Sage And Spirit

(A piece from last May, reprinted for reasons that become obvious in the text.)

The ancients were enamored with sage. So am I. The ancients believed that sage could confer immortality. What I believe: who knows? I eat the stuff, and I’m still knocking around.

“Why,” demanded one Latin commentator, “should a man die who grows sage in his garden?”

Beats me.

Among the English, it is believed that the plant’s immortalist properties are most pronounced in May:

He who would live for aye
Must eat Sage in the month of May.

We have a few May days left here. So get to nibbling.

Or maybe it’s okay to wait until next month. For over there in Provence, says Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, folks aver “[i]t should be picked on the dawn of Midsummer Day when the first ray of sunlight strikes the highest mountain.” Provencal proverb: “he who has sage in his garden needs no doctor.”

Sage is one of those plants that just feels old. Even when a plant is young, it looks and smells and tastes settled and aged and wise. Rub it between your fingers and you can sense from whence spring the legends. Compare it with, say, Hall’s honeysuckle, which, no matter how massive it gets—used by pioneers out here to cover whole hillsides—and how large and gnarled and twisted and woody its trunk, in its leaves and its buds and its abundance rings forever fresh and springy and new.

Sage is native to the Mediterranean, but it is embraced wherever it is introduced. When it reached the Chinese in the 18th Century, it was soon so valued that a crate of sage would be exchanged for two crates of the finest tea. The Chinese have diligently pursued immortalist decoctions for four millennia, and so in China too it was accepted that infusions of sage leaves would make a man immune from “the ill effects of old age,” enable him to enjoy “full muscular strength, brightness of vision, and youthful appearance all of his days.”

John Evelyn in 1699 firmly pronounced that sage “[t]is a plant endued with so many wonderful properties, that the assiduous use of it is said to render man immortal.”

And if someone around you does happen to die, it is said that “for that most grievous of maladies, the sorrow caused by the death of a loved one, sage [i]s a comforting cure.”

Sage is said to strengthen the brain, aid in memory, eliminate nervous disorders, detoxify the liver and kidneys, remove stones from the gallbladder, ease coughs and colds and asthma, heal infections of the mouth and throat, banish epilepsy, serve as an antidote to “the bitings of serpents,” cure heart trouble, assist in pregnancy, and banish sunburn, worms, gray hair, and stained teeth. It’s also an insect repellent, that will repel wee unwanted beasties out and about in the garden. On the other hand, it attracts bees—Good People.

There are many ways to get this wonderment into your body. The Spanish and the people of Provence and Languedoc use it to flavor fatty dishes, particularly pork, which, so sayeth Toussaint-Samat, “is more easily digested accompanied by sage.” The English stuff sage into sausages and use it to flavor cheeses. People use it with poultry and veal and quail, and drink it in tea. In the month of May, I sprinkle a bit in everything I happen to eat.

I have seen with my own eyes sage restore life to a person. Worked like a mule into a state of collapse, then beset by waves of viral marauders. All my other food cures had failed. So I brewed some l’aigo bouido sauvo la vido, or “the life-saving boiling water.” Which is peeled cloves from an entire head of garlic, 4 sprigs of sage, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a little salt, added to 1.75 pints of water, brought to a boil and then simmered for fifteen minutes. The victim was made to doggedly consume every drop. And within hours was on the mend.

Then again, the dried sage I mostly consume these days once belonged to my brother, who died four years ago. Maybe he stopped using it himself, and that’s why he passed. Of course, I think of him every day, and so in that sense he is immortal. As is the sage plant, which propagates through cuttings.

There is a lovely instrumental Grateful Dead tune called “Sage and Spirit.” I wanted to embed it here, but no video seems to be present on the tubes. Oh well. Someday. With sage, we have all the time in the world. In the meantime, a little chat from Bill Graham, and music from Jerry Garcia and The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, from the film Fillmore.

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7 Responses to “Sage And Spirit”


  1. 1 soothsayer May 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Very good. Thank you….

    Now I am waiting to hear what i should do about the parsley, rosemary and thyme : )

  2. 3 possum May 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    So if we eat sage and die it was fake sage?


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