I can’t believe my last Spotlight Food post was in September, and my Last Spice of Life Post was back in July! I regret that the absence of these posts has gone on for so long and have no real explanation for it except to say that life has been very busy of late, and particularly during those months. I found myself unable to wrangle the time it took to write so expansively about vegetables, fruits and herbs. Though we are now working our way into the holiday season, and life show’s no signs of slowing down yet, I’m hoping that I can once again begin to set a little time aside for such endeavors. If not once a week like originally intended then at least once a month, because being educated about the food that we eat is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. Understanding how the foods we eat effect, protect and harm our bodies is extremely valuable for so many reasons, and the sad truth is that so many of us are clueless when it comes to food.
With that being said I resume my Spice of Life series with a delicate herb I use mainly during the fall and winter months, sage. Sage has a sweet, savory, and slightly peppery flavor and has traditionally been used throughout the world to season and flavor fatty meats. It’s also the number one ingredient in most people’s Thanksgiving Stuffing recipe. I of course use it in my vegan stuffing recipes as well - because what stuffing is ever complete without sage? - but I also use it to season soups, stews, tomato based sauces, savory cream sauces, gravy, herb biscuits or scones, and mushrooms amongst other things. For whatever reason I rarely use sage in the Spring or Summer months, even though it pairs beautifully with light summer produce. To me sage is all about winter, and winter all about sage.
Sage is The Spice of Life
Sage (Salvia officinalls) also known as common sage or garden sage, is a small perennial evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean Region. It has a long history of both medicinal and culinary use, and in fact it has the longest medicinal history of any other medicinal herb. It’s reputation as a cure all is in fact represented in it’s scientific name Salvia derived from the Latin Salvere which means "to be saved." In ancient times it was used to ward off evil, protect against and cure snakebite, increase a woman’s fertility and more. The Ancient Greeks and Romans praised sage for it’s many healing properties, and treated it as sacred. The Romans used the herb as a diuretic, as well as a local anesthetic amongst other things. Both civilizations also used the herb as a preservative for meat, a tradition that interestingly continued until the advent of refrigeration. It’s thought that the Romans first introduced sage to Europe, from Egypt originally as a medicinal herb, from where it spread. It’s legendary status of continuing throughout the Middle ages. Arab physicians in the tenth century believed that it promoted immortality, while fourteenth century Europeans used it to ward off witchcraft. In China in the seventeenth century the herb was in such great demand that it’s said the Chinese were willing to trade three cases of tea leaves to the Dutch for one case of sage leaves. Sage was even called S. salvatrix - sage the savior - at one point and used as one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague.
Though sage has been recommended at one time or another by herbalists for virtually every ailment under the sun modern science shows evidence of possible uses as an anti-sweating agent, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic and tonic. In a double blind study sage was also found to be effective in managing mild Alzheimer’s disease. Sage leave extract may also be effective in safely treating hyperlipidemia.
The strongest active components of sage appear to be found within it’s essential oil, which contains cineole, borneol, and thujone. Sage also contains a variety of flavonoids (including apigenin, diosmetin, and luteolin) and phenolic acids, including the phenolic acid names after Rosemary - Sages sister herb in the mint family - rosmarinic acid.
Rosmarinic acid can readily be absorbed in the GI tract, where once inside the body it works to reduce inflammatory responses by altering the concentrations of inflammatory messaging molecules. The rosmarinic acid in sage and rosemary also functions as an antioxidant. The leaves and stems of the sage plant also contain antioxidant enzymes and peroxidase. When combined, these three components of sage - flavonoids, phenolic acids, and oxygen-handling enzymes - give it a unique capacity for stabilizing oxygen related metabolism, and preventing oxygen related damage to cells. The increased use of sage as a seasoning in food is recommended for people who suffer from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis as well as for bronchial asthma and atherosclerosis.
If that weren’t enough reason to add liberal doses of sage to your soups, stews and sauces get this - sage boosts better brain function! Research published in the June 2003 issue of Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior confirms that sage is an amazing memory enhancer. In a placebo controlled double-blind crossover study two trials were conducted using a total of 45 young adults. Participants either recieved a placebo or an essencial oil extract of sage in doses ranging from 50 to 150 microls. Cognitive tests were then conducted 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, hours after administration. In both trials it was found that even the 50 microls dose of sage significantly improved the volunteer’s immediate recall.
Other research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Harrogate (September 2003) Peter Houghton from King’s College provided data showing that the dried root of Salvia miltiorrhiza (also known as Chinese sage) contained active compounds similar to those developed into modern drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. Four of the components isolated from the root of the Chinese Sage were found to be acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors. Which is interesting because the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is accompanied by the increase of AChE activity that leads to it’s depletion from both the cholinergic and noncholinergic neurons of the brain. Also Amyloid beta-protein, which is a major component of the amyloid plaques that form in the brain in Alzheimer’s. acts on the AChE, and AChE activity is increased around the amyloid plaques. By inhibiting this increase of AChE activity, sage has shown to provide a useful therapeutic alternative to the use of pharmaceutical AChE inhibitors.
So there you have it, whether you believe as the ancients did that Sage is a panacea, or some sort of herbal ‘new age’ magic bullet. Or you’re simply swayed by the science, sage certainly has beneficial properties, so experiment with it, and try to find some new ways to add this delicious herb into your daily meals.
You can use sage either dried or fresh. Both are wonderful and nothing beats the smell of fresh sage. A few years ago I planted some in my garden and I absolutely loved the smell. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t go outside just to revel in the scent. As for how to use it, there are many things you can do with sage fresh or dried. I’ve listed a few ways in which it can be used and I highly recommend adding it to a pasta cream sauce recipe. Something along the lines of an Alfredo, that’s always quite nice. Use it to make vegan biscuits and gravy as I did for breakfast this morning. Use it to season olive oil to dip bread into. Mix it with your favorite vinegar and some garlic and pour it over a hearty green salad. I also find that sage goes surprisingly well with pumpkin. It sounds strange perhaps but if you make a pumpkin soup, stew or a pasta dish with baked pumpkin give it a try. I’m sure it would be equally tasty on butternut squash. It’s great mixed with toasted walnuts or pine nuts and used to sprinkle over pasta. Use it to flavor tempeh and definitely, definitely put it into your next Thanksgiving stuffing!!!
As always, Happy and Healthy eating to you!