Fruits and vegetables often come to mind when discussing the world's healthiest foods. Their high vitamin and mineral content cannot be denied. But we should not forget about fresh herbs and spices.
Herbs and spices can have extremely high antioxidant capacities and pack major flavor into a meal while helping to cut back on sodium intake.
Sage is a herb native to the Mediterranean, belonging to the Lamiaceae (mint) family along with oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and basil.
The sage plant has gray-green edible leaves and flowers that can range in color from blue and purple to white or pink; globally, there are more than 900 species of sage. In 2001, the International Herb Association declared sage Herb of the Year.
Sage has a long history of medicinal use for ailments ranging from mental disorders to gastrointestinal discomfort. Although not all of its medical applications have been backed up by research, some have.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional profile of sage, an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more sage into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming sage.
It is worth noting that this article will not cover sage essential oil, which is not meant for consumption.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on sage
Here are some key points about sage. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Sage is part of the mint family
- Over recent years, studies demonstrating the health benefits of sage have grown in number
- Sage appears to contain a range of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds
- There are more than 900 species of sage
Possible health benefits of consuming sage
Due to its high antioxidant capacity, sage can help protect the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals, which often results in cell death, impaired immunity, and chronic disease. Other potential benefits include:
1) Possible Alzheimer's treatment
Sage belongs to the Lamiaceae (mint) family along with oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and basil.
In a study of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, participants were given either sage extract or a placebo for 4 months.
Other studies have shown that sage can improve memory in young, healthy adults, too.
A placebo-controlled, double-blind study, published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior investigated the effects of varying amounts of sage on memory and recall in younger adults. They concluded:
"These results represent the first systematic evidence that Salvia [Spanish sage] is capable of acute modulation of cognition in healthy young adults."
2) Lowering blood glucose and cholesterol
In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 40 patients with diabetes and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) were given sage leaf extract for 3 months. At the end of the trial, the participants had lower fasting glucose, HbA1c (a measure of average glucose levels over a 3-month period), total cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels, but high HDL ("good" cholesterol).
The researchers concluded that "[Sage] leaves may be safe and have anti-hyperglycemic and lipid profile improving effects in hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients."
A double-blind clinical trial carried out on 80 individuals with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes also found a positive effect with sage. After 2 hours of fasting, blood sugar levels in individuals given sage were significantly decreased when compared with the control group.
The authors concluded that sage "might be beneficial in diabetic patients to reduce 2hpp [glucose levels after 2 hours of fasting] and cholesterol. However, higher doses might be needed to decrease fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin."
3) Controlling inflammation
Although evidence is scant, certain compounds in sage appear to have an anti-inflammatory action. One study investigated the effects of a range of these compounds on the inflammatory response in gingival fibroblasts (a common type of cell found in the connective tissue of the gums).
Of the cocktail of compounds in sage, the authors concluded that "1,8-Cineole, borneol, camphor, and alpha-/beta-thujone chiefly contribute to the anti-inflammatory activity of sage infusion in human gingival fibroblasts."
Many other herbs and spices like sage also appear to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial effects.
Nutritional profile of sage
Since it is normally consumed in such small amounts, sage does not provide significant amounts of calories, carbohydrate, protein, or fiber.
However, sage does contain numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that might be beneficial to health. These compounds include:
- Bornyl acetate
- Alpha- and beta-thujone
- Alpha- and beta-caryophyllene
- Alpha- and beta-pinene
- Salvianolic acid
- Rosmarinic acid
- Carnosolic acid
- Ursolic acid
How to incorporate more sage into your diet
Sage pairs well with pork and can be served with apple for a delicious meal.
Sage can be eaten fresh or dried (whole or ground). Adding sage to a dish is a great way to enhance flavor without adding extra calories or sodium.
Sage often pairs well with poultry and pork.
Because of its pleasant aroma, sage is often used as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. Sage extracts and herbal sage supplements are also available.
Try some of these healthy and delicious recipes developed by Registered Dietitians using sage:Sausage and apple stuffing bites
Pumpkin sage dumplings
Apple and sage pork chops
Sweet potato & kale Mac N' Cheese with sage breadcrumbs
Potential health risks of consuming sage
Natural sage is safe for most people and causes little to no known side effects. The effectiveness and side effects from sage supplements will vary by brand and formulation. It is also worth reiterating that essential sage oil is not for consumption.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet that includes a variety of food types, rather than concentrate on individual foods as the key to health.