period.
May help control blood sugar levels
Sage leaves have been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for diabetes, and some studies do back this up.
In one study, rats with type 1 diabetes had reduced blood glucose levels after taking sage extract. The extract activated a receptor in the rats that helps clear excess fatty acids from the bloodstream, increasing insulin sensitivity.
Human studies have shown that sage leaf extract can lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity similar to the diabetes drug rosiglitazone. But more testing is needed before sage extract can be recommended as a diabetes treatment.
Improve cognitive function
Although the potential for sage tea to support cognitive function (brain skills like memory, attention, and problem solving) isn't yet proven, multiple studies show how sage extract can benefit. In one study, people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease took sage extract for 16 weeks. The results showed improved cognitive measurements as well as less agitation.
In early research using rats, a study determined that clary sage oil may have an anti-stress effect on the animals. The study’s authors proposed that research into clary sage oil may produce promising results for the treatment of depression, but it is too soon to know.
Sage contains vitamins A and C, along with several other antioxidants that help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like cancer. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which aids the body in clotting blood. Since sage is usually taken in small amounts, it provides a high amount of nutrition without a lot of calories.
Nutrients per serving
One teaspoon (0.7 grams) of ground sage contains:
- Calories: 2
- Protein: 0.1 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0.4 grams
- Fiber: 0.3 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Vitamin K: 10% of the reference daily intake (RDI)
- Iron: 1.1% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 1.1% of the RDI
- Calcium: 1% of the RDI
- Manganese: 1% of the RDI
Ground sage also contains several vitamins and minerals, with the most prominent being calcium and iron, but also iron, volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. But because sage is eaten in small amounts, you may only get low levels of them.
Things to watch out for
Sage does not appear to have any side effects when consumed under normal conditions. But there are a few things to keep in mind about this herb.
Animal research has shown that thujone, a compound in common sage but not in Spanish sage, can be toxic to the brain at high doses. That said, there is no evidence to show that thujone is toxic in humans.
Drinking too much sage tea or consuming sage essential oils can have toxic effects. You should never consume essential oil of any kind, and limit yourself to 3-6 cups of sage tea per day to be safe.
How to Prepare Sage
Sage is usually used as an herb in cooking. Whole aromatic leaves should be used sparingly for just the right amount of flavor. You can also buy sage dried and ground to use in the dishes you prepare. Teas, extracts, and supplements made from sage are also available.
Here are some ways to use sage in recipes:
- Sprinkled on soup as a garnish
- Chopped and added to tomato sauces
- Mixed into stuffing
- Used to make sage butter by combining chopped leaves with butter
- Served in an omelet with eggs
- As a rub for meats
- As seasoning for roasted vegetable dishes
To prepare sage tea, boil 1 cup of water and pour it over 1 tablespoon of sage leaves. Leave the leaves to steep until you have reached your desired strength (around 5 to 8 minutes), and then strain the tea. You can prepare sage tea with ground sage, but be extra careful when filtering to avoid a gritty texture.
To add some zing your sage tea, you can add any of the following ingredients:
- Lemon juice or zest
Potential Risks of Sage Oil
Essential oils are popularly thought of as safe because they are natural. But many essential oils can contain naturally potent and harmful compounds. Sage essential oil is no exception and can result in the following health risks:
Sage oil poisoning
When sage essential oil was administered in clinical trials, it was at low amounts under tight controls for extraction and dilution since ingesting it carries a risk of poisoning. Even very small amounts of sage essential oil, when ingested by children, has been known to cause seizures.
Any essential oil carries the risk of causing an allergic reaction. Mild allergy symptoms include itchiness or tingling, shortness of breath, coughing, hives, and lightheadedness. A severe reaction may lead to anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.