Salvia is a genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is one of three genera commonly referred to as sage. When used without modifiers, sage generally refers to common sage (Salvia officinalis); however, it can be used with modifiers to refer to any member of the genus. This genus includes approximately 700 to 900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals with almost world-wide distribution. The center of diversity and origin appears to be Central and South Western Asia. Different species of sage are grown as herbs and as ornamental plants. The ornamental species are commonly referred to by their scientific name Salvia.
The closely related genera Perovskia and Phlomis are also known as sage. Some species of the unrelated genus Artemisia are also referred to as sages, a shortened version of sagebrush. Smudge bundles are made with various grey-leaved species of Artemisia and are misrepresented as "whitesage" smudges. The true whitesage is Salvia apiana.
Salvia species include annual, biennial, or perennial herbs, and a few woody based sub-shrubs. The stems are typically angled like other members in Lamiaceae. The flowers are produced in spikes, racemes, or panicles, and generally produce a showy display with flower colors ranging from blue to red with white and yellow less common. The calyx is normally tubular or bell shaped, with out bearded throats, and divided into 2 parts or lips, the upper lip entire or 3-toothed, the lower 2-cleft. The corollas are often claw shaped and are 2-lipped with the upper lip entire or notched and the lower spreading. The lower lip typically has 3 lobes with the middle lobe longest. The stamens are reduced to two short structures with anthers 2-celled, the upper cell fertile, and the lower imperfect. The flower styles are 2-cleft. The fruits are smooth nutlets and many species have a mucilaginous coating.
Salvia species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including (but not limited to) the bucculatricid leaf-miner Bucculatrix taeniola which feeds exclusively on the genus and the Coleophora case-bearers C. aegyptiacae, C. salviella (both feed exclusively on S. aegyptiaca), C. ornatipennella and C. virgatella (both recorded on S. pratensis).
They key trait which has defined the genus Salvia is the unusual pollination mechanism which consists of only two stamens (instead of four as in other plants in the tribe Mentheae), where the two stamens are connected in such as way as to form a lever. When a pollinator gets nectar from the flower, the lever causes pollen to be deposited on the pollinator. However, it now appears that somewhat different versions of this lever mechanism have evolved several times in the tribe Mentheae, and that Salvia is not monophyletic.
The genus name Salvia is derived from the Latin salvare, meaning “to heal” or “to save”.
Sages are also used by several Native American cultures.
The aromatic sages strengthen the lungs and can be used in teas or tinctures to prevent coughs. Less aromatic species of Salvia are run-of-the-mill mint-family anti-inflammatories, which means that they can be used for pretty much any infection or inflammation, and will give at least some relief.
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) drunk as a cold tea will stop sweating, while the same tea drunk hot will produce sweating. Cold and hot teas will also either stop or enhance milk production. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy and medicine.
White sage (Salvia apiana) is a very strong general anti-inflammatory, used as tea or tincture. The tincture has a very nice scent and can be used as a perfume. This species is the famous whitesage of smudge sticks.
Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans, old: S. rutilans) is a tender perennial with pineapple-scented leaves. Medicinally, this is perhaps closest to the scented geraniums, a sweet-smelling Pelargonium species.
Chia sages. The seeds of these species are used as bulk laxatives, much like the seeds of Psyllium (Plantago spp.) or linseed. Chia has been important in the diet of desert Indians. It is still used for its mucilaginous qualities by Mexican natives.
Diviner's sage (Salvia divinorum) also called Yerba de la Pastora or sometimes just Salvia, is a plant that differs from all the other sages. It is a Mexican visionary herb and there is some evidence it is a true cultivar. It is known to have strong psychoactive (specifically psychedelic) properties.