Once upon a time food came from the ground, the trees, the running wild, not the frozen, canned or shrink-wrapped. The move to systemize and make our food “more efficient” through industry included the advent of mono-functionality of foods; extracting and limiting the most common use of any one ingredient—particularly herbs and spices—and letting the rest of its potential fall into quaintness in the pages of dusty history books. But sometimes, a plant’s power is so undeniable that it can endure and transcend the suppression of factorization and the otherwise soulless existence of sitting bottled up in the spice aisle. Sage is one such plant. With a long history of medicinal, spiritual and culinary uses, its many forms and functions are making a big return, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Most Americans will picture Thanksgiving stuffing when they think sage, but it’s a versatile culinary secret now the herb du jour for top chefs around the world used in transforming a variety of dishes from risotto and ravioli to soups, breads, casseroles and stews with its slightly peppery, minty flavor. It’s stuffed into meat and fish, added to butters and oils.
A native to the Mediterranean, sage has a long history of many other uses besides food. Sage types are many, with common varieties including black, purple and white. Used as a clearing tool, white sage is commonly dried and wrapped into bundles (often called smudges). In Native American traditions, smudge sticks are lit on fire and the smoke is used to purify people, spaces, remove harmful energy and is commonly used before, during and after a variety of rituals, prayers and ceremonies. Nowadays you can find sage burning in yoga studios, community meetings, bookstores and so on. Its calming aroma pulls the human spirit back to shamanic, ritualistic use and respect of the plant kingdom, offering a gentle and necessary connection to the natural world we’re so detached from.
Medicinally, sage is also a plant-of-all-trades, effective as an antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, calming, hormone and blood sugar balancing tonic, all of which are some of the biggest health issues facing modern America (mostly as a result of the factoried foods we eat). So, is it any surprise that sage is working its way back into the many facets of our lives instead of just acquiescing to its designation as a once-a-year holiday stuffing herb? Michael Pollan’s perspective in The Botany of Desire is that plants are sentient, connected as much to our consciousness as to the ground they root in. Could sage be regaining popularity to help usher in a new wave of consciousness for humanity? Why not?
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