Clary Sage, or Salvia sclarea, is a hardy biennial that flourishes in dry, rocky areas. Native to southern Europe, and the Mediterranean region, and is widely cultivated around the world today. It can grow to at least a meter in height, producing large, oval shaped leaves with a pungent, balsam-like aroma, and small purple and white flowers.
One of the traditional uses of Clary sage has been to treat the eyes. Distilled flower and leaf water can soothe tired eyes. Seeds that have been soaked in boiling water produce a mucilaginous substance. Using a cotton swab that has been dipped into this liquid, when placed in the corner of the eye, foreign matter, such as dust and debris is drawn to the swab, clearing the eye.
A traditional use of Clary sage that has fallen out of favor is its use in alcoholic beverages. In sixteenth century Europe, German wine merchants infused wine with Clary and elder flowers, which made the wine extremely potent. Clary sage has also been used as a substitute for hops in beer. It is not advisable to combine Clary sage with alcohol, however. It has been said to cause both nausea and nightmares.
Clary sage has antispasmodic, astringent and carminative properties. Nerol, a constituent of the plant’s essential oil is thought to be responsible for the antispasmodic actions. Inhaling the essential oil can be relaxing for women experiencing menstrual cramping. It can be used to help women in labor cope with contractions. However, it should not be used during pregnancy, because there is a risk that it can induce early labor, or even miscarriage. It can be used to relax discomforts related to stress, fatigue, and asthma as well.
In the kitchen, Clary leaves can be used in much the same way as typical culinary sage. The flowers may be used too, and they make an attractive garnish. Tea can be made from the dried leave and flowers, and can be used to soothe digestive upsets.
Clary sage grows easily in our arid, high desert climate. It prefers dry conditions and will develop root rot if over watered. It likes soil with good drainage. Clary sage is easily started from seeds sown in early spring. Once the seedlings are a few inches high, thin them to about nine inches apart. The plant will flower in its second year, and self sow seeds. Cover plants with hay or evergreen mulch to protect them during the cold winter months.
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3. Perez, Paulina. The Nurturing Touch at Birth. Second Edition. Cutting Edge Press. Vermont, 2006.