Sage And Spirit

(And so, as the world turns, again it is May. Time, then, to rerun this piece, and get with the sage.)

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 almost all of May to go 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 springs 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 person immune from “the ill effects of old age,” enabling enjoyment of “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. Humans use it with poultry and veal and quail, and drink it in tea. Meself, 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. 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 sufferer was made to doggedly consume every drop. And within hours was on the mend.

Then again, the dried sage I mostly for many years consumed once belonged to my brother, who died some 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.

The last couple times I posted this piece to this here red, I thought I might actually have to become immortal, in order to pass through the time required until somebody finally loaded the Dead’s “Sage and Spirit” unto YouTube, so that I could post it here. And, maybe I did. In any event, this year, it’s there. And so, here, it is.

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2 Responses to “Sage And Spirit”


  1. 1 sally May 17, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I read this one and immediately set a jar of OREGANO on my kitchen counter to send to you. (It yells “send me” each and every time I pass it, You and the oreano are beginning to haunt me. I soon to the Post Office must go.) Ah,but the point to all this is to agree with you that sage is wondrous, BUT inform you that oregano is far more magical. Male Greeks wear it in their lapels at weddings and funerals. Bridal couples are festooned with beribboned oregano garlands that jump from the bride’s to groom’s heads, back and forth as the priest chants and incense flies. It’s placed in coffins and planted on the graves of Greeks though it’s greatest use is in the kitchen. As you do with sage, I do with oregano– sprinkling it on everything but ice cream. (I tried that once– don’t ask.) The internet says “oregano” means “joy of the mountain.” Oros = mountan & ganos= joy. It was created by Aphrodite, though as I recall she was far busier in the bedroom than in the kitchen? Supposedly, It’s bacteria and fungi killing ability makes it an incredible cure-all.The seeds for this oregano came from Crete in the late 40s –from my Dad’s mother.(No, not Cretans — KRITIKOS, please.) My Dad planted it in our backyard where the plants still thrive. My brother will occasionally bend a stalk into the ground to root and another plant will begin .It is also my loving brother (now 86) who does all the work of cutting it, hanging it to dry, putting it in the oven a short while and then stripping the leaves and blossoms from the stems to put in jars. So does the oregano hold the same property as sage for our memory? Probably so –for II also often think and speak of your brother — he who long ago spent many hours with my son, playing and having great fun with their Star Wars adventures. And all that took place not very far away from where the oregano grows. Oregano and your brother are all still here with me –as he is with you. Namaste. xoxox


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