In the world of aromatherapy, few plants hold as revered a place as Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea). With its captivating scent and beautiful blooms, this aromatic herb has been cherished for centuries for its multitude of benefits. From ancient apothecaries to modern essential oil enthusiasts, Clary Sage has earned a reputation as a powerful aromatic plant that promotes well-being and balances the emotional realm.

But what makes Clary Sage so special? Its secret lies in its rich profile of beneficial aromatic compounds, including linalool, linalyl acetate, and sclareol, which contribute to its potent effects. Whether you’re seeking to enhance your mental clarity, alleviate stress, balance your hormones, or support your digestion, Clary Sage offers a natural, gentle solution.

This video and article aim to explore Clary Sage's diverse and fascinating benefits, uncovering how this extraordinary herb can support your physical, emotional, and mental health. We’ll dive into its historical uses, scientific backing, and practical applications – providing you with a comprehensive guide to harnessing the power and aromatic medicine of Clary Sage – and debunk some of the most common myths about this popular plant.

What is Clary Sage?

Clary Sage, a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family, shares many traits with its Mint relatives, such as square stems, opposite leaves, and bilaterally symmetrical flowers. This majestic biennial plant lives for two years, completing its life cycle over two growing seasons.

In the first year, Clary Sage forms a basal rosette of grayish-green, slightly fuzzy leaves near the ground. In the second year, these leaves grow into large, heart-shaped foliage as the plant reaches 1 to 4 feet in height. During this time, it also produces flower spikes adorned with small, tubular flowers in shades of purple, bluish-pink, lavender, or white. These blooms, rich in aromatic oils, are adored by pollinators like butterflies from June to September.

A notable feature of Clary Sage is its stunningly beautiful bracts – vibrant magenta or deep pink structures at the base of the flowers. Often mistaken as part of the flower petals, these bracts have a translucent, crinkly appearance and highlight the small, emerging blossoms that lay within.

History & Folklore

In modern times, Clary Sage is best known for its essential oil, but historically, various parts of the plant – flowers, leaves, and seeds – have been widely used. References to Clary Sage date back to 50 CE, when Pedanius Dioscorides, an ancient Greek botanist, called it “Clear Eye” in his herbal text De Materia Medica. In the Middle Ages, the Romans revered it as herba sacra or “sacred herb,” using it in eye washes and compresses for eye ailments, which led to its name “Clary,” derived from the Latin clarus, meaning “clear.”

John Gerard, an English herbalist, detailed Clary Sage in his 1600’s book, The History of Plants. He noted that its seeds, when mixed with honey, could clear vision and, when soaked in water, became gelatinous. This quality made the seeds useful in poultices for removing splinters and soothing inflammation. He also praised the leaves for their use in soups and broths to improve circulation, digestion, and mental clarity. In addition, he writes that the seed “powdered and drunk with wine stirreth up bodily lust.” This may be one of the first documented observations of Clary Sage having an affinity for the reproductive system and fertility.

Aromatherapy Benefits

Clary Sage offers a unique aromatic profile that is both sharp and motivating, yet deeply grounding. Its scent is a complex blend of musky, pungent, rich, sweet, and slightly spicy notes, creating a bright and clarifying aroma that simultaneously grounds and relaxes. This duality in its fragrance has a profound effect on the body, mind, and spirit, making it a powerful tool for those seeking balance and inner harmony.

The essence of Clary Sage’s aroma lies in its ability to offer both strengthening and relaxing qualities. For individuals feeling scattered, stagnant, confused, or ungrounded, Clary Sage provides a sense of stability and clarity. The sweetness of its scent invites softness and receptivity, while the spiciness promotes alertness and a reconnection with your center. This combination makes Clary Sage a popular essential oil for meditation, helping to ground and enhance focus and inner awareness.

Clary Sage is particularly beneficial for those who feel lost or disconnected from their true purpose. Its aroma acts as a gentle guide, helping us to remain present and centered, rather than getting caught up in restless thoughts and hypothetical scenarios. This aromatic herb supports the rediscovery of long-forgotten emotions and neglected dreams, gently prompting the recognition of your potential and depth. By reigniting these dormant aspirations, Clary Sage encourages a reconnection with your core self, supporting a sense of purpose and direction.

Clary Sage’s fragrance has a remarkable ability to break down barriers and reconnect you with your intuition. It aids in listening to the inner mind and spirit, providing clarity on the next steps in life. By unlocking stuck energy and stoking inspiration, Clary Sage reveals the inner sage within, guiding us toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and our path. This aromatic medicine serves as a reminder of the inherent wisdom and potential residing within each of us, offering both comfort and empowerment on the journey of self-discovery.

Historical Traditional Medicine Benefits

Nervous System

Clary Sage offers dual benefits for the nervous system: it both relaxes and restores. This herb relieves stress and tension while nourishing an overworked nervous system, making it ideal for those dealing with chronic stress, fatigue, pain, insomnia, anxiety, or depression.

Clary Sage’s affinity for alleviating chronic stress-related conditions extends to easing frequent nervous anxiety, mood swings, indecision, and emotional confusion. Known as a mild euphoric herb, it combats depression and promotes joy, offering a soothing effect that eases both physical and mental fatigue. It’s particularly beneficial for burnout, providing nurturing and revival for an overstressed body and mind.

The plant's aromatics have a calming and balancing effect, with its essential oil often referred to as “hypnotic” for its soothing qualities that encourage deep, restorative sleep. Additionally, its volatile oils act as a mild muscle relaxant, relieving both physical and mental tension. Clary Sage helps calm and steady the mind, clearing distractions and anxiety spirals to support clearer thinking. It has a relaxing effect that doesn’t put us to sleep, but rather, quiets the mind and helps us truly awaken. Perhaps this is another reason Clary Sage has received its name – for providing clarity in times of turmoil.

Digestive System

Clary Sage is an aromatic bitter that stimulates and supports the digestive process. Its warming properties activate digestive enzymes, enhancing nutrient absorption and digestion. As a carminative with antispasmodic and astringent effects, Clary Sage helps relieve stomach cramps, indigestion, gas, and bloating.

There is a strong link between the state of the digestive system and the state of the mind, often referred to as the gut-brain connection. When your digestive system is in equilibrium, it promotes a balanced mental and emotional state, and vice versa. By supporting a healthy digestive system, Clary Sage also aids in improving mental clarity and reducing brain fog, aligning both digestive and cognitive well-being.

Reproductive System

Historically, Clary Sage has been recognized for its supportive role in fertility and hormone ecology. The plant's compounds are thought to interact with estrogen receptors, found in all reproductive systems, regardless of sex or gender identity. This affinity makes Clary Sage a versatile herb for various reproductive health issues.

Particularly noted for its support of the uterus, Clary Sage aids throughout different life stages: puberty, menstrual years, childbirth, and menopause. Its ability to both tone and relax the uterine muscles has made it a popular choice for managing uterine concerns. Clary Sage is especially soothing for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, irritability, and depression. Its antispasmodic and analgesic properties also make it effective when applied topically to relieve menstrual cramps and tension.

As an emmenagogue, Clary Sage stimulates blood flow in the uterus, promoting the menstrual cycle. This characteristic, combined with the hormone-balancing properties of linalool and sclareol, makes it particularly supportive for amenorrhea – delayed, light, or missed periods. By encouraging regular menstruation and supporting overall hormonal balance, Clary Sage remains a valuable ally in reproductive health.

Herbal & Aromatic Preparations

There are many ways to incorporate Clary Sage into your life beyond its essential oil. This versatile herb offers various ways to enjoy its aromatherapeutic benefits and, being edible, it can be used in a range of herbal preparations like teas and tinctures.

Essential Oil

The essential oil of Clary Sage is made using steam distillation of the aerial parts of the flowering plant. To incorporate the essential oil of this therapeutic plant into your life, you can place 3-4 drops in an essential oil diffuser, dilute it in a carrier oil for topical use such as relaxing or localized therapeutic massage, or add it into topical preparations like herbal salves or creams. To use Clary Sage externally for aches and pains, be sure to dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil like sesame or coconut before topical use. For more information on how to safely dilute essential oils, refer to our Essential Oil Dilution Chart & Guide.

Hydrosol

Hydrosols, also called hydrolats or floral waters, are water-based herbal extracts created through the steam distillation of fresh plant material (the same process that produces essential oils). They capture both aromatic compounds and water-soluble constituents of the plant. Using a hydrosol is a more gentle way to work with the aromatic medicine of plants, sometimes evoking the sensation of smelling the fresh plant itself. To use Clary Sage hydrosol, you can apply it as-is topically; or simply spray it near the face, body, or clothing; or into a room to uplift the energy. It can also be used as a water-based ingredient in incense blends, herbal creams, or lotion recipes.

Herbal Tea

The leaves and flowers of Clary Sage make a lovely tea that is profoundly aromatic. To make a tea, we highly recommend blending Clary Sage with other herbs and only using a small amount since the flavor profile can be quite strong and overpowering. For example, if mixing Clary Sage with calming herbs for a stress-relieving tea, we would use 1 part Chamomile, 1 part Rose, and either ½ part or ¼ part Clary Sage. Be sure to keep the teapot covered while steeping the herbs in hot water so that the precious aromatic oils don’t evaporate away!

Herbal Tincture

An alcohol extract, also called an herbal tincture, is a concentrated herbal extract that uses alcohol as the solvent to extract the aromatic and medicinal constituents of the herbal plant. Many herbalists like to invest in a high-proof alcohol, such as 190-proof or Everclear, since some herbs call for a high alcohol by volume for tincture making. Vodka is also a common choice. For Clary Sage, using 45% alcohol by volume is best for extracting its essential oils, plant juices, and herbal constituents from the fresh flowering parts of the plant.

Oil Infusion

Making an oil infusion of Clary Sage is a beautiful and intimate way to work with this plant. It’s far more soft and subtle than drinking tea or using essential oil but still offers powerful topical medicine. To make your own oil infusion of Clary Sage, you’ll want to only use dried plant material because if you use the fresh plant it will introduce a small amount of water into the oil, which can cause it to go rancid quickly. You can use any type of carrier oil you wish; my favorites include jojoba, olive, and coconut oil.

Safety & Contraindications

Never consume an essential oil or apply it directly to the skin (they are potent concentrated oils that can irritate skin and internal organs). Always dilute an essential oil before topical use. It’s generally recommended to consult your healthcare professional before consuming herbal plants on a daily routine. Some herbalists recommend avoiding Clary Sage during pregnancy due to its emmenagogue properties and potential estrogenic effect. If you would like to explore this safety topic more, we suggest reading Robert Tisserand’s book: Essential Oil Safety.

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Clary Sage Plant Profile

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: anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticonvulsive, anti-depressive, antifungal, antispasmodic, aperitive, aphrodisiac, astringent, carminative, digestive stimulant, emmenagogue, neurotonic, pectoral, phlebotonic, sedative, spermatogenic, stomachic, uterine tonic, vulnerary
Body System(s) Affiliation: respiratory, nervous, digestive, reproductive
Aroma: camphoraceous, bittersweet, musky, pungent, rich, slightly spicy, bright and clarifying as well as deep and grounding

Video featuring Erika GalentinMNIMH, RH

Text Written By Melissa Szaro

© 2024 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.

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