Forgotten herb: clary sage

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There can only be one reason we forgot about clary sage: modern pharmaceuticals.

close enough pronunciation “clare-E  sayjuh”

Clary sage was THE go-to herb for our female ancestors to reduce the monthly discomfort of menstruation cycles. Your great-grandmother probably looked forward to the relief of a cup of brewed clary sage tea as she busied around the house.

But, we still forgot an herb that half of our ancestors likely used on a monthly basis.

The scent is like a deeper, more woody lavender. In soaps, lotions and diffusers, clary sage smells great blended with lemon or black pepper.

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Don’t get me wrong. It is not a ladies-only herb.

You can use clary sage in recipes like its cousin, garden sage, the better-known complement to pork and risotto dishes. The famous herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, wrote about using wild English clary to flavor beer and wine in 1653.

clary seedling.JPG

I grew my clary sage from seed within a raised garden bed, which actually seems almost cruel. The plant stretches its stems like arms with big, leafy hands. As my clary sage grows, it seems to try to escape the confines of the bed.

It is a really beautiful plant. If you like big, broad leaves with interesting texture, you should consider growing this in your garden. The leaves have a soft kale-like appearance, and the stems are a rich, deep rose-purple. Clary sage can even join your regular landscaping. It is a biannual in most parts of the US and would be beautiful along a walkway or mixed in between grasses.

clary up close2.JPG

Over the years, I developed an appreciation, maybe almost a preference for biannual plants. There is something special about a plant that only appears for two years and reinvents itself each time it greets the growing season.

In year one, you can expect your clary sage to feature stunning wide leaves. In year two, it will flower as long as it’s in a sunny location. If you let it go to seed, it will pretty much reward you with a life-time supply.

clary plant

Culpeper had some unusual ideas about clary seeds. Unlike him, I do not recommend putting them in your eyes. Given my past experiences, I think it would be much better to clip the towers of flowers and tuck them into a vase for a powerful floral and herbal display.

2 thoughts on “Forgotten herb: clary sage

  1. Clary sage was an important crop for the tobacco industry, as it was used to flavor cigarettes. However, the flowers are white shaded with lavender, never blue, at least in the forty years I’ve grown it and seen it in gardens around the world…..Nice article.

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