How to Grow Clary Sage

Clary Sage Photo
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is a unique member of the mint family related to common sage. It's a biennial (It flowers and sets seed the second year and then dies back like an annual -- so it has a two year life cycle). It can tolerate some cold, but is only hardy to Zone 6 and possibly protected areas of Zone 5.

Growing Clary Sage

Growing to a height of about three feet, clary sage likes rich soil that drains well. It's a sun lover too. Relatively undemanding, if you have enough room for lots of herbs in your garden, clary sage is an interesting little plant worth trying once. It has large, fuzzy, dark green leaves and produces white to pale lilac colored flowers (with some pink or pale blue tints out there too).

For the best results, start seeds indoors and plant them in the garden when overnight temperatures warm up in spring -- about the time you plant out tomatoes.

Clary Sage Uses

Clary sage has a medicinal pedigree going back to the ancient Greeks, but it's probably not the first herb you think of to treat complaints like hot flashes, indigestion and anxiety. It's used as a flavoring in some alcoholic beverages (and bitters). It's also a stabilizing agent and preservative in perfume and soap making. It has a strong fragrance -- or odor -- depending on your point of view. In the garden, my cats hate it, but the dog thinks it may have potential.

Essential Oil - Clary sage essential oil is used to reduce high blood pressure and inflammation. It may also be effective in the treatment of anxiety, PMS and hot flashes. It's occasionally marketed as a mild euphoric and aphrodisiac.

If you want to increase your inner vision, it has been used to heighten meditation and focus, and if you enjoy vivid dreams, clary sage may be for you: It's considered an excellent dream enhancer that also helps you remember your dreams afterward.

Eye Problems - Historically, clary sage has been associated with the eye because clary seed was once used to trap and lift foreign matter from the eyeball. If you caught a speck of dust in your eye that just wouldn't wash out, a sticky paste made with clary seed and water would have been a godsend. Clary has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that made it an effective eye wash and throat gargle too.

Culinary Uses - This sage variety isn't considered much of a culinary herb, but the leaves have been used to flavor salads (in the old days when salads contained 50 to 100 ingredients or more), and its unique flavor has also been added to jellies, aspics and conserves.

Other Names - You may also find clary sage sold under these names: Clary, Clear Eye, Clary Wort, See Bright, Eyebright, Salvia sclarea, Muscatel Sage or Sauge Sclarée.

One of the best descriptions of the early uses of clary sage comes from Culpeper's Complete Herbal, written in 1653:

  • The seed put into the eyes clears them from motes, and such like things gotten within the lids to offend them, as also clears them from white and red spots on them. The mucilage of the seed made with water, and applied to tumours, or swellings, disperses and takes them away; as also draws forth splinters, thorns, or other things gotten into the flesh. The leaves used with vinegar, either by itself, or with a little honey, doth help boils, felons, and the hot inflammation that are gathered by their pains, if applied before it be grown too great.

Caution: Avoid clary sage if you're pregnant.
It may also cause confusion and dizziness when used in combination with alcoholic beverages.

Special Note: Culpeper's Herbal is available free online. It's a hoot, and if you like herbs, language or history, consider diving into some reading you can really sink your teeth into: Culpeper - Complete Herbal from Bibliomania


"Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor". Time Life Books

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden". Anness Publishing Ltd. 2003.

Grieve, M. "Sages." Undated. (5/2/11).

A Frances Tenebaum Book. "Taylor's Guides - Encyclopedia of Garden Plants."  Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003.

"Culpeper's Color Herbal". Sterling Publishing. 1993.

Consumer Reports Health. "Clary Sage" Undated. (5/2/11).

Photo courtesy of Molly Wick at Flickr


  1. I didn't know the uses of sage! I do a blog on herbs so thats really useful heh :)

  2. Clary sage has been fun to grow, but I never knew any of the uses. Great stuff!


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