sage, any species of the large genus Salvia, aromatic herbs or shrubs of the family Labiatae (mint family). The common sage of herb gardens is S. officinalis, a strongly scented shrubby perennial, native from S Europe to Asia Minor. The dried leaves are used as seasoning, especially in dressings for meat and poultry and also in sage cheese; sage tea, once popular as a beverage, has also been used as a domestic remedy for colds and other ailments and as a hair rinse. The oil is used in medicinals and flavorings and sometimes in perfumery. Prized since ancient times, common sage was thought to prolong life and to increase wisdom by strengthening the memory—whence the name.
The ornamental sages are often popularly called salvia. Of these the scarlet sage ( S. splendens ), native to Brazil, is best known. Clary ( S. sclarea ), native from the Mediterranean region to Iran, is a biennial sage whose seeds were once used to "clear the eye"; it has bluish or pinkish flowers, and its oil is sometimes used similarly to that of the common sage.
The seeds of some species of W North America, e.g., the thistle sage ( S. carduacea ) of California, were used by Native Americans for a flour and a beverage. Another species is S. carnosa, the purple sage of the western deserts. S. divinorum, native to S Mexico and known as diviner's sage or magic mint, has psychoactive properties and is used as a hallucinogenic drug. Most sages are good honey plants.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.