Medicinal Herbs: Clary Sage

Clary Sage {Salvia sclarea}

Clary Sage is an ancient herb that has been used by many cultures to medicate the eyes and treat a variety of diseases. This biennial member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, is native to the northern Mediterranean, parts of North Africa, and Central Asia. It is now a commercial crop in the Mediterranean, Russia, the United States, England, Morocco, and Central Europe, cultivated primarily for its essential oils. It still grows wild in many places.

The plant begins as a rosette, and, by its second year, produces strong, hairy stems that reach an average height of three feet. The large, downy green leaves are paired and show a hint of purple. The herb produces lush spikes of lilac or blue flowers that bloom from spring to mid-summer and attract bees and other pollinators.

Healing Properties

Written records of the herb’s healing powers go back to Theophrastus in the fourth century B.C., and Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. By the Middle Ages, clary sage was cultivated almost exclusively for the perfume trade, but healers still relied on it for treating digestive issues and renal complaints. In modern times, it has begun to regain some of its medicinal popularity.

The herb is notable for one specific medical attribute – a seed placed in an irritated eye will soon turn to mucilage and carry out any irritants. This practice of clearing the eye gave rise to the herb’s name – from the Latin clarus, for “clear.” Clary sage is still used today to brighten the eyes, improve vision, and slow down the ocular aging process.

In Asian medicine, clary sage oil is thought to circulate and strengthen qi energy that has become “stuck.” Qi is considered the life force that flows through our bodies and sustains our physical being. In Jamaica, the herb was once used to soothe ulcers, while a decoction of the leaves boiled in coconut oil was thought to cure scorpion stings.

Traditional healers also use it to treat bronchitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hemorrhoids, circulatory problems, digestive distress, muscle aches, kidney disorders, and hair loss, and as an aphrodisiac. by acting on the “primitive” hypothalamus in the brain, clary sage produces a euphoric effect when used for anxiety or depression. It can heighten the effects of alcohol, so should not be combined with drinking.

It is one of the few herbs with a high proportion of esters – gentle chemical compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. The other two are lavender and petitgrain, or bitter orange.

Culinary Uses

If harvested early, the leaves can be eaten raw or added to most recipes that call for sage. The older leaves turn bitter, so use only tender, young leaves. The flowers can also be eaten and make a tasty addition to salads or, dried, can be steeped in a tea.

clary-sage-oilAromatic Qualities

The scent of clary sage has been described as sweet-spicy, floral, grassy, tea-like, somewhat nutty, and similar to ambergris. The essential oil is extracted from the buds and leaves by steam distillation and is used as a perfume fixer, in cosmetics, and as a flavoring – mimicking the taste of muscatel wine – in vermouths, wines, and liqueurs. In aromatherapy, it is used to relax the mind, aid sleep, and to relieve PMS and cramps. The essential oil can be applied topically, used as a compress, massaged into the skin, placed in a warm bath, or directly inhaled or diffused. It is not ingested.

History and Lore

  • In the Middle Ages, clary sage was called Oculus Christi or Christ’s Eye.
  • In 16th-century England, the herb was sometimes substituted for hops as a flavoring in the production of beer.
  • Clary sage is said to enhance the ability to dream and to recall the dream accurately.

The Women’s Helper

Clary sage is called the “women’s helper” because of a long history treating female reproductive complaints, from the onset of menstruation – cramps and PMS – through to menopause – night sweats, hot flashes, and mood swings. The herb contains sclareol, a compound with a chemical structure similar to estrogen; this allows clary sage to mimic the effects of estrogen if there is a deficiency and to help restore hormonal balance. The herb should be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Recipes with Clary Sage
It’s Been a Long Day –Diffuser Blend – Relax and wind down. Makes a great Sleep blend too.
• 2 drops Clary Sage
• 2 drops Lavender
• 2 drops Mandarin or Tangerine
A Woman’s Balance Bath Soak – Balance female hormones with this amazing blend. Add mix to warm bath water right before getting in. Soak away the tension before bedtime.
Mix the following oils in a jar with 1 cup Epsom salts:
• 3 drops Clary Sage
• 2 drops Geranium
• 2 drops Lavender
• 2 drops Bergamot

Directions: Add to your diffuser for aromatherapy benefits. Recommended to properly blend with a carrier oil prior to topical applications.

Clary sage flowers change color, depending on the lighting conditions, from white through cream, ivory, pink and purple. The flowering stems yield an essential oil that blends particularly well with sandalwood, juniper, lavender, pine, geranium, jasmine, frankincense, and many citrus oils.

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