Sage Femme

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 121, Spring 2017.
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Have a cup of tea with me—a cup of garden sage tea, Salvia officinalis. It will do your memory good, and your digestion, too; it can even lower your blood sugar and improve your cholesterol ratios. And, yes, I think it is safe, even if you are pregnant or nursing.

Unlike the herbs that I steep for hours to make the nourishing herbal infusions that I usually drink, aromatic herbs like sage are best brewed briefly, as a tea. Sage infusion has its uses—there is nothing better to dry up breast milk when it’s time to wean, or to quell underarm moisture, or as an after-shampoo rinse for dark hair—but you wouldn’t enjoy drinking it.

This sage tea we are sipping was ready in an instant. I poured boiling water over a spoonful of my homemade sage honey. And I made that sage honey by pouring honey over finely cut sage leaves and letting them mellow together for six weeks. The honey traps the volatile compounds in the sage so they don’t oxidize; it then releases them into the boiling water for our delight and benefit. It is easier than drying the sage and provides more medicinal activity.

Sage, like most herbs that have a strong smell, is loaded with many active compounds. Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-infective, antifungal, and hormonally-active compounds like 1,8-cineole, camphor, borneol, bornyl acetate, camphene, thujone, linalool, caryophyllene, alpha-humulene, alpha- and beta-pinene, viridiflorol, pimaradiene, salvianolic acid, rosmarinic acid, carnosolic acid, and ursolic acid.

This leads science to believe that sage is unsafe for pregnant or nursing women. While I wouldn’t make it my daily drink, sage tea is certainly safe enough for any woman, pregnant or not, nursing or not, to consume as needed.

Sage oil is not safe. Word is getting out that the aromatic compounds in plants are supposed to be imbibed in minute quantities, not concentrated into essential oils. Twelve drops of the essential oil of sage is a toxic dose. It is becoming clear that essential oils are unsafe for all children and women of any age, pregnant or not, nursing or not. Natural scent therapy, using the living (or dried) plant, is now replacing dangerous, drug-like essential oils, especially among careful doulas and midwives.

Sage saves the woman with postpartum depression. Like her sisters rosemary and lavender, sage has a powerful effect on brain functioning and brain hormones. Sage tea is a traditional mood lifter, anxiety easer and depression thwarter. A few sips of cold sage tea as the need arises helps keep motherhood in perspective.

Sage is “salvia,” and “salvia” is the savior; hence, sage is the savior, the supreme healer. Despite the fact that concentrated sage preparations dry up breast milk and even induce miscarriage, garden sage tea is safe—a gentle, dependable helper found in most kitchen cupboards.

If you don’t have sage honey, brew a spoonful of dried or fresh sage in a cup of boiling water for 2–3 minutes, adding a spoonful of honey before you drink it. Keep it to a-cup-a-day, or less if you are using it frequently. (Note: There are more than 900 species of sage in addition to the common garden sage; some of them have higher concentrations of oils and active compounds, making them unsafe even as a tea.)

Sage saves the birthing woman. Like her sisters catnip and motherwort, sage coordinates uterine contractions, which eases labor pain even as it strengthens the contractions. Frequent sips of the hot tea spread the benefit of sage through the digestive and respiratory systems.

“The severity and duration of childbirth pain was lessened for women when they inhaled culinary sage via a mask for 15 minutes. The effect lasted about 30 minutes during the first and second stages of labor. It also shortened the labor stages without negatively affecting the baby. A randomized, clinical trial including 52 women found sage more effective than either jasmine or a placebo” (Kaviani 2014, 667).

Sage saves the woman who has trouble with digestion. Like her sisters peppermint and spearmint, sage normalizes all digestive problems, from burps to gas, bloating to gut pain, heartburn to indigestion, nausea to loss of appetite. A cup of sage tea with some milk after the evening meal helps the pregnant woman sleep deeply.

Sage saves the woman with postpartum depression. Like her sisters rosemary and lavender, sage has a powerful effect on brain functioning and brain hormones. Sage tea is a traditional mood lifter, anxiety easer and depression thwarter. A few sips of cold sage tea as the need arises helps keep motherhood in perspective.

Sage saves the woman with postpartum brain fog and memory loss (University of Newcastle 2003). From the earliest mention of sage, herbalists and healers have commented on its remarkable abilities to improve memory in both young and old. Some research indicates that sage can even change one underlying symptom of Alzheimer’s: a drop in acetycholine.* A morning sip of sage tea sets your brain in gear for the coming day.

Sage saves the baby. Sage’s high antioxidant activity helps prevent birth defects, improves inherent immunity and counters inflammation in utero. Sage’s ability to even out blood sugar helps prevent gestational diabetes and high-birth weight babies.

So here’s to sage, the savior that grows in your garden.

And here’s to the sage femme, the wise woman, the midwife, who knows how to use what is growing in the garden.

Herbal medicine is people’s medicine. It is the medicine that grows outside your door. Green blessings are everywhere.

*Sage inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which breaks down acetylcholine.


  • Kaviani, M, et al. 2014. “Comparison of the Effect of Aromatherapy with Jasminum Officinale and Salvia Officinale on Pain Severity and Labor Outcome in Nulliparous Women.” Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res 19 (6): 666–72.
  • University of Newcastle upon Tyne. 2003. “Sage Improves Memory, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily. Accessed January 26, 2017.

Susun Weed

About Author: Susun Weed

Susun S. Weed, herbalist and author, has an international reputation for helping women help themselves. She invites us all to reweave the healing cloak of the Ancients with her and to re-imagine herbal medicine as people’s medicine.


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