Over the course of history, numerous plants have become important in medicinal or spiritual ways. Some are now part of mainstream medicine; others are still used regionally by the peoples who discovered their curative properties long ago. One standout group is the Salvia genus, which is also known as the true sages. Scientists are currently exploring many species for their medicinal and otherwise useful chemical properties. Salvia comes from the Latin word salvare, which means to heal or save. Many species have a long and ancient history of use for their soothing qualities.
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White Sage (Salvia apiana) is a sacred plant for Native Americans, especially tribes in its Southern California native lands. It's a challenging plant to grow. Flowers by the Sea Farm and Nursery talks about the history and religious use of Salvia apiana as well as providing a guide to growing it.
Long before the West Coast was colonized, California Indians used Black Sage (Salvia mellifera Greene) for food and medicinal purposes. Today, it often is bundled in smudge sticks used like incense during purification rituals. Another reason to consider Black Sage sacred is that, among the state’s native plants, it is one of the most important sources of nectar for pollinators. Nineteenth century botanist and clergyman Edward Lee Greene made the plant’s botanical name official in 1892 when he was the first person to publish it in a scientific journal. Among California's native Salvias, it is the easiest to grow in home gardens.
Although it probably originated somewhere in Mexico, Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea) existed in the American Southeast prior to European exploration of the New World, so it is considered an American native. It's also native to Central and South America and has naturalized in parts of Europe and Africa. Medical researchers think its phytochemicals may fight illnesses caused by inflammation and oxidative stress from free radicals.
Heading into the season of long, dark nights and candlelit holiday dinners, it is pleasant to think of the candelabra-shaped Jerusalem Sage (Salvia hierosolymitana) lit up with raspberry and pale pink flowers in spring. It's structure was likely an inspiration during Biblical times for design of the Jewish menorah. Jerusalem Sage grows well in moderate climates and has tasty leaves used in cooking. Historically and in culinary use, it bridges the Arab and Israeli cultures.
Bees and hummingbirds love the perennial subshrub Sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana) with its soaring spikes of white-to-lavender flowers that visually cool the landscape along with its large rosettes of lance-shaped, greenish-white foliage. Sacred White Sage is far more than a pretty native plant of California. Historically, it provided food and medicine for a number of Native American tribes along the Pacific Coast. Today, bundles of Sacred White Sage leaves are still tied together to create torch-like wands called smudge sticks for fragrant purification ceremonies far beyond the Native American community.
Less than 250 years ago, Black Sage and White Sage also helped feed and heal the Tongvas and other Southern California native peoples. Here is their story.
Many kinds of Sage were considered sacred in ancient times due to their soothing, medicinal qualities. Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), which is native to Mexico and Guatemala, is still a highly regarded folk remedy for relieving anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. It is also one of America's most popular culinary sages and is a highlight of the USDA's National Herb Garden.
Of all the mint family's more than 6,500 species worldwide, Giant Bolivian Sage (Salvia dombeyi) has the longest blossoms and tallest growth. Each tubular crimson flower grows up to 5 inches long and has a burgundy calyx at its base.The plant's bright green, heart-shaped leaves are equally long. In South America, the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds with extremely long beaks. However, Giant Bolivian Sage don't need pollination to flower beautifully for many seasons if growing conditions are right.