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Sage (Salvia officinalis L.)


pharmaceuticalFolia Salviae
AlbanianSherbelë mjekësore, Bedurncë, Sfarkë, Sherbela
Arabicمرمية, مريميه, ميراميه
Marameeah, Maramiah, Maryamiya, Marimih, Miraamih
Yeghesbag, Eghespak
AzeriAdaçayı, Sürvə
Адачајы, Сүрвә
BasqueSalbia, Sobe
Bengaliভুই তুলসি
Bhui tulsi?
BulgarianЧай градински, Салвия
Chaj gradinski, Salviya
CatalanSàlvia, Sàlvia bona, Sàlvia d’Aragó
鼠尾草 [lóuh méih chóu]
Louh meih chou
鼠尾草 [shǔ wěi cǎo]
Shu wei cao
CroatianŽalfija, Ljekovita kadulja
CzechŠalvěj, Šalvěj lékařská
DutchSalie, Tuinsalie, Selft, Franse thee, Selve
EstonianSalvei, Aedsalvei
Farsiمریم گلی
Mariam goli
FinnishRohtosalvia, Salvia
FrenchSauge, Thé de la Grèce
GaelicAthair liath, Slan lus
GreekΑλισφακιά, Φασκόμηλο
Alisfakia, Faskomilo
Greek (Old)Ἐλελίσφακος, Σφάκος
Elelisphakos, Sphakos
Hebrewמרווה, מרוה
HungarianZsálya, Orvosi zsálya
Japaneseサルビア, セージ
Sarubia, Sezi
KazakhСәлбен, Жалбыз, Дери шөп
Jalbız, Sälben, Deri şöp
Korean깨꽃, 사루비아, 세이지, 셀비어
Kkae-ggocch, Sarubia, Seiji, Selbieo
LatvianĀrstniecības salvijas
LithuanianŠalavijas, Vaistinis šalavijas
Naga (Lotha)Sunporrothera
NorwegianSalvie, Tesalvie
PolishSzałwia lekarska
PortugueseChá-da-Europa, Salva-mansa
ProvençalSàuvi, Saouvi
SerbianКадуља, Жалфија
Kadulja, Žalfija
SlovakŠalvia lekárska, Šalvia
SlovenianŽajbelj, Kadulja
SwedishSalvia, Kryddsalvia
TurkishAdaçayı, Bahçe adaçayı, Dişotu
UkrainianШавлія лікарська
Shavliya likarska
Yiddishשאַלפֿײ, שאַלװיע
Shalfey, Sholvie

Salvia officinalis: Sage flower
Sage flower
Salvia officinalis: Sage plants
Sage plants in flower
Salvia officinalis: Sterile sage plants
Sterile sage plants with different leaf colours
Salvia officinalis: Sage leaves
Sage leaves. Left common sage, right an ornamental variety with equal scent.
Salvia officinalis: Flowers of garden sage
Flowering garden sage
Salvia triloba:
Greek sage leaf
Used plant part


Plant family

Lamiaceae (mint family).

Sensory quality

Slightly bitter and aromatic, charac­teristic. See below about Meso-American sage varieties with fruity fragrance.

Main constituents

The essential oil (1 to 2.5%) is com­posed rather dif­ferently in dif­ferent species and varieties of sage. Dalmatian sage (S. officinalis ssp. minor) contains mostly thujone (35 to 60%), 1,8-cineol (15%), camphor (18%), borneol (16%), bornyl esters, α-pinene and salvene.

Spanish sage (ssp. lavandulifolia) lacks thujone, but contains more cineol (29%) and camphor (34%); this subspecies is regarded as inferior. Its leaves lack the bitter diterpene carnosol (see hyssop).

Salvia leucantha: White-flowered sage inflorescence
Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha
Salvia dorisiana: Fruit sage flowers
Fruit sage inflorescence, Salvia dorisiana

Greek sage (S. triloba) is more strongly aromatic, but generally not accepted as legitimate spice (at least, outside Greece). This species has an interesting, yet less subtle fragrance. The essential oil is dominated by cineol (64%) and contains small amounts of thujone (5%) and camphor (8%), but hardly any borneol.
This species is furthermore characterized by a flavone called salvigenin, by which adulterations of S. officinalis with S. triloba can be detected.

See mugwort on the toxicity of thujone, which also appears in southern­wood. On the bitter constituents of sage typical for the family see hyssop; see zedoary for a general discussion on bitter spices.


The sage varieties used as spice stem from the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Sage is grown in Central Europe since the Middle Ages (see lovage).

Genus Salvia is not restricted to the Old World; several sage species from Central America are characterized by a sweet, fruity fragrance very dissimilar to Mediterranean sage, e. g. Pineapple sage (Salvia rutilans), peach sage (Salvia greggii), fruit sage (Salvia dorisiana) and more. Some of these become increasingly popular for herb infusions, others are grown as ornamentals for their large flowers.

Salvia officinalis: Garden sage
Garden sage with flowers

Salvia rutilans: Pineapple sage
Pineapple sage, S. rutilans

© Sabine Amtsberg

Also native to Central America is a hallucino­genic species, Salvia divinorum (sacred sage, sage of the seers), which is of old cultivated by Central American Indians and was used in religious ceremonies before the advent of the Spaniards. The psychoactive constituents were identified as diterpenoid lactones (salvinorin A, divinorin C and others) specific for this species. S. divinorum is the only hallucino­genic species in the whole Lamiaceae family.


The names of sage in almost all European tongues derive from the classical Latin name of that plant, salvia. This name is thought to derive from salvere save, thus indicating the medical value of the plant.

Some examples of salvia-derived names in European languages are German Salbei, Dutch salie, French sauge, Lithuanian šalavijas, Polish szałwia, Serbo-Croatian žalfija [жалфија], Russian shalfej [шалфей], Ukrainian shavliya [шавлія] and Georgian salbi [სალბი].

The only European language with independent names for sage is Greek. The Modern Greek term, alisfakia [αλισφακιά], can be related to a number of ancient names for not clearly identified sage species, e. g. elelisphakos [ἐλελίσφακος] used by Dioscurides, sphakos [σφάκος] used by Theophrastos and phaskoven [𐀞𐀒𐀸] found on Linear B tablets. I do not know about the origin of these names, yet probably Armenian egesphak [եղեսպակ] belongs to the same kin.

Several languages have names for sage indicating its frequent use for herbal teas: Dutch Franse thee French tea, French thé de la Grèce tea of Greece Bulgarian chaj gradinski [чай градински] garden tea and North African Arabic shay al-jabal [شاي الجبل] tea from the mountain. See epazote on the etymology of tea, chai and their relatives.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Sage ( Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Salbei ( via A Pinch of Sage ( San Marcos Growers: Sage Transport Information Service: Sage Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association: Sage Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans) Autumn Sage (Salvia greggi) Crop and Food Research: Sage ( via Alles over Salie ( Herbs by Linda Gilbert: Sage Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Sage Salvia divinorum Research and Information center Salvia Collectie (Roger Bastin) Recipe: Veal Scaloppini with Prosciutto and Sage (Saltimbocca alla Romana) ( Recipe: Veal and Ham Rolls (Saltimbocca alla Romana) (

Salvia discolor: Peru sage, black flower
Peruvian sage, S. discolor
Salvia triloba: Three-lobed sage flower
Greek sage flower, S. triloba
Salvia janthina: Gentian sage (blue flower)
Gentian sage, S. janthina
Salvia darcyi: Guava sage
Flowering guava sage, S. darcyi

© Sabine Amtsberg

Salvia darcyi: Guava sage flower
Guava sage flower
Although sage is an ancient spice, its importance today is quite limited; usage concentrates on the Medi­terranean countries, where dishes spiced with sage are found from Spain to Greece. Undoubtedly, the country which uses sage most is Italy; in this respect, sage resembles rosemary (which fragrance is remotely similar).

Italians most commonly use sage to flavour meat and poultry dishes; especially veal, which is often thought bland, can profit a lot from this herb. Saltimbocca alla Romana is probably the most famous dish owing its special character to sage: Very thin veal steaks are fried together with raw salt-cured ham (prosciutto crudo) and fresh sage leaves and then deglazed with marsala, a fortified wine from Sicily. Yet I have also seen recipes employing other white or even red wines.

Sage leaves fried in butter until the butter turns brown make an easy and interesting, but not exactly light, sauce to be eaten with Italian gnocchi or, less recommended but still good, any type of noodles (pasta).

Sage is a very powerful spice and tends to dominate; its slightly bitter taste is not appreciated by some people. It is sometimes combined with garlic and pepper (preferably green pepper) for barbecued or fried meat. Because of its strong taste, combination of sage with more subtle-flavoured, delicate herbs does not make much sense.

Sage species from Central and South America usually have a much sweeter and fruitier aroma. They are no suitable substitute for Mediterranean sage, but they might have same culinary value for themselves. Despite their unique and most interesting fragrance, I don’t know of any uses for these herbs except that they are occasionally used to flavour herbal infusions. They are more often grown as ornamentals for their large and colourful flowers.

Salvia greggii: Peach sage, red-orange flowers
Peach sage, S. greggii
Salvia officinalis: Peach sage, yellow flowers
Peach sage with yellow flowers
Salvia elegans cf. Tangerin: Tangerine sage
Tangerine sage, S. elegans Tanjarin
Salvia rutilans: Honeymelon sage
Honey melon sage, S. rutilans

Salvia elegans: Lemon scented sage
Lemon sage, a selection of S. elegans

Salvia patens: Blue angel sage
Blue Angel, an ornamental breed of S. patens

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