Friday, September 28, 2012

Some Sage Advice

Today's is the second blog in an 8-day encore series on herbs first published this summer.

This one concerns sage.
I have a few varieties of sage in my garden:
common sage, golden sage, variegated sage, purple sage, 
and one of my favorites, pineapple sage.
They are new plants so still very small, 
but sage has a way of growing large and vigorous
when left to its own devices.
Perhaps that vitality is why, historically, 
sage is said to impart immortality to anyone 
who eats it or drinks tea made from it.

golden sage:
 pineapple sage:
  variegated sage:

But the real story I want to share about sage is one described by Alice M. Coats
in her book Flowers and their Histories.
Coats says this story is from the 14th-century Italian author Giovannai Boccaccio.
I'm paraphrasing Coats' report  here:
It seems a certain man was strolling with his paramour through a garden.
He reached down, plucked some sage leaves, 
rubbed them over his teeth and gums,
and promptly fell dead.
His  lady companion was questioned about his death 
and subsequently the judge and others in the court accompanied her to the garden.
She described her lover's death, then took a leaf 
and demonstrated how he had rubbed the sage across his teeth.
She too fell dead upon the ground, much to the shock of all attending.
The judge ordered that the bed of sage be torn up and burned.
And under the sage was found a toad,
who had "infected the Sage with his venomous breath."
This was a warning, then, to all who would clean their teeth 
with the nubby leaf of a sage plant.

I must say I already knew about using a sage leaf for polishing one's teeth.
My mom showed this to me when I was a child, 
and I have rubbed a leaf against my teeth whenever sage has been at hand.
Believe me, 
there is no match for the fabulous way it makes one's teeth feel 
when the tongue is run across them.
It's easy to see why the man in Boccaccio's story 
would have been unable to resist the sage leaf's charms,
especially if he had in mind stealing a kiss from his lady.
But perhaps good advice is good advice, 
regardless of the century in which it comes.
So follow this ancient admonition to "look before you leap."
Check for toads in beds of sage and  follow the wisest course.

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