Sage Herb: Health Benefits and Uses

Learn about sage herb and research supporting its many benefits and uses.

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by
Sarah Bullard, MS, RD, LD
— Signos
Dietitian and Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
February 26, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Sage (or salvia officinalis) is a medicinal plant that belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae/Labiatae), which includes thousands of plant species. Some other well-known herbs in the family include mint, thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary.1,2 Sage can be found in several varieties, all under the genus Salvia

Sage is native to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions but is now found worldwide. It is also referred to and labeled under other common names like common sage and garden sage.

Traditional medicine uses sage to relieve pain and treat seizures, heartburn, ulcers, inflammation, diarrhea, and high blood glucose levels.1, 2 

This article will explain sage and the research supporting various health benefits and uses.

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What Is Sage?

Sage is a green herb from a shrub with a savory, slightly peppery flavor and is strongly aromatic. Sage leaves are used in cooking due to the intense flavor and smell they add to different savory dishes, including turkey and pork.1, 2 

Research studies have examined sage's many health benefits and medicinal uses in recent years.

Evidence has revealed that sage has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, pain-relief, antioxidant, antimicrobial, hypoglycemia, and hypolipidemic effects.1, 2 

11 Health Benefits and Uses of Sage

Sage is available in fresh, dried, or oil form. The consumption of sage is linked to several health benefits that will be outlined below. 

1. High in Several Nutrients

Two teaspoons of sage are often used to season a food dish with six servings. Depending on flavor preferences, some people use more or less. 

Sage packs several nutrients into a small serving. One teaspoon of sage (0.7 g) provides the following nutrients:3

  • Two calories
  • 0.3 g of fiber
  • Minimal fat, protein, or carbohydrates
  • 12 mcg of Vitamin K (10% of the reference daily intake or RDI)
  • 0.03 mg of zinc (3% of the RDI)
  • 11.6mg of calcium (1% of the RDI)
  • 3 mg magnesium (1% of the RDI)
  • 0.01 mg of copper (1% of the RDI)
  • 0.02mg of vitamin B6 (1% of the RDI)

Vitamin K is commonly found in green, leafy vegetables and helps with blood clotting and building strong bones.4 Consuming a single teaspoon provides 10% of your daily vitamin K needs.

2. Loaded With Antioxidants

In addition to vitamins and minerals, sage is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals that are formed in the body. 

The body can maintain a balance when someone incorporates foods high in antioxidants and reduces outside free radical causes like smoke, pollution, and other external sources. 

When someone has excess free radicals and a diet lacking antioxidants, cell damage can increase, leading to worsened health conditions and low-grade inflammation. 

Antioxidants in sage are highest in oil form, or sage essential oil, which contains thujone and borneol. The most effective antioxidants found in sage are carnosol, caffeic acid, rosmaric acid, and carnosic acoid. These polyphenols are also found in rosemary, thyme, or oregano.2 

These polyphenols can find and neutralize free radicals, helping the body maintain optimal cells and healthy function of the brain, glucose, and blood lipids.2 

3. May Support Oral Health

Sage has antibacterial effects, and those aren’t limited to cleaning your home. 

A small study on 70 girls aged 11 to 14 used mouthwash with sage or a placebo mouthwash for three weeks. Plaque bacteria samples were taken at baseline and after 21 days of mouthwash use. 

The sage mouthwash significantly reduced the bacteria count compared to the placebo mouthwash. Researchers measured levels of the Streptococcus mutans bacteria. This bacteria causes dental cavities.5 

Traditional medicine used sage to treat throat infections. No recent research has been done on other oral health applications for sage.2 

4. May Ease Menopause Symptoms

After menopause, estrogen levels decrease. This drop in estrogen can cause hot flashes, excessive sweating, and memory issues.6 

Sage contains phytoestrogens that can reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and sweating. The phytoestrogens bind to receptors in the brain, improving symptoms.6 

5. May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels

Sage has also reduced blood sugar levels in individuals with and without diabetes. Researchers think that the liver reduces glucose production and improves insulin resistance.2  

In one study, 80 people with type 2 diabetes either received sage tablets three times daily for three months or placebo pills. Researchers checked fasting blood sugar levels, levels two hours after meals, and lipid levels.6 

The two-hour post-prandial blood sugar and lipid levels significantly decreased in the sage tablet group. Other lab levels were similar between the two groups.6 

More research is needed to determine if higher doses of sage can further lower blood sugar levels. 

6. May Support Memory and Brain Health

Due to its antioxidant capacity, sage can potentially preserve brain health and memory. 

A review study compiled four randomized controlled trials showing improvement in memory, attention, and cognitive function using sage extract. One study used sage for four months in individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease with significant cognitive improvements.2 

The sage is thought to activate certain parts of the brain and enhance memory.2 

7. May Lower ‘Bad’ LDL Cholesterol

LDL, or bad cholesterol, contributes to fat build-up in arteries. When your LDL cholesterol is elevated, this indicates more build-up and puts you at an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.7 

On the other hand, HDL, or good cholesterol, helps carry fat away from the arteries and out of the body.7

A 2017 review article shared three randomized controlled trials on adults with and without type 2 diabetes. Researchers observed that LDL cholesterol was reduced and HDL levels increased after taking sage extract or sage herbal tea for one to three months.2 

Researchers think flavonoids present in sage alter fat and lipids metabolism.2

8. May Protect Against Certain Cancers

No human studies have been conducted regarding cancer prevention and sage.

However, animal and test tube studies find that sage inhibits the growth of cancer cells, including breast, colon, leukemia, prostate, skin, liver, and lung cancers.2

Researchers think the flavonoids stop the progression of unstable free radicals and help neutralize cancer cells.2 

More research is needed to determine its effect and safety in humans. 

9. May Alleviate Pain and Inflammation

When damage occurs to the body, the initial responses are pain and inflammation. Pain medications can be used but not without some side effects. 

Researchers have shown that sage has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Sage can reduce nerve pain related to chemotherapy side effects, enhancing their quality of life. Sage spray can relieve pain from pharyngitis (or a sore throat).2

Traditional medicine has used sage for pain relief.1, 2 

10. May Support Bone Health

As mentioned above, one teaspoon of sage provides 10% of the daily value of vitamin K.3 

One tablespoon of dried sage is often used to make sage tea, which would provide three times the amount of vitamin K in a teaspoon. 

Adequate vitamin D, calcium, and K intake is essential for optimal bone health and osteoporosis prevention. Current research indicates vitamin K improves bone mineral density and reduces hip fractures.4

11. May Treat Skin Conditions

The topical use of sage or a combination of sage and rhubarb extract was compared to acyclovir in treating cold sores (herpes labialis) on the lips. The randomized controlled study included 149 patients in Germany. 

The sage/rhubarb topical cream was as effective as acyclovir and superior to sage alone. The average healing time was six to seven days, and pain improved quicker in the sage/rhubarb group.8

Cold sores are painful. Using sage to treat this skin condition and relieve pain comparable to prescription medications is encouraging.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="best-supplement-for-diabetes">10 Best Herbs and Supplements for Diabetes That May Help</a>.</p>

Does It Have Side Effects?

woman-sneezing

Most clinical trials report no severe side effects when consuming sage (salvia officinalis).2 

Prolonged use or high doses that exceed 15 g of the sage leaves (one teaspoon = 0.7 g) can cause vomiting, excess saliva, increased heart rate, dizziness, hot flashes, and allergic reactions.2 

This would equate to almost a half cup of ground sage. Extracts and essential oils are more potent than fresh sage or dried forms. 

In an abundance of caution, it is recommended that pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid high doses of sage and consume it in cooking only. Toxicity is possible with high doses.2 

Learn How to Improve Your Health and Habits With Signos’ Expert Advice

A Signos continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you track blood glucose levels discretely and conveniently, as well as the foods you eat.

You can see immediately how different foods and the inclusion of herbs like sage impact your health and blood glucose levels. You might be interested in other foods, herbs, spices, drinks, and supplements and their impact on your health. 

A CGM is an effective tool that can help you make individualized changes to your diet that directly impact your health.

A Signos’ CGM can help you improve your health while trying to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes and other health conditions.

Learn more about nutrition and healthy habits on Signos’ blog. Take a quick quiz to determine if Signos fits your needs.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="what-vitamins-should-diabetics-avoid">7 Supplements and Vitamins to Avoid if You Are Diabetic</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Vázquez-Fresno, R., Rosana, A. R. R., Sajed, T., Onookome-Okome, T., Wishart, N. A., & Wishart, D. S. (2019). Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies - A Systematic Review. Genes & nutrition, 14, 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8
  2. Ghorbani, A., & Esmaeilizadeh, M. (2017). Pharmacological properties of Salvia officinalis and its components. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 7(4), 433–440. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.12.014
  3. US Department of Agriculture. (2019, April 1). Spices, sage, ground. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170935/nutrients
  4. National Institutes of Health. (2021, March 29). Vitamin K. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/
  5. Beheshti-Rouy, M., Azarsina, M., Rezaie-Soufi, L., Alikhani, M. Y., Roshanaie, G., & Komaki, S. (2015). The antibacterial effect of sage extract (Salvia officinalis) mouthwash against Streptococcus mutans in dental plaque: a randomized clinical trial. Iranian journal of microbiology, 7(3), 173–177.
  6. Kargozar, R., Azizi, H., & Salari, R. (2017). A review of effective herbal medicines in controlling menopausal symptoms. Electronic physician, 9(11), 5826–5833. https://doi.org/10.19082/5826
  7. American Heart Association. (2024, February 19). HDL (good), LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/hdl-good-ldl-bad-cholesterol-and-triglycerides
  8. Hoffmann, J., Gendrisch, F., Schempp, C. M., & Wölfle, U. (2020). New Herbal Biomedicines for the Topical Treatment of Dermatological Disorders. Biomedicines, 8(2), 27. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines8020027

About the author

Sarah Bullard is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in research and clinical nutrition, personalized nutrition counseling, and nutrition education.

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