The herb sage produces flowers of purple, pink, white and various colors.

The Aromatic, Tasty and Curative Characteristics of Sage

Dale Carson
April 13, 2013

I want to give you some sage advice: Cherish friends who give you a garden gift with myriad uses, such as nourishment to the body, senses, mind and spirit.

There are more than 100 species of sage, Artemisia tridentate; the garden variety is called salvia. It is aromatic, attractive, useful and perennial—you can’t ask for more than that. It is said that sage originated in the northern Mediterranean, yet naturalized in North America for over three centuries. It is now a common garden herb. The flowers are varied—purple, pink, white and variations thereof. It has a strong camphorous scent as a member of the mint family. The name comes from the Latin salvare, which means to “save.”

Sage is reputed to have curative, healing properties when prepared in different forms, as tonic, astringent, antiseptic or expectorant. Native use included sage as a diaphoretic to cause sweating, which many indigenous people believe has value in ridding the body of many kinds of toxins. It has several other Native medicinal uses for things like asthma, chills, aches and pains of a cold, and especially as a tea to strengthen women who have just given birth.  The tea was also used for sore eyes, sore feet and fever. Of course, sage has its culinary talents especially with pork dishes, poultry and fish. It is often used in many stuffing recipes, and it would be hard to find a sausage made without it.

However, I believe its most common and delightful use is as an ingredient in a smudge stick. Smudging is a purification ritual practiced by many religions worldwide. In Native America, smudging is used for this purpose regularly. It has a calming effect on nearly all who participate.  A bundle of dried herbs—typically sage or sometimes cedar—is lit on a ceramic bowl or shell like abalone, then offered to people who wave and inhale the smoke it produces into their face and up their body. People smudge their homes, their cars, even possessions to assure the riddance of bad or evil spirits. I have been honored to participate in many of these rituals—a sacred, solemn and joyful event all at once. The plant that a real friend gave me has continued to spread in the garden and given our home a sense of peace that it did not have before. There is a variety of sage that is white and different from the garden sage variety. It grows primarily in the southwest. I received some as a gift and felt it was more fragrant than the eastern sage. All varieties are available online as plants or sage bundles for you to enjoy. 

Good Stuffing

4 cups of bread crumbs

½ cup of melted unsalted butter

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ cup fine chopped onion

¼ cup fine chopped celery

2 teaspoons ground sage

1 teaspoon parsley

Mix all in a large bowl.  (You don’t have to, but adding a raw egg will help hold the stuffing together, which is good if stuffing clams, mushrooms or peppers, etc.) After mixing all ingredients in a large bowl, add some water, or preferably, vegetable or chicken broth to bind all together. Now stuff vegetable of choice (mushroom, tomato, peppers, clamshell, squash...). I do not recommend stuffing poultry; it is best to heat the stuffing separately while roasting the meat.

Most vegetables stuffed take 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Check for doneness at 30 minutes and adjust temperature if necessary.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.