The Storytellers The Storytellers Experience the Rocklands wilderness

African Blue Sage

Salvia africana (LAMIACEAE - Mint and sage family)

FREEDOM: The wisdom of the Wild, Wise Crone

There is a wisdom almost completely forgotten in our modern times. It is the wisdom of our wildness. We no longer understand wildness: it is not a state of ego, abandon or rebellion. Rather, it is the quiet truthfulness of genuine instinct; of being in tune with our surroundings, our needs and our inspirations. It is the courage to be vulnerable and to follow where Spirit leads us, moving away from that which is not truthful for us. It is a wisdom that is impossible in a world where we have been conditioned, for thousands of years, to follow the path of survival or more to the point, money.

Compromising our innate wildness

There is a famous model in modern psychology, the Maslow hierarchy. In this model, we are on a progression from survival to self actualisation and many would categorise their work and the way they spend their time, in line with said hierarchy. While some people work very clearly for survival, others are fortunate enough to work in a vocation, doing something they love or serving a cause to which they are committed. But even these lucky few, if they are honest, will admit that there are aspects to what they “do” which live in untruth; where they find themselves making choices out of financial, political or social considerations. It is these considerations that steal our wildness; that domesticate us into serving a system (consciously or unconsciously) that is fundamentally artificial and fragile, like a set of props on a stage. Meanwhile, real life is still out there, and the rest of the living world (barring modern mankind) goes about its business of survival unencumbered by the need to adapt to expectations driven by constant scrutiny, analysis and self assessment.

Spending time with Salvia can help us to unravel this self-created conundrum.

Salvia Africana, the African Blue Sage, belongs to a family of some 1000 species, which have been used, since ancient times, from China to Rome, to heal just about every ailment. The Blue Sage is one of our indigenous species; also the one specific to the northern Cederberg. Salvere means “to heal or save” while a Sage is a profoundly wise person. Their genus, the Lamiaceae, is named for their flowers, which are described as having an open mouth.
Salvia albicaulis flower
The flowers are cleverly arranged for reproduction
Reaching to the sky

Certainly Salvia does talk. She does so in a way that fundamentally integrates body and mind,

...being full of compounds that modulate information at the boundary of the cell (thus serving as guardian of the body’s reality) whilst also being filled with very subtly psychoactive chemicals which can bring the mind closer to an experience of genuine truth. Blue Sage can be experienced or ingested as a food, a herb, a tea, a smoke, on the skin, or through the air, with a multitude of uses in cooking, healing and meditation. Regardless of how it is used, there is a steady, slow-acting awakening of a long-forgotten part of the Self: receptive and aware; not imposed upon, not reactive and adaptive.

All the salvias have potent medicinal properties, but Salvia Africana is specifically antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial and anti-tuberculosis.

It has been found to inhibit cancer cells. It is also potentially anti-allergenic, and beneficial for the heart. It has also been found to work synergistically with Wild Dagga, for anti-viral effect.

Chew on a few fresh leaves (and preferably a flower) and you will experience a sudden sense of clarity, as if a subtle part of the mind has popped open. At the same time, the sinuses, throat and ears seem to clear up. Using wild sage as a smudge has similar effects – burn the dry leaves and inhale the smoke to bring on a meditative state of mind. Sage is also burned to clear the energy of a space, and can help to fumigate against airborne pathogens. The leaves can be added to an actual smoking mix: this can help with sinus congestion and instil greater awareness whilst also being calming.  (In high doses, Sage might potentially be slightly hallucinogenic, however).

A more conventional (and age-old) way to work with sage is in a tea. You would use the leaves but can also include the flowers. Traditionally, the Bushman and Khoi people used Blue Sage leaves (often mixed with Ballota Africana) to clear chest complaints, coughs, colds, fevers and gynaecological ailments.  The Cape Settlers combined the tea with Epsom salts and lemon juice for stomach ailments and colic. The tea is also very calming and delicious with a little bit of honey. It can also be boiled down into a decoction and mixed with honey and lemon, as a natural syrup for respiratory ailments and infections, even whooping cough.

In the absence of fresh plants, dried, powdered sage can also be added to soups or savoury smoothies, but has an intense taste, so mind your flavour combinations. Sage also creates a delicious flavour in food. The dried leaves  can be used in much the same way as domestic sage or rosemary – as a herb for vegetable, fish or meat dishes – it is high in folate, vitamin A,  Vitamin K, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It also makes a really interesting flavour addition to sweet or sour foods, likes jams and marmalade. For this, you would infuse sprigs of blue sage into your fruit mix while cooking, and remove before pickling.

Sage is a true, no-nonsense healer: a personality that even comes through in her appearance.

She is a hardy, drought-resistant shrub, with rather tough leaves, bursting with flavour and scent. Her reproductive parts (the flowers) are quite ethereal, delicate and beautiful, yet there is a kind of straightforward practicality: the flowers have a curious, open mouthed structure that visiting bees have to stand on, causing pollen to be deposited on their backs.

Like a healing mother, she cleans out, clears up and calms down, mind and body, killing invaders to the immune system whilst reducing inflammation and pain at the same time. To do all that with level-headed grace and efficiency, is a wise, wild thing indeed.

In our noisy, conditioned world of distraction and reactivity, to be clear about what fits and what doesn’t is an exercise radical honesty, self-worth and self-sufficiency. Can we still locate such wildness within us?

Make it at home

Lemon and sage marmalade

6 large lemons,
250ml sugar
250ml water
100ml wild sage leaves

This method is one of the experiments of the FynbosMengsels community group.

  • Slice your lemons and add to a stainless steel saucepan
  • Add sugar and water
  • Cook over a low heat for about two hours, until the rind becomes translucent
  • Properly sterilise your glass jars and seal
  • Submerge in boiling water for a few minutes
  • Adds a delicious, slightly bitter edge to this sweet-sour condiment.

A little bit of science

Salvia Africana is one of the terpene-rich plants, and has been found to be particularly high (relative to other local Salvias) in Sesquiterpenoids. These compounds are anti-inflammatory and have been found to be very beneficial as preventative and treatment for cardiovascular disease and cancer. In the body, they readily interact with fats and oils, which means they can influence the behaviour of cellular and other membranes, modulating what goes in and out and even killing organisms like bacteria and fungi. You might say that they help modulate the boundaries of the body’s reality. This is true of any terpene, but the sesquiterpenes have a lactone ring (a carbon ring structure) that readily binds to proteins, enabling them to alter cellular structure, potentially even mutating DNA. This makes possible a wide range of biological effects in the body, including expelling parasitic worms, killing unwanted bacteria and fungi – and calming down inflammation.

Other compounds in the plant include Carnosol (a diterpine which combats the inflammation that leads to cancer), Ursolic Acid (tones muscle, including the heart), a-Pinene (which opens up the air passages, reduces inflammation, aids memory and forms a base for CB2, the cannabinoid receptor involved in immune-regulation), B-caryophyllene (also binds to CB2, and is a potent anti-inflammatory), Thujone (which inhibits GABA receptors, helping neurons to fire more efficiently), Rosmarinic acid (an anti-allergenic), caffeic acid and kaempferol (potent anti-oxidants), and oleanolic acid (also immunomodulating).