Clary Sage has been revered for ages for its ability to both nourish and uplift, on a physical, mental, and emotional level. This majestic plant has lovely heart-shaped leaves and beautiful flowers that range from purple to bluish-pink and sometimes white. A biennial or perennial plant native to southern Europe, it can now be found flourishing worldwide in both gardens and the wild, where it grows anywhere from 1 to 4 feet high.
In this article, we’ll dive into the history and folklore of Clary Sage and discover why this plant has captivated so many souls. You will learn about its many therapeutic benefits and why you should incorporate this plant into your herbal apothecary.
History and Folklore of Clary Sage
Traditional use of Clary Sage dates back to the Middle Ages. The Romans cherished the plant, naming it "herba sacra," meaning “sacred herb.” Clary Sage was often made into an herbal infusion to be used as an eye wash or herbal compress for sore or tired eyes, as well as poor vision. In fact, the name “Clary” comes from the Latin word "clarus," which means “clear” – this is how Clary Sage got the nickname Clear Eye .
In the Middle Ages, it was traditionally used for digestive issues, kidney disease, uterine and menstrual problems, throat and respiratory infections, and as an overall nerve tonic. In the 16th century, it was commonly used to brew beer, much like Hops is used today . Clary Sage is quite bitter and its antispasmodic and astringent properties make it helpful for digestive issues, easing indigestion and bloating.
Types of Sage
There are actually over 700 species of Sage in the Salvia genus – many of which have been traditionally used medicinally – the most common include Clary Sage, White Sage (Salvia apiana), and Common or Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis). While some Sages can be interchangeable, many are not. Clary Sage can be used as an alternative for both White Sage and Garden Sage for several reasons.
First of all, White Sage is considered a sacred plant to many Native Americans and indigenous cultures that have asked for others to actively try to reduce the commoditization of this plant. In addition, White Sage is considered an “at-risk” species by United Plant Savers, meaning that this plant is at-risk for becoming endangered in the wild, so herbalists are encouraged to source sustainably cultivated varieties of White Sage over wild-harvested ones.
Clary Sage is actually considered an invasive species in some areas, as it thrives in many types of soil, can tolerate high humidity and temperatures, and spreads easily. Many herbalists believe that harvesting wild, invasive species like Clary Sage can help keep their populations in check, promoting ecological balance and biological diversity.
Choosing to use Clary Sage over White Sage is generally a more sustainable option. Even though the aromas do not smell exactly the same, they do share some of the same aromatic medicinal benefits. The smell of White Sage has a more pungent, robust nature; while the aroma of Clary Sage is softer and sweet, with floral, grounding undertones.
In aromatherapy, Clary Sage is also a great alternative to Garden Sage due to the fact that the aromatics of Garden Sage are known to contain high amounts of thujone, a potentially toxic ketone. Thujone is not recommended to be used for long periods of time, so since Clary Sage does not contain thujone, it is generally considered safe to use as a tonic herb while Garden Sage is not .
It is important to note that while I recommend finding alternatives to White Sage and Garden Sage, I also honor that each of these plants have a unique reverence about them. Substituting one plant for another may not provide a matching experience due to the specific personality and chemical composition of each individual plant.
Ways to Use Clary Sage
Clary Sage is most commonly used in aromatherapy, more often as an essential oil than in incense. To incorporate the essential oil of this therapeutic plant into your life, you could use an essential oil diffuser, dilute it in a carrier oil for topical use, add it into topical preparations like salves or creams, or even try making your own hydrosol if you have access to the fresh plant.
Benefits of Clary Sage
Like many other species of Sage, Clary Sage is supportive to the respiratory system, opening the chest and promoting deep breathing. Therefore, it can be a very helpful aroma during times when anxiety causes shallow breathing, or when practicing yoga. It can also help clear out congestion from cold or flu symptoms, as well as asthma. Gabriel Mojay recommends combining Clary Sage with other expectorants and anti-infectious herbs, like Eucalyptus or Pine, to address bronchitis, throat infections, or catarrhal coughs.
The aroma of Clary Sage is known to help ease nervous tension and anxiety, while also relieving feelings of fatigue. For this reason, the herb is helpful for burnout that occurs when your body and mind have been overworked, given that it is both nourishing and reviving to the nervous system. Clary Sage is believed to help calm and steady the mind, removing distractions and anxiety spirals to help support clearer thinking.
This is why the aroma is recommended for those experiencing nervous anxiety, depression, mood swings, indecision, and emotional confusion . Perhaps this is another reason Clary Sage has received its name – for helping provide clarity in times of turmoil.
Aches and Pains
When applied topically, Clary Sage is helpful for reducing aches and pains due to its antispasmodic, analgesic, and regulating properties. It can help ease pain and inflammation for conditions like muscle stiffness, spasms, tired legs, headaches, or migraines. It has also been traditionally used topically to help soothe menstrual tension and cramps. To use Clary Sage for aches and pains, you can try diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil like sesame or coconut to use as a massage oil.
Clary Sage uniquely offers both strengthening and relaxing qualities, uplifting you in a way that helps you feel more grounded and centered. It is believed to support those who feel lost and need help reconnecting with themselves to find their true purpose. Its aromatics can be helpful for those who struggle to remain present, and those who have a restless, forever searching mind that gets wrapped up in what-ifs.
Clary Sage is said to help you reconnect to your intuition and be able to listen to your inner mind and spirit, so that you may understand and see your next steps in life more clearly. It can help unlock stuck energy and stoke inspiration. Like a true Sage – this plant helps you to see the sage that you had inside of you all along.
Clary Sage should not be used during pregnancy or when drinking alcohol. Always speak with your doctor before consuming herbs if you take prescription medications.
clary sage and beyond
Latin Name: Salvia sclarea
Other Common Names: Clary, Clarie, Clary Wort, Clear-Eye, Cleary-Eye, Muscatel Sage, Garden Clary, See Bright, Eye Bright, “Herba Sacra”
Genus: Salvia (Sage)
Plant Family: Lamiaceae (Mint)
Parts Used: flowering tops, leaves, and seeds
Herbal Energetics and Actions: antibacterial, antifungal, anti-infectious, antispasmodic, anticonvulsive, anti-inflammatory, astringent, carminative, digestive stimulant, neurotonic, sedative, antidepressive, phlebotonic, stomachic, uterine tonic, emmenagogue
Body Systems Affiliation: respiratory, nervous, digestive, reproductive
Aroma: camphoraceous, bittersweet, musky, pungent, rich, slightly spicy, bright and clarifying as well as deep and grounding
If you want to learn more about the benefits of aromatic plants and how to use them for healing and wellness, join us in the Aromatic Medicine Garden online membership!
Explore our library of in-depth plant monographs and epic plant talk videos to deepen your knowledge and confidence in working with plants from the perspectives of both aromatic medicine and herbalism.
You'll also get a ton of recipes that will keep you busy and engaged with the plants you love, and receive additional core teaching videos on all things healing and aromatic.
Click here to learn more about our Aromatic Medicine Garden Membership and take your understanding of aromatic plants to new heights.
Article Written By Melissa Szaro
1. Mojay, G. (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils. Rochester, Healing Arts Press.
2. Glenn, L. (2013). Clary Sage – Soothing and Euphoric. American Botanical Council. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbclip/herbclip-news/2013/clary-sage-soothing-and-euphoric/
© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.