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Sage botanical name, Salvia, comes from the Latin word meaning “to heal” or “to save,” and many cultures have long valued this plant’s medicinal properties.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a small perennial shrub with grey-green leaves and purple-blue flowers and is strongly aromatic, spicy and bitter. The sage genus contains about 900 species with a wide range of biological activities. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean, Italy, Southern Europe and the Middle East, with a long history of use in ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome and in Ayurvedic, Chinese and European medical and culinary systems.

Traditionally used as an astringent. The Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century CE used it to stop bleeding, for hoarseness and cough, and as an antiseptic, tonic, carminative and anti-inflammatory. According to Pliny the Elder, 23–79 CE, these actions madƒherbe it useful for respiratory, digestive, kidney and circulatory conditions as well as improving memory. There is a long historical use of sage tea to increase breast milk, and to relieve night sweats, whether from infection or hormonal causes.

Active ingredients

Sage leaf is the main part of the plant used, and the main actives in it’s leaf are flavonoids: luteolin, apigenin, quercetin (an antioxidant, anxiolytic and neurotrophic), tannins such as rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid, with antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, coumarins (an antioxidant), phenolic diterpenes (like carnosic acid, rosmanol and sageone, which are antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective) and up to 2.5 per cent essential oils including the antibacterial thujones, humulene and camphor.

Therapeutic uses


There have been many studies that have shown significant benefits of sage extract on both mood and cognitive performance, in both younger and older people. One study on healthy older subjects with an average age of 73 showed significant improvements in memory and attention accuracy after taking the leaf extract, compared with placebo where a decline in these measurements was recorded.

In a study on younger healthy people averaging 24 years old, treating with a single dose of sage leaf capsules resulted in significantly improved mood such as reduction in anxiety and increased calmness, cognitive performance and alertness.

It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of chronic painful peripheral neuropathies, including those induced by the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin.


Sage has been shown to lead to significantly reduced levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDLs and increased HDLS. In general it has been shown to improve both lipid management and blood sugar control in type-2 diabetes.

Respiratory system

Sage has been called “the singer’s remedy” as it has been used successfully for inflammation of the throat whether caused by infection or overuse. In one randomised double blind multicentre study, 286 participants with throat pain were given different concentrations of a sage extract spray several times over three days. These results showed that the 15 per cent sage leaf extract reduced throat pain by 44 per cent after two hours compared with the placebo group. Sage spray has also been used to relieve throat pain after tonsillectomy.

Traditionally used to improve the symptoms of both bacterial and viral lung infections.

Reproductive system

With the ability of sage to bind to GABA receptors, its antiperspiration activity and its phytoestrogen compounds, it has been shown to be very effective at reducing the hot flashes and sweating of menopause, particularly at night, as well as being calming.

Liver and digestion

Various rat studies have shown that the essential oil of sage has antioxidant and hepatoprotective activities that prevent liver toxicity from a range of chemicals and pharmaceuticals including paracetamol and antibiotics such as co-amoxiclav, sold as Augmentin.

Rat studies have shown that the carnosic acid in sage improves alcoholic liver disease by reducing inflammation, lipid accumulation and immune cell infiltration, thereby being hepatoprotective against some of the damage caused by excess consumption of alcohol.

The extract of sage has a gastroprotective effect, healing gastric ulceration caused by stress, alcohol or acetic acid by increasing mucus production and generating healing of the gastric mucosa.


Research has shown that it has antibacterial actions against a wide range of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including multidrug resistance pathogens, inhibiting vancomycin resistant, penicillin resistant and methicillin resistant bacteria. Sage is also antifungal, including candida albicans, antiviral and antimalarial.

Using sage

Be careful of the dose of sage if pregnant or lactating as sage has oestrogenic properties.

Sage is contraindicated in epilepsy, and is best avoided in anyone prescribed concurrent hypoglycaemic, anticonvulsant or sedative medications.

The lower doses used in food are generally considered safe.

Article Featured in WellBeing Magazine 207

Dr Karen Bridgman

Dr Karen Bridgman

Karen Bridgman is a holistic practitioner at Lotus Health and Lotus Dental in Neutral Bay.

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