The Surprising Benefits and Side Effects of Sage Tea

Sage tea
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Sage tea is made from the leaves of common sage (Salvia officinalis), a plant in the mint family. Although you may know of sage as a culinary herb, the leaves are rich in antioxidant compounds such ellagic acid (also found in strawberries, raspberries, and walnuts) and rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary and basil). Proponents claim that sipping sage tea can help with certain health conditions, as well as promote weight loss and improve hair health.

Why Do People Drink Sage Tea?

Sage tea is purported to help with a variety of health conditions, including:

  • Age-related cognitive decline
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
  • Heartburn
  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Sore throat

Gargling with sage tea has long been used as a remedy for sore throat and coughs. 

Benefits of Sage Tea

While research on the health effects of sage is very limited, there's some evidence that drinking sage tea may provide certain benefits. Here's a look at several findings from the available research:

To Ease Hot Flashes and Sweating Associated With Menopause

There's some evidence that sage leaves may be beneficial for reducing hot flashes, night sweats and excessive perspiration associated with menopause. In a preliminary study published in the journal Advances in Therapy, for instance, researchers assigned 71 women to eight weeks of treatment with a once-daily fresh sage leaf tablet. Results indicated a decrease in hot flashes by 50 percent within four weeks and 64 percent within eight weeks.

To Prevent Oral Mucositis

One of the most common complications of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment, oral mucositis occurs when the lining of the mouth breaks down and forms painful mouth ulcers.

A pilot study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2016 indicates that a sage mouth rinse may help to alleviate oral mucositis in people undergoing chemotherapy.

For the study, people receiving chemotherapy were prescribed basic oral care plus gargling with a sage tea-thyme-peppermint oral rinse or basic care alone and were evaluated on days 5 and 14.

The incidence of oral mucositis was lower in the group gargling with the rinse compared to those who didn't use the rinse. Most of the people using the herbal rinse in conjunction with basic oral care didn't develop oral mucositis on day 5.

For Hair

Proponents suggest that applying a hair and scalp rinse made from a combination of sage tea and black tea or rosemary can promote hair growth or darken gray hair as an alternative to hair dye. Although there is no scientific support for these claims, it's possible that the tannins found in black or sage tea may temporarily dye gray hair.

When used for hair, proponents suggest making the tea, allowing it to cool, and spritzing it on gray hair. It is usually left in for five to ten minutes and then washed as usual. (Note that the tannin in tea can stain towels and clothing.)

High Cholesterol

Preliminary research suggests that sage tea may help reduce high cholesterol, according to a small study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in 2009.

After four weeks of regular consumption of sage tea, participants had a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an improvement in total cholesterol levels. The study also found that sage tea may help increase antioxidant activity.

Where to Buy It

Widely available for purchase online, sage tea bags can be found in many natural-foods stores. Sage tea is also found in tea blends such as blackberry sage tea.

Other Types of Sage

Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is the type of sage available in most grocery stores and used to make most commercial sage tea bags. It should not be confused with other types of sage species.

Diviner's sage (Salvia divinorum), for instance, is a plant with hallucinogenic properties that is used in some indigenous cultures for religious purposes. White sage (Salvia apiana), a plant native to Southern California and parts of Mexico, is burned as incense during indigenous purification ceremonies.

How to Make Sage Tea

To make sage tea, try adding 2 tablespoons of fresh common sage leaves (or 1 tablespoon of dried leaves) to a mug. Fill the mug with almost-boiling water. Cover and let it steep for a few minutes. Strain the tea to remove the leaves.

Possible Side Effects

Sage is commonly used in cooking, which may lead you to believe that it's completely safe. While sage is generally considered safe when used in the amounts typically found in food recipes, sage contains thujone and camphor, essential oils that have the potential to be harmful if taken orally in high enough amounts, with serious adverse effects such as seizures and organ damage.

While a widely-accepted safe upper limit has yet to be established, the EU European Medicines Agency Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products report recommends a safe upper limit of 6 mg of thujone from products used for medicinal purposes.

A preliminary study published in Chemical Central Journal suggests that three to six cups of sage tea could be consumed daily without reaching toxicological thresholds. Another study, however, suggests daily intake should be lower based on their findings that the average thujone and camphor content is 4.4 mg/L and 16.7 mg/L, respectively, in food tea and 11.3 mg/L and 25.4 mg/L in medicinal tea. The amount of thujone, camphor, and other compounds that are extracted in sage tea varies widely depending on factors that affect potency like the manufacturing process (e.g., harvesting, drying, and extraction methods) and steeping time. 

Pregnant women shouldn't take sage in excess of the amounts typically used in cooking. High intake of thujone may cause uterine contractions.

Although sage tea is sometimes recommended to reduce the breast milk supply in nursing mothers dealing with an oversupply of milk (or for those attempting to wean their baby), breastfeeding women should consult their doctors before using it due to the thujone content.

Side effects of sage include mild digestive complaints, skin rash, high or low blood pressure (depending on the species), and lowered blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. There's also concern that some varieties of sage, such as Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia), may have an estrogen-like effect. People with hormone-sensitive conditions shouldn't take sage. In large amounts, sage may interact with various medications, including sedatives, anticonvulsants, and diabetes medication.

The Takeaway

Sipping sage tea on occasion may help enhance your overall health by keeping you hydrated and increasing your antioxidant intake, however, there isn't enough research on the benefits of sage tea to use it as a treatment for any condition. Also, be careful to avoid drinking regular or excessive amounts due to the thujone (and camphor) content.

Sources:

Bommer S, Klein P, Suter A. First time proof of sage's tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes. Adv Ther. 2011 Jun;28(6):490-500. 

Mutluay Yayla E, Izgu N, Ozdemir L, Aslan Erdem S, Kartal M. Sage tea-thyme-peppermint hydrosol oral rinse reduces chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis: A randomized controlled pilot study. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Aug;27:58-64. 

Sá CM, Ramos AA, Azevedo MF, Lima CF, Fernandes-Ferreira M, Pereira-Wilson C. Sage tea drinking improves lipid profile and antioxidant defences in humans. Int J Mol Sci. 2009 Sep 9;10(9):3937-50.

Walch SG, Kuballa T, Stühlinger W, Lachenmeier DW. Determination of the biologically active flavour substances thujone and camphor in foods and medicines containing sage (Salvia officinalis L.). Chemistry Central Journal. 2011 Jul 21;5:44. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.