By Deborah Forehead Horticulturist & 1st Degree Wiccan Priestess
Welcome to the inaugural article of “The Apothecary”. Here you will find information on the health, culinary, and mystical properties of different herbs and resins.
It’s only fitting that a first article should highlight the herb that many have used for all three of these property categories – Sage!
The name ‘sage’ is a common name that typically refers to two distinct types of plants. There is true sage, Salvia genus, and, what we frequently refer to as sagebrush, Artemisia genus. Salvia (true sage), has nearly a thousand species, many of which have medicinal, ceremonial/magical/spiritual and culinary properties. Artemisia (sagebrush, and more) has several hundred species, some which are also used ceremonially/magically/spiritually, culinarily and medicinally.
Plants in the genus Artemisia, a name derived from the Greek Goddess Artemis, are part of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family and are primarily comprised of hardy, herbaceous plants and woody shrubs.
These grow in temperate climates of both hemispheres in arid or semi-arid environments. The most notable species are Common Mugwort (A. vulgaris), Big Sagebrush (A. tridentata), Sagewort (A. annua), Wormwood (A. absinthium), Tarragon (A. dracunculus) and Southerwood (A. abrotanum). Salvia is the largest genus in the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, consisting of shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals. The etymological origins of the word Salvia are from the Latin salvere, which loosely translates to “to save, redeem or heal”. Herbs from both genre are important food sources for a wide range of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and are commonly used in a variety of applications. Since this is an article and not a book I thought it best to limit the list to just a few plants, encompassing both genera, with some of their known uses.
White Sage/Salvia apiana, also known as California Sage, Bee Sage and Sacred Sage, is a
true sage. It is considered by some, the only sage to use for smudging. I have found there to be differing information regarding the attributes of White Sage. This is in part due to applying the common name to more than one plant in more than one genera. Salvia species, in general, are masculine plants, ruled by Jupiter and associated with the element Air and the zodiac sign Aries. Their magical powers encompass immortality, longevity, wisdom, protection and wishes. Predominant application is smudging or burning. Salvia apiana is difficult to grow and is mostly wild harvested. Due to excessive harvesting for spiritual practices among non-indigenous peoples, this species of sage is considered threatened. This puts at risk its availability to First Nations peoples, to whom it is very sacred. It’s really not part of spiritual traditions outside of First Nations and can be substituted with other Sages such as common sage or Artemisia ludoviciana, also known as White Sage.
White sage/Artemisia ludoviciana, also known as Western Mugwort, Silver Wormwood, Louisiana Sage and Prairie Sage is not a true sage but is interchangeable with Salvia apiana for smudging and magical uses. It had an aggressive growth habit and can be easily cultivated and is not at risk of becoming a threatened wild species from harvesting. All Artemisia species are associated with the Goddesses Artemis, Diana and Hecate. They are feminine plants, ruled by Venus or the Moon, associated with the element Earth and the zodiac sign Taurus or Libra. As a smudge, Artemisia ludoviciana’s magical powers are for protection and divination. As a smokeable, it is said to enhance astral projection and lucid dreaming. Being placed under a pillow it will encourage prophetic dreaming. As a sachet, Artemisia is protective for travellers. The stems of the plant make nice, albeit un-sturdy, wands. Making a herbal water is a good cleanse for ritual tools, especially those used in divination. Hanging over a door will keep unwelcome energies from entering. A garland worn while performing ritual at midsummer, and then thrown into the balefire at the end of the ritual will ensure protection through the year.
Common Sage/Salvia officinalis, also known as Garden Sage, has all the same attributes and correspondences as Salvia apiana, listed above. It is an easily cultivated, accessible sage that will serve most magical needs where sage is required.
White Sage/Salvia apiana has antiseptic qualities and makes a good gargle for sore throats as well as a cleansing rinse for skin abrasions.
Common Sage/Salvia officinalis can be used as a soaking tea to be applied to painful areas and used as a foot soak. Decoctions made from sage can be used for curing coughs. Heated leaves, held against the ear, can reduce ear pain and wrapped around the neck are said to alleviate sore throat pain. It can be used as a diuretic, a local anaesthetic and a styptic.
White sage/Artemisia ludoviciana is reputed to have tonic, cardiac, nervine, vasodilatory, diuretic, antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. It is can be used for stomach ailments, fungal ailments, and prevention of skin infection at a wound site.
Wormwood/Artemisia absinthium is used to make Absinthe, a very potent spirit. It is also used to flavour Vermouth.
Tree Wormwood/Artemesia arborescens is indigenous to the Middle East and is usually combined with mint in a tea.
Tarragon/Artemisia dracunculus is a very common herb in the culinary world. It is especially important in French cuisine. It is a nice addition to egg, chicken and fish dishes. It has a flavour mildly reminiscent of anise.
Garden or Common Sage/Salvia officinalis is probably the best known and most widely used sage in the Western world. It used to flavour many things from poultry to stews and soups to dressings, and many things in between. The leaves can be fried to use as an accompaniment to pasta and meat dishes. Pork is often seasoned with sage. It is also sometimes used as one of the spices in chai tea. It is easy to grow as a garden or house plant and is readily available. It has a savoury, slightly peppery taste.