Salvia Apiana: Growing White Sage

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Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.

White sage (Salvia apiana), also known as bee sage and sacred sage, is a large herbaceous perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It has silvery light green foliage with long leathery leaves and white or purple flowers. Don’t confuse Salvia with Artemesia, sometimes called white sagebrush, as both are used to make smudgesticks for burning, but are two different plants. I have wanted to grow white sage for a long time, even though Lake County, Illinois is hardy in Zone 5 and white sage is hardy in Zones 7 to 10, or areas with a warmer climate without hard frosts or freezes. White sage attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and is considered sacred by Native Americans.

Photo by Dionysia/Courtesy
Wikimedia Commons

This year, I planted white sage in the garden and in a large ceramic pot, and I’ll have to bring the plants inside before the temperatures drop too low. Since white sage is a large shrub, I was hoping to see more growth than my sage seedlings produced. They are only about a foot high, and did not flower at all. If I had cold frames or a hoop house, I would transition them in a shelter like that before bringing them inside so they wouldn’t be shocked by the sudden change in temperature and light. But since I don’t have either of those garden structures (yet … ), I will put them under grow lights in the basement and hope for the best.

I would like to cut some branches with leaves to dry and bundle into smudge sticks, but I think I’ll wait until next year since my white sage plants aren’t that big.  I will wait until they are, hopefully, shrub size to harvest any part of the plants. Traditional Native American uses for white sage besides burning smudge sticks in purification ceremonies included using the leaves for tea as a cold remedy and steeping leaves to make a hair rinse to provide shine and prevent gray hair. They also used the seeds as a food source, grinding them into meal for soups and flour and hot cereal.

White sage is rich in cineole, an antiseptic with a pine or camphor scent found in eucalyptus that is also a property of rosemary. Besides its antiseptic properties, cineole also has antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain reducing properties, making it a powerful ally in any medicine cabinet. Cineole, ingested as tea or inhaled from burning leaves, works to break up mucus, relieve sinus and lung congestion, increase blood flow and stimulate clear breathing. It has been used through the ages as a cleanser, both in the body and in the environment.

Besides using the fresh or dried leaves to steep in boiling water to make tea, the plant material from white sage can be distilled into essential oil for many home remedy and personal care uses, such as a headache salve made with beeswax and safflower oil, an expectorant rub for temples and chest or a tincture to take for colds and flu. The beautiful silvery green foliage looks very nice in culinary and holiday wreaths and potpourri. I can’t wait until my seedlings get big enough to harvest next year!

Make an Effective Natural Headache Salve

• 1 cup organic light oil, such as safflower, sesame or sunflower oil
• 1 ounce fresh or dried white sage
• 1 ounce fresh or dried eucalyptus
• 1 ounce fresh or dried lavender
• 1/2 ounce grated pure beeswax
• 3 vitamin E capsules, for a preservative
• Cheesecloth

1. Put herbs in a glass casserole dish, cover them with oil and stir well. Bake in an oven at 200 degrees for 3 hours to make an herbal infused oil. Take the mixture out of the oven, let sit for 10 minutes to slightly cool, and strain the herbs from the oil with the cheesecloth, squeezing the oil from the herbs.

2. Put this herbal infused oil into a large stainless steel (not aluminum or copper) pot on the stove on low heat. Do NOT boil or burn the oil. Poke the vitamin E capsules with a fork or toothpick and squeeze the liquid vitamin into the oil. Add the beeswax and stir on low heat until they are melted and mixed together well. Remove the pot from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.

3. While still warm, pour the salve mixture into cosmetic jars, letting it cool and thicken before lidding the jars. Rub a small smudge of white sage headache salve on temples or forehead between eyes to relieve headache pain instead of taking aspirin. Enjoy natural soothing pain relief!

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