“Where sage doth grow well and vigorous, therein rules a strong woman.” – Old wives’ saying
Fifteen years ago or so I was volunteering in the kitchen at an Indian gathering up in Vermont. As I bustled around cooking, I noticed that some of the women were spiriting pretty glass pots of light green tea out to the shade. The day was hot, and the tea was hot, and there were fresh sage leaves floating in the water. The old women, the elders, were drinking it.
I thought, “of course, sage for the sages.” The women fetching the tea told me later that the elders believed that the tea helped them keep cool. I tried some and thoroughly enjoyed its flavor and sensation.
This year, we’ve finally got a good stand of sage. The seed came up well, so I planted it everywhere. I put some where it thrived several seasons back. I put some in a stray spot by the chard and purple basil, and then I put some up on the hill by the hot peppers, where the sun shines all the time and the soil drains well. That’s where the nicest plants are by far. I guess they don’t like to have wet hair (me either). Years past, I’ve had bad luck. At first, I didn’t try very hard, and failed. Then I tried harder and had limited success. Then I really prepared a nice bed and took extra good care of it, and my sage plants rotted, sequentially, down the row. ugh. This year, for whatever reasons, it’s all good. So I’m enjoying feeling my sage.
It’s a great plant. I love the soft bumpy feeling of the fresh leaves and the spicy strong fragrance. I love the way they crush and fluff up when they’re dry. I love the way it tastes with butternut squash, with onions in gravy, or, oh mercy, fried a couple of minutes in butter. And there’s always tea.
Medicinally, sage is a powerhouse. As our friend Crazy Owl pointed out, folks knew what they were singing about when they made songs with lyrics like “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.” Those plants, besides being beautiful and tasty, all have healing properties. Susun Weed (if you haven’t read her, please try – she may not be a farmwife but she is definitely radical) lists garden sage – salvia officinalis (please do NOT eat or drink desert sage – artimesia tridentata) as an herbal ally for women in times of change. This particular information was taken from her book on menopause. Among Sage’s uses, she lists: the reduction or elimination of sweat (warning – also dries up breastmilk – should you want to relieve yourself of that miraculous substance), regulating hormonal changes, easing irritated nerves, relieving dizziness, eliminating headaches, strengthening the liver, relieving menstrual cramps, reducing bladder infections, improving circulation, and gaining mental clarity. That’s a lot to throw in a stuffing. Sage should not be used medicinally if you tend toward dryness – dry mouth, etc. It shouldn’t be used every day either. Ten days at a time is enough – take a break and drink a different tea for a week.
So that’s what the elders were doing, drinking sage tea. But how wise is it to drink hot tea on a hot day? And sage is a warming herb, to boot. I have my personal theories, but besides that, there’s neuroscience to back up the reality that eating and drinking warm and warming things actually helps your body do the work of cooling down. It’s one of those amazing chemical-electric sensorial relationships connecting mouth to brain to body. I have noticed that when I eat or drink cold food for relief from heat, the main effect is that I want more cold food; I don’t feel better adapted.
I’m celebrating a birthday this hot sticky month, and thinking about time (thyme?) while I contemplate sage. It’s my last shot at being thirty-something. What better opportunity to say things that will cause me to laugh at myself in another ten years? It helps me to not take myself too seriously. I am hardly a mature sage.
It takes time to live. When I was fourteen, it was unimaginable that I could live to be forty years old. I didn’t have enough living memory behind me to be able to project that far ahead. Now, though I don’t feel quite as fluid in my body as I did then, I am glad to feel the accumulated vision of over thirty years of memory backing me up. And I’m happy to watch the road lengthening as time goes on.
Most things worth doing take quite a bit of time. Growing a homestead and growing children certainly do. But if they didn’t take so much time, we might not do as good a job at the task at hand, we wouldn’t grow so strong from the effort, and it’s almost certain that we wouldn’t feel the work as deeply in our hearts.
It’s taken many seasons’ round to sit with a cup of sage tea from my own garden in hand. Nice as it would have been to have a perfectly successful garden from the very start, I wouldn’t trade the work, the learning I’ve done through the years. It’s made me grateful for my sage, as well as my age.