The herbs and spices you use to flavor your food are also packed with powerful antioxidants that help fortify your body’s natural defenses and fight free radical damage.

One of those powerful herbs is sage, an evergreen shrub part of the mint family. Sage is highly aromatic and has a characteristic earthy flavor that brings warmth and subtle citrus notes to dishes. There are over 900 species of sage types worldwide; other names include Salvia officinalis, garden sage, salvia, white sage, and common sage.

The name salvia, sage’s genus name, comes from the Latin word salvere, which means “to heal” or “to save.” Sage leaves are loaded with over 160 different polyphenols – plant-based micronutrients that act as antioxidants. They also contain a variety of flavonoids – plant substances that help regulate cellular activity in the body – as well as small amounts of vitamins A, C, and E, copper, magnesium, and zinc.

Archeological evidence suggests that this herb has been used for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal purposes. In places like ancient Rome, sage was considered a digestive aid and an ulcer remedy. Nowadays, sage is consumed fresh or dried as a food condiment, drank as a tea, or taken daily as a supplement to support overall health. Here are five evidence-based sage benefits for the brain, oral, heart health, and more.

Improved Memory, Brain Health, and Mood

Sage has been used to improve memory for centuries. Since it was initially used, much research on sage has supported its value in enhancing cognition as well as in improving mood. Memory problems and cognitive decline are common occurrences with age. Cognition refers to mental actions associated with acquiring knowledge including processes associated with attention, memory, judgment, and evaluation, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making.  Sage extract has been shown to improve cognition and support brain health in young and older adults in several ways.

For starters, it is loaded with polyphenolic acids, which are known for modulating brain functions and boosting memory and concentration. A 2012 study in the journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity concluded that dietary polyphenols found in sage can protect neurons against harmful toxins and promote memory, learning, and cognitive function.

And while data are still limited, two small studies of individuals with Alzheimer’s found that individuals taking sage supplements performed better in cognitive tests measuring memory and other cognitive abilities than those taking a placebo.

Two human studies—one involving 11 people with early Alzheimer’s and the other involving 30—reported overall improvements in cognition as well as a reduction of neuropsychiatric symptoms after using a Salvia extract. Other studies included in the review consistently showed improvements in short-term memory, alertness, and speed recall. Improved mood and alertness were also cited in more than one study.

In another series of clinical trials, scientists found that younger individuals who took sage extract benefited within hours from improved mood, reduced anxiety, enhanced long-term memory, and reduced mental fatigue.

Other Health Benefits

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Sage is rich in rosmarinic acid, a polyphenol known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Evidence suggests rosmarinic acid – which occurs naturally in many other herbs, including rosemary, basil, and lemon balm – may provide relief for certain inflammatory conditions.

For example, one study published in the European Journal of Medical Research reported that a spray made of sage and echinacea was just as effective in treating sore throat than spray medicines containing chlorhexidine lidocaine.

Oral Health

Recent research has looked at the antimicrobial effects of sage and its potential benefits for oral health.

One 2015 study found that a sage mouthwash extracted from the Salvia officinalis plant effectively killed Streptococcus mutans, a type of harmful mouth bacteria and the main responsible for cavities and tooth decay.

A recent laboratory study also evaluated the antimicrobial effects of sage on six microbial species capable of causing cavities and other dental issues. The investigators reported that Salvia officinalis showed significant antimicrobial activity against all pathogens without causing oral damage or harmful side effects.

Other Benefits – Cholesterol and Menopause

More than 73.5 million Americans have high LDL levels or “bad” cholesterol, and only one in three has their condition under control. Elevated LDL cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease.  In a clinical trial published in Phytotherapy Research, people that consumed 400 to 1500 milligrams of sage every day (as a tea, supplement, or powder) saw an overall improvement in cholesterol markers after three months.

Sage is also good for reducing hot flashes, according to a 2016 study from Iran. For the investigation, 100 menopausal women were given a 100 mg sage supplement or a placebo pill. After eight weeks, women taking sage reported fewer hot flashes and night sweats, two common symptoms of menopause.

Burning sage

Smudging is a traditional ceremony that involves burning herbal material for purifying spaces and promoting wellness. White sage is usually the herb of choice for smudging, though lavender, juniper, and cedar are also popular options. Burning sage is also sometimes referred to as “saging.

Many traditional cultures smudge sage as a spiritual tool. Other benefits of using a sage smudge stick are believed to include:

  • Cleansing or purifying the air
  • Reducing stress
  • Boosting mood
  • Improving intuition
  • Repelling insects

Burning sage or inhaling sage essential oils is also considered safe. However, people with asthma and other respiratory conditions may have adverse reactions to the smoke.