Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Herb of the Week - Clary Sage

My husband and I were going through some photos and I was amused at how many I had of Clary Sage.  Turns out this attractive plant, of all my medicinal plants, was one my husband loved to see grow.  As a result we have many photos. 

So in honor of all the pictures I chose
                                  Clary Sage as the herb of the week.

Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) is a biennial, meaning it blooms every other year. The name clary comes from the latin clarus meaning clear.  A decoction of the seed is mucilaginous and was traditionally used as an eye wash (to clear the eyes.)  In the 16th century the seed was infused with elder flowers and the liquid was added to Rhine wine which turned them to muscatel making the wine more potent.

To Grow

The seeds of Clary Sage must be scarified in order to germinate.  It is a great herb to winter sow.  But if you don't have the time, freeze the seeds for 3 to 5 days in a zip lock bag before planting.  They need total darkness to germinate so sow the seed at least 1/2 inch deep in dark soil.  If you want to direct sow, do so once the soil has reached 55 to 60 degrees.

This plant thrives only in full sun and a well-drained sandy soil.  It struggled the first year I grew it because my soil was too dense, but once I worked in sand it was very happy.  Do not use any fertilizer high in nitrogen, so a simple compost feeding will do if needed.  And allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  Space the plants 9 to 12 inches apart.  My clary sage is blooming now, but it is not as happy as it could be because of the constant rain we seem to be having.

This is a zone 6 and higher plant, but I have been able to keep it through winters here in zone 5 with these winter preparations.  Cut the tops after the first fall frost.  It must be protected from harsh winter conditions, so a layer of hay or evergreens placed over it once the ground has frozen will protect it from harsh drying winds.

To Use

Clary Sage tastes much like garden sage with a pungent fragrance holding a hint of camphor.  Unlike garden sage, however, it can easily over power foods and become bitter if used in large amounts.  The large leaves  (as big as 2 inches across and 6 to 9 inches long) grow off a central stalk that bends with the weight of the flowers. It grows to a height of 3 feet with a width of 1 foot. The flowers are lilac or pale blue, pink or white, in whorls on top of the stems. The leaves are broad oval or heart-shaped, in pairs, covered with fine silver-white hairs. It blooms from June to July.

For culinary purposes you can use the fresh and dried leaves in the same ways as garden sage.  It is a great addition to breads and stuffing.  The flowers are edible and can be used as garnish.  A strong fragrance resembling a balsom makes it a great addition to sachets or potpourris.  The essential oil is also used as a fixative in perfumes and as a scent for lotions and detergents.

Clary sometimes replaced hops in beer to produce an enhanced state of intoxication and exhilaration, although this reportedly was often followed by a severe headache. It was considered a 12th century aphrodisiac.

An astringent the steeped leaves can be gargled, douched and poured over skin wounds. An infusion of the leaves dried or fresh makes a stimulating bath additive.  Taken internally it is combined with other herbs for kidney problems. The clary seeds form a thick mucilage when soaked for a few minutes and placed in the eye, helps to removed, small irritating particles. A tea of the leaves is also used as an eyewash. Clary can be used to reduce muscle spasms. It is used today mainly to treat digestive problems such as gas and indigestion. It is also regarded as a tonic, calming herb that helps relieve premenstrual problems. Because of its estrogen-stimulating action, clary sage is most effective when levels of this hormone are low. The plant can therefore be a valuable remedy for complaints associated with menopause, particularly hot flashes.

The professionally extracted essential oil of Clary Sage is used in many medicinal situations, especially those to improve circulation and respiration, as well as relieve the effects of grief.  According to Susun Weed, "this is the essential oil chosen for treating nervousness, weakness, fear, paranoia, and depression. Clary feeds the soul and helps one get through rough times. It is recommended when pressures and stress come from outside." Wonderful for people in mid-life crisis, Clary also encourages vivid dreams or at least enhances dream recall.

NOTE: rather than update or change this post we decided to answer several questions and provide a few new recipes for Clary sage with a new Mini Herb of the week post.

Clary Sage Pork Roast

2 1/2 to 3 pound pork roast or tenderloin
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried clary sage
1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 fresh leaves of basil
1 apple, cored and cut into quarters
Salt and pepper

Place roast in crock-pot.  Cover just to top with water.  Add thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, basil and apple.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook on medium for 5 to 6 hours.  (Add potatoes to your crock pot with roast in the last 2 hours for delicious boiled potatoes!)

Susun Weed's Clary Love Potion
Equal parts of dried lavender, bachelor’s buttons and clary sage
a pinch of valerian
 a sassafras leaf

Blend together and place in a small sachet and wear inside the clothing to attract a man.

Anti-Sorrow Aromotherpy Blend
4 oz sweet almond oil
10 drops marjoram essential oil
5 drops clary sage essential oil
5 drops rosemary essential oil
1 drop lemon balm essential oil

Combine ingredients the ingredients and shake well.  Place the oil on an evaporator and use on a cotton ball.


  1. Love reading about clary uses other than essential oil use. Thanks so much!

  2. In the article, the author says that "Clary Sage (Salvia sclera) is a biennial, meaning it blooms every other year." Actually, a biennial plant is one that lives for 2 years. In your garden, often times, biennials self sow before they die in the second year. In the third year, it may look like the plants are coming back. They are actually the offsprings of the first generation plants. And the second generation blooms on the fourth year. It gives the impression that the same plants are blooming every other year.

  3. What I actually meant is that it blooms in the second year, sets seed and dies, as all biennials have a two year life span, but thank you for the clarification

  4. How do I preserve them after picking the leaves?

    1. I dry the leaves. Spread them on paper towel or cut full stems and bundle them together and hang dry the branches. Once crumble dry, store in a jar or zipseal bag.

      Here is one of my posts on drying with more info.

  5. Hi I'm wanting to make some heat packs for women who have period pain as well as menopause issues (I know pregnant women shouldn't use it). I'm planning on adding it to lavender buds. Will the scent be overpowering when mixed w other herbs like lavender and marjoram? (Usually I put about 1-2 tablespoons of mixed herbs in my eye pillows and my period packs will be about double the size). I've used the essential oil but not the actual herb. Thanks for any advice you may have.

    1. I am so very interested in your period packs, if it's possible, would you be willing to share your recipe with me? My daughter has horrible cramps and I would love to make her some of these to use. I a,so grow lavender and quite a few other herbs. If you cannot share I understand. Yours, A Carrick

  6. I am assuming you mean you are going to use clary sage with lavender and marjoram with it. Clary sage is a strong scent, so mellowing it with lavender is not a bad idea. I would keep the ratio of clary sage to 1/3 that of the other herbs, so 1 tsp clary sage to 3 tsp lavender or a combo of other herbs. That will keep it form being too much scent to be relaxing.

  7. this is really interesting. Your advice on germinating the seeds conflicts with other instructions to surface seed. Ana as the plant originates from the north Med (where I am living)where there is pretty much never any frost, it seems strange to have to scarify the seeds for 3 - 5 days in the freezer. I think I will follow your advice with one half of my seeds and the other advice with the other half and see which method is most succesful.

    1. I got that seed advice from friends, but I see your point as plant is generally from the warmer zones, so I will be interested to hear about your results.

  8. I am going to be harvesting clary sage leaves for the first time this year and I'm not sure what to do with them. I make herbal beauty products for external use and want to incorporate them into some of my product recipes. I have used the essential oil (and my skin loves it) but never the actual plant. Could it be used for the same purposes as the oil? Maybe be added to one of my cleansing herb and grain face washes? I just need to make sure that it doesn't cause skin irritation in its raw form, as some herbs do. Do you think the leaves are gentle enough to be applied (dried and ground to a powder) directly to skin? I am also going to make an extract so I can add it to lotion or witch hazel toner. So I guess I just need to know how gentle the leaves are. Also, I scarify my clary sage seeds too. I use nail clippers to clip a tiny piece off the outer layer of the seed,a tiny piece but large enough to be able to see the seed embryo. I know a lot of people would say that you should NOT clip into it that far because you can damage the embryo,but I've done this hundreds of times and it results in the highest germination rate. I've even accidentally clipped right into the embryo and it always germinates anyway. After scarification, I simply put the seeds in a wet paper towel and about 24 hours later, it's germinated and ready to plant. I find no need for any stratification period whatsoever.

    1. I think there will be no issues of irritation with clary sage, so powdering it to use in facial wash should be fine. It has a great large leaf which is good for extraction methods of all kinds. THX!

  9. Is it possible to treat painful menstruation with an infusion or a decoction of Clary Sage?

    Everywhere essential oil is recommended. Would infusion work too?

  10. This is a great article! Thanks for all the info! Peace


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