Gardening for Health

The Wonders of Clary Sage 

By Maria Price 

Clary sage or Salvia sclarea, is an ancient herb that has been used by many cultures to medicate the eyes and treat a variety of diseases. This biennial member of the mint family, is native to the Mediterranean, parts of North Africa and Central Asia.  It is now a commercial crop in the Mediterranean, Russia, the United States, England, Morocco, and Central Europe, cultivated primarily for its essential oils. It still grows wild in many places. 

The plant begins as a rosette and by the second year produces strong hairy stems that reach a height of 3 feet. The large downy leaves produce a cloud-like spike of lilac and creamy blue flowers that bloom from spring to mid-summer. The flowers attract bees and other pollinators. 

This scent of clary sage has been described as sweet-spicy, floral, grassy, tea-like and somewhat nutty and similar to ambergris. The essential oil is extracted from the buds and leaves by steam distillation and is used as a perfume fixative in cosmetics, and as a flavoring, mimicking the taste of muscatel wine, in vermouths, wines and liqueurs. 

In aromatherapy, it is used to relax the mind, aid sleep, and to relieve PMS and cramps. The plant contains a compound, sclareol, whose chemical structure is similar to estrogen. It mimics the effects of estrogen if there is a deficiency and helps restore hormonal balance. 

The essential oil can be applied topically, used as a compress, massaged into the skin, placed in a warm bath or directly inhaled but not ingested. 

The herb’s traditional use for clearing the eyes give it the name clary, derived from the Latin word clarus which means “clear”.  Historical sources claim a seed placed in an irritated eye will soon turn to mucilage and carry out any irritants. Clary sage is still used today to brighten the eyes, improve vision and slow down the ocular aging process. 

In Asian medicine, clary sage oil is thought to circulate and strengthen “qi” energy, the life force that flows through our bodies and sustains our physical being. By acting on the “primitive” hypothalamus in the brain, clary sage produces a euphoric effect when used for anxiety or depression. The oil is both anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving.  

As with any essential oil, use only high-quality products from trusted sources, and remember there is no regulatory agency that certifies the purity of the oils.