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Sacred Sage: Powerful, Pretty Salvia repens

May 21, 2014

Sacred Sage: Powerful, Pretty Salvia repens

Kruipsalie is the Afrikaans common name for the South African native Salvia repens, parts of which have long been used in folk remedies and for insect fumigation.

Kruip refers to the way the plant creeps, or spreads, rhizomatically underground. Salie means Salvia. The scientific epithet repens also refers to the plant's creeping growth. With its fragrant foliage and long-blooming, lush flowers, Kruipsalie is the sort of perennial that we like creeping through our gardens.

Hairy But Plenty Pretty

S. repens blooms spring to fall with flowers clustered in groups of 6 to 8. Rosy green calyxes support the flowers, which vary from white to mauve and blues. Our selection looks like a pale purple cloud from a distance.

The bright green foliage is rough with hairs, a trait that helps this heat-tolerant sage conserve moisture and resist drought. The large leaves have an attractive pebbly look and are serrated on the edges.

This is a petite plant that grows only about 12 inches tall and makes an excellent perennial groundcover in USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 8 to 11. Give it average watering based on local rainfall and well-drained soil. While full sun is best, S. repens tolerates partial shade.

Folk Remedies and Medical Research

In South Africa, S. repens mainly grows in the high veld grasslands of the Eastern Cape where bees are its main pollinators. Locals add its leaves to bathwater to soothe sores. They boil the roots in water to make an extract for treating diarrhea in both people and cattle.

South Africans also burn entire S. repens plants as a fumigant. Perhaps it's partly the plant's camphor chemical that makes it effective this way. A 2013 study in the scientific journal Molecules reports that people used the fragrant oil of the Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) as a fumigant during the bubonic plague of Medieval times.

Medical researchers are particularly interested in the antibacterial potential of S. repens phytochemicals -- such as acetone and methanol -- for fighting infections caused by bacteria including E. coli and Streptococcus.

But even in South Africa, S. repens doesn't have a history as a tea Salvia. We don't recommend imbibing Kruipsalie, especially for anyone who is pregnant, because powerful phytochemicals can also be somewhat toxic.

Sharing About Edible Salvias

Although S. repens isn't considered an edible sage, many other Salvias are. These include the kitchen sages (S. officinalis spp.), which are well known for adding flavor to roast poultry, and Pineapple Sage (S. elegans) -- a frequent ingredient in teas and baked goods. If you have any thoughts to share or questions to ask about herbal sages, please contact us. Meanwhile, if you plan to start drinking sage teas for medicinal purposes, remember that it is always best to consult with your physician first.

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