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  • Jovita Turan

A scented and valuable herb: Clary sage (Salvia sclarea L.)

By Jovita Turan, March 7, 2022

Clary sage (Salvia sclarea L.) is an herbaceous plant belonging to Lamiaceae family that is one of the most common Salvia species. The plants can have biennial or short-lived perennial growth habits and it is native to the northern Mediterranean Basin and some parts of North Africa and Central Asia.

The herb grows best in sunny and warm growing sites, with well-drained or stony soils that are usually calcareous. However, the plant is adapted to grow in diverse soil and climatic conditions and it is tolerant to heavy metals

Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The plant can grow up to 50 – 150 cm in height with an inflorescence of 46-60 cm. The stems are with 4 angles and are covered by hairs. The blossom of clary sage is diverse and spectacular. The flowers can be found from mauve to lilac and from white to pink that are grown in a spike-like inflorescence that is covered in glandular hairs. The leaves are large, roughly textured, grown as grey-green rosettes that are covered with glandular hairs.


The herb is cultivated worldwide due to its essential oils and some other perfumery products that can be used in the pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetics industries.

The main components of the essential oil of the herb are oxygenated monoterpenoids, monoterpenoid hydrocarbon, and small amounts of oxygenated sesquiterpenoids and sesquiterpenoid hydrocarbons.

The essential oils mainly contain bioactive compounds such as linalool, linalyl acetate, geraniol, geranyl acetate, terpineol, nerol, neryl acetate, and sclareol. Sclareol is has a high value in the fragrance industry as it is used in the synthesis of Ambrox that is an essential component of amber-based fragrances.


The essential oil has positive effects on inhalations, baths, massages, and compresses, sustaining normal and aging skin, and has anti-dandruff properties. In aromatherapy, it relieves anxiety and fear, and it helps with insomnia because of terpene alcohol linalool, which is found in clary sage, as the compound that has sedative therapeutic effects.

The oils and extracts of the herb are widely used as a medicine due to its analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Aqueous extracts were used to treat several digestive disorders.

The essential oil of Clary sage

In Sardinian traditional medicine, to treat a sore throat, the leaves of clary sage were dipped in heated olive oil, wrapped in paper, applied to the neck in a silk scarf, and gently massaged.

Clary sage’s essential oil is used as a flavor in beverages (it provides Muscat flavoring for vermouths, wines, and liqueurs) and in cigarettes.

The plant is melliferous and attracts pollinators such as the violet carpenter bee (Xylocopa violacea (Linnaeus, 1758)) and the broad-bordered bee hawk-moth (Hemaris fuciformis (Linnaeus, 1758)).

The name Salvia is derived from the Latin “salvare” meaning “to heal or to be safe and unharmed”, which sums up the folkloric belief of its “magical” therapeutic properties for many kinds of ailments and its popularity in traditional medicine. ‘


  • Grigoriadou, K., Trikka, F. A., Tsoktouridis, G., Krigas, N., Sarropoulou, V., Papanastasi, K., ... & Makris, A. M. (2020). Μicropropagation and cultivation of Salvia sclarea for essential oil and sclareol production in northern Greece. In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology-Plant, 56(1), 51-59.

  • Erişen, S., Kurt-Gür, G., & Servi, H. (2020). In vitro propagation of Salvia sclarea L. by meta-Topolin, and assessment of genetic stability and secondary metabolite profiling of micropropagated plants. Industrial Crops and Products, 157, 112892.

  • Peana, A. T., & Moretti, M. D. (2002). Pharmacological activities and applications of Salvia sclarea and Salvia desoleana essential oils. In Studies in natural products chemistry (Vol. 26, pp. 391-423). Elsevier.

  • Wu, Y. B., Ni, Z. Y., Shi, Q. W., Dong, M., Kiyota, H., Gu, Y. C., & Cong, B. (2012). Constituents from Salvia species and their biological activities. Chemical Reviews, 112(11), 5967-6026.


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