Wise Old Sage
By Fiona Breslin
Stories of the healing power of sage are centuries old. Mediterranean cultures used the herb to help treat liver ailments and poor circulation, with medicinal uses reputedly dating back to the Roman Empire. Today, dried sage is still burned in purification rituals across various cultures.
Beyond sage’s spiritual allure, science tells us that its gray-green leaves are packed with beneficial phytochemicals such as linalool and ursolic acids which may have antiviral capabilities, as well as nutrients including iron, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins A and B6. One dried teaspoon provides 43% of daily vitamin K. When infused in tea, sage may also help combat sweating, which could be especially sweet relief during cancer treatment.
Most of us know sage best, however, for its peppery, woodsy scent and flavor. The herb is a source of essential oils that have been used in perfume, aromatherapy, and incense. In cooking, its powerful aroma makes it an American and Mediterranean favorite for adding flavor to protein-based recipes — a delightful way to incorporate some healthy plant nutrients into your entree.
Sage is available in fresh and dried varieties. Buy fresh if you can, and always wash before using; you can dry or freeze the leaves for later use. To dry your own sage, simply hang a bunch of fresh sage upside down until it is dried. The dried leaves have a strong flavor and will maintain a shelf life of one year.
Sage should be used sparingly to add full-bodied flavor to recipes. A tablespoon of fresh sage packs as much flavor as just one teaspoon of the dried herb. Rub dried sage between your fingers to release oil and flavor before using. Shred fresh leaves or let whole leaves cook slowly to infuse flavor into a recipe.
Sage takes the starring role in our Zuni Sage Pesto, or try frying sage and put atop our Pumpkin Sage Pasta. Prepare our Healthy Turkey Burgers with whole-wheat breadcrumbs, dried rubbed sage, and peeled apple for a perfect BBQ slider served on a whole-wheat mini bun — ready in just 15 minutes. Skip the ketchup with this recipe and try topping sliders with fresh tomatoes and pickled red onions. Sage can add a hint of savory taste to vegetarian soups where ham or bacon might be typically used. It also makes a natural pairing in the fall with pumpkin, cabbage, or in a classic Stuffing. Remember, sage is strong; a little goes a long way.