Common name: Clary Sage
Latin binomial: Salvia sclarea
Plant family: Labiatae
History/folklore: Clary sage has an interesting history that reveals itself in the names which were applied to this plant. Medieval authors called the herb “clear eye” and considered it beneficial in healing visual problems. The name “clary” is derived from the Latin word “clarus” meaning clear. Nicholas Culpepper, an early herbalist, said the sticky mucilage from the seeds, when put into the eyes, would clear away any foreign objects. In the middle ages it was known as “Oculus Christi” the “eyes of Christ”. In Germany clary sage was known as “muscatel sage” because it resembled muscatel wine. Dishonest merchants would adulterate their muscatel wine with clary sage. This often produced a heightened state of intoxication. In sixteenth century England clary sage was substituted for hops in the production of beer.
Plant description: Clary sage is native to Southern Europe and is cultivated worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean region, Russia, the United States, England, Morocco and central Europe. The plant is a biennial or perennial; generally reaches a height of one meter and has large hairy leaves which are green with a hint of purple. The small flowers are purple or blue in color. The producing plant organs are the flowering tops and leaves. Essential oil is obtained through the process of steam distillation. Small quantities of a concrete and absolute are produced by solvent extraction.
Essential oil description: Clary sage is a colorless or pale yellow-green liquid with a sweet, nutty-herbaceous scent. Odor intensity is classified as medium, note value as a top to middle note, and volatility as medium. There are no chemotypes of clary sage. Other species include Salvia officinalis (common sage) and Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage).
Chemical composition: The composition of Clary sage is somewhat unusual in that it is one of only a few essential oils with a high percentage of esters. (Others are Lavender and Petitgrain) Clary Sage contains about 75% of the ester known as linalyl acetate. Esters as a group are generally safe and gentle in their actions and free from hazards (a notable exception is methyl salicylate). Esters have anti-inflammatory properties and are considered balancing to the nervous system. Sclareol is a terpenoid alcohol present in small amounts (0.1-3%) and is responsible for the estrogen like qualities of clary sage.
Therapeutic properties: Major therapeutic properties: antidepressant, antiphlogistic, anti-spasmodic, aphrodisiac, deodorant, emmenagogue, hypotensive, nervine, sedative, tonic and uterine.
Review of body systems
Integumentary system – decreases sweating, toning to skin, treats inflammation, eczema and oily skin and hair problems.
Circulatory system – lowers blood pressure, decreases palpitations related to anxiety and menopausal symptoms.
Respiratory system – relaxes bronchial spasms in asthmatic states and decreases associated anxiety.
Digestive system – Decreases colicky type pain, cramps and flatulence.
Skeletal muscular system – relieves muscle aches.
Nervous system – produces feeling of euphoria so helpful for depression, also helps to relieve anxiety states especially those characterized by unclear and unrealistic thought processes (Bataglgia).
Reproductive system – has been referred to as “a woman’s helper” (Valerie Cooksley) and is a key oil for use by women. Actions include: stimulates menstrual periods, eases menstrual cramping, aids hormonal balance, stimulates labor and decreases symptoms associated with menopause.
Precautions/Safety Issues: Clary sage is contraindicated during the first trimester of pregnancy. Use is not recommended in combination with alcohol due to the production of a heightened state of intoxication. Inhalation of clary sage should be in small amounts to prevent excessive states of euphoria.
Clary sage is generally a safe and non toxic essential oil but may have some possibilities of irritating mucous membranes. This oil illustrates the importance of botanical names and having these on the bottle label. This prevents consumers from falsely assuming that “sage is sage” be it Spanish, common or clary. In fact Salvia officinalis or common sage is not recommended due to the high content of thujone (a toxic substance). Salvia lavandulaefolla or Spanish sage has many aromatherapy uses but is not likely to be that beneficial for concerns related to the reproductive system. It has a different composition from that of Clary sage and so will not offer the same benefits especially for concerns related to the reproductive system.
Battaglia, Salvatore. The Complete Guide To Aromatherapy. Watson, Ferguson & Co. Brisbane, 1995
Cooksley, Valerie. Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide To Healing With Essential Oils. Prentice Hall, 1996
Lawless, Julia. The Encyclopedia Of Essential Oils. Element Books Ltd., l992
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. Essential Oils Safety: A Guide For Health Care Professionals. Churchill Livingstone, l995
Marie is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in counseling and is certified in aromatherapy by the Institute of Dynamic Aromatherapy. She teaches regular classes in aromatherapy at various holistic venues in St. Louis. She is a frequent contributor to Scentsitivity.
© 1999 National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) From Volume 9, Number 1Scentsitivity, the quarterly journal of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Reprinted with permission of NAHA.