Some herbs have been cultivated and used for so long by their human companions, that they are part of the human family, so to speak, rather the way dogs and cats are, and common garden sage or salvia officinalis is one of the best. It has become quite comfortable in the kitchen garden, willingly giving up its wild heritage to be with us. It thrives on the care from humans and offers its wisdom and healing to us.
Sage certainly has a full arsenal of herbal healing properties. Over the ages she has been used to heal a myriad of different ailments in cultures all over the world and has made herself quite happy in kitchen gardens everywhere, so that she can be handy and readily available for us, like a grandmother.
One of my sage plants this year is so big and blooming so profusely that it is a garden party all by itself. The early morning sun hits the purple flowers on long upward reaching spikes, and a light breeze is helping them sway in celebration with the sunrise. The smell of the leaves and flowers held to my nose is so deliciously pungent, that my entire being instantly feels more awake and sparkling. The leaves glisten in the morning sun from the dew caught on its fuzzy leaves. Its soft purple flowers with their mouths hanging open say to the bees “I offer my nectar and my wisdom to you”.
I feel that if I can smell sage’s intoxicating scent deeply enough, I might be able to remember its deep wisdom stored in my bones and the bones of my ancestors. The smell is a menthol type smell, but much earthier and more luscious than its cousin’s, the mints. The flowers scent when I brush against them is even deeper and slightly sweeter.
The botanical name Salvia means to save. And of course, the common name sage means wisdom. Two quite powerful names. Sage has earned these names over and over again through the centuries. The ancients called sage sacred, and Salvia also means savior. The earliest records of sage are in ancient Egypt where it was used to promote fertility in women. The Greeks believed it gave wisdom. The Romans revered it so much that a ceremony was required to harvest it.
“The desire of sage is to render man immortal,” instructs one source from the Middle Ages. And a proverb says: “How can a man grow old who has sage in his garden?” In the 17th century sage was so valued by the Chinese that Dutch merchants could trade three chests of Chinese tea for one of sage leaves.
But what was this wisdom that sage was reported to have? Salvia officinalis had been put on quite a pedestal, with men in the Middle Ages expecting the sage plant to do the work of becoming wise for them. But sage tells me that its secret lies in helping us remember how to access our own wisdom.
Being with this sage plant is like sitting with a wise grandmother – or better, a whole council of grandmothers. So warm and inviting. “Come sit by the hearth and let me hold you”, they say. I am reminded of our extended family thanksgivings when my mother and her three siblings and all of us cousins would gather: a great gathering of warm wisdom and love.
There was a time in our past when the knowledge of how plants heal and what they had to offer was largely instinctual. HOW to know their wisdom was taught, not just teaching by rote memory. When I sat with my sage plant, she said to me to me: “Remember. Remember when you trusted your deep knowing, your intuition. Let my scent awaken those ancient pathways and open your intuition and lead you to your heart.” Wisdom can be hidden like a squirrel hides an acorn, and then only needs to be remembered where it may be found.
The acorn we need to find is our heart’s desire. In that acorn lies our wisdom. Saying YES to this quest to uncover our heart’s desire leads us to our buried wisdom and back again to our heart. We can start by following the message of the sage plant to just sit and remember. Remembering how to listen to our heart and follow our intuition, to trust the knowing. Follow the old ways, the grandmother ways, and oh so slowly. And be sure to pick a sage leaf and tuck it in your pocket to smell all day long!
Images: 1) Our Garden Sage plant this year. 2) Flower closeup, 3) Leaf closeup.