Saturday, March 13, 2010

Perfume Illuminated: Sage

The hills are alive with the aroma of the chaparral here where I dwell and make art. Ceanothus, the Oaks, some of the Sages and the Poppies are all in bloom. This post will illuminate some of the notes and attributes of the species Salvia, which grows abundantly in the Santa Monica Mountains.

In the California garden we have been fostering a variety of native salvias dot our landscape including:
  • White Sage, Salvia apiana
  • Black Sage, Salvia Mellifera
  • Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii
  • Salvia leucophylla
  • Dwarf Black Sage, Salvia tera seca
  • Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea


The genus Salvia has a very large variety in the species, the most familiar is common sage, Salvia officinalis, often utilized in the kitchen. The word officinalis comes from the Linneas binominal system of naming plants, this particular grouping has medicinal attributes. The word Salvia comes from the latin Salveo meaning to heal or Salvere meaning to cure, both referring to the curative powers of the plant.

In aromatherapy and natural, botanical perfume we have quite a treasure trove of Salvias to work with, each with their own specific aroma and therapeutic blueprint. Salvia officinalis, originating in the Mediterranean, has a warm herbaceous scent with camphorous notes. It is the camphorous notes which make this distilled gem wonderful for the respiratory system. The essence also contains thujone in it's chemical make-up, which has been found to cause seizures in those susceptible as well as irritate the skin. Although I personally have had no reactions, please be mindful when using this essential oil. Other varieties of sage available for aromatic potions are Greek, Spanish and Dalmation sage some available as essential oils, some as Co2 extracts and some in both formats.

The other essential oil commonly used in aromatherapy is Clary sage, Salvia sclarea, distilled from the flowering tops and leaves. Historically this salvia was used to flavor wine and create a digestif. The aroma is much sweeter than its officinalis family member retaining an herbaceous character with a rich wine-like quality. For the botanical perfumer Clary sage is also available as a concrete and an absolute. All of these work well in the creation of a faux Ambergris accord/chord. In aromatherapy I have used Clary sage in blends for balancing hormones and emotions.

Since the leaves of sage are so aromatic and release their aroma and medicinal qualities with ease sage makes a fantastic tincture and infused oil. I use the native Sage apiana, pictured at left, for a tincture in the botanical perfume Vera, the infused oil will be highlighted in the upcoming solid version. This sage is an evergreen perennial sun loving shrub which is sacred to the native people of California and used in ceremony. Here is an excerpt from a book by Chumash woman I had the pleasure to meet at Topanga Days:

The healer, or an elder from the village, put a small branch of dried white sage in a suitable container such as a seashell, typically an abalone shell. The white sage was ignited with fire. The flames were blown out allowing the white sage to smolder and smoke. The smoke from white sage has a pleasant smell and is thought to help carry prayers to God. The healer prayed for the health of the patient while moving the seashell to allow the smoke to touch every part of the patient's body including the soles of the feet. The healer sometimes touched the patient's back with an eagle or hawk wing to draw out harmful spirits (nunasus). The wing was then flicked down to send the harmful spirits back into the underworld where they originated. Smudging with white sage is still practiced by Chumash people today.*

One of the classic culinary herb mixes is Herbes de Provence which includes sage. Here is a traditional blend for cooking which can easily be translated into an herbaceous cologne or perfume. For a perfume I suggest adding some wood in the base and citrus in the top notes. The recipe can be enhanced with tinctures of sage, lavender, bay etc. Consider taking this idea one step further and creating an aromatic that is based on the local native plants in your area. The Herbes de Provence formula comes from the native flora the grows in southern France.

Oregano (has a strong aroma, use minimal amounts)
Mint (has a strong aroma, use minimal amounts)
Bay leaves

FLAVOR: Beth Schreibman Gehring
Please continue reading about Sage at the Windesphere Witch blog

* Spirit, Mind and Body in Chumash Healing, James D. Adams, Jr and Cecelia Garci, Oxford Journals

Resources and reference:
California Gardens
Las Pilitas Nursery
Theodore Payne Foundation
A Modern Herbal by Mrs. Grieve
The Hortus Medicus
The Epicenter

Photographs and old engravings cleaned and placed on parchment by Roxana Villa

1 comment:

Sagehealer - Art for Meditation and Healing said...

Very interesting info on sage - I use it in my smudge sticks and just love having it around the house~