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Health Benefits of Sage

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 18, 2020

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.

Health Benefits

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:

Antioxidant Benefits

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 made of plant matter. 

Sage has several types of acidic compounds in it 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. Subjects who drank two cups of sage tea every day saw these benefits, as well as an increase in good cholesterol levels. 

Oral Health

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 eight-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 anti-diabetes drug rosiglitazone. However, further testing is needed before sage extract can be recommended as a diabetes treatment for humans.

Nutrition

Sage contains vitamins A and C, along with several other antioxidants which 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 

Things to Watch Out For

Sage does not appear to have any side effects when consumed under normal conditions. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind about this herb.

Animal research has shown that thujone — a compound present in common sage but not 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

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: “Pharmacological properties of Salvia officinalis and its components”

USDA FoodData Central: “Sage”

Phytochemistry: “Polyphenolics of Salvia--a review”

Animal Health Research Reviews: “Rosmarinic acid: modes of action, medicinal values and health benefits”

International Journal of Molecular Science: “Sage tea drinking improves lipid profile and antioxidant defences in humans”

Iranian Journal of Microbiology: “The antibacterial effect of sage extract (Salvia officinalis) mouthwash against Streptococcus mutans in dental plaque: a randomized clinical trial”

Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine: “In vitro effects of Salvia officinalis L. essential oil on Candida albicans.”

Planta Medica: “Salvia officinalis for hot flushes: towards determination of mechanism of activity and active principles.”

Electron Physician: “A review of effective herbal medicines in controlling menopausal symptoms.”

Advances in Therapy: “First time proof of sage's tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes.”

Journal of Ethnopharmacology: “Activation of the nuclear receptor PPARγ by metabolites isolated from sage (Salvia officinalis L.)”

Cardiovascular and Hematological Agents in Medicinal Chemistry: “PPAR- γ agonist in treatment of diabetes: cardiovascular safety considerations.”

PeerJ: “Preventive effects of Salvia officinalis leaf extract on insulin resistance and inflammation in a model of high fat diet-induced obesity in mice that responds to rosiglitazone.”

Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: “Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Property of Sage (Salvia) to Prevent and Cure Illnesses such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Dementia, Lupus, Autism, Heart Disease, and Cancer.”

Chemistry Central Journal: “Determination of the biologically active flavour substances thujone and camphor in foods and medicines containing sage (Salvia officinalis L.)”

Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: “Thujone and thujone-containing herbal medicinal and botanical products: toxicological assessment.”

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