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Greek Sage

Salvia triloba syn. Salvia fruticosa


Botany and Production

Salvia triloba, commonly called Greek sage, belongs to the family of Labiatae. Originating from the Dalmatian coast, S. triloba, or S. fruticosa (syn.) is spread around the Mediterranean Sea. In Crete it grows spontaneously and abundant from sea level to 1000 m altitude. Greek sage is depicted in a Minoan fresco from Knossos, dated around 1400 BC. Most emphasis throughout history has been given to S. officinalis, the species mainly used in western Europe, though it is quite possible that what has been reported on this species generally, often meant the locally used varieties anyway. Sage oils in general are produced in Spain, Hungary, and Italy.

Recently, however, S. triloba has gained raising interest because of low levels of ketones, which are now associated with a certain degree of toxicity if used excessively (CNS, cardiac crisis, convulsions, paralysis and may cause uterine spasms).

Our wild populations live in the district of Apokoronas in western Crete at an altitude of approx. 250 m. We collect young leaves of S. triloba after the flowering, in September. Our collection sites are near the village of Argyroupoli, ancient Lappa, where our good friend Giorgos has a taverna, "Chalkidio", just a bit up the road from the church square, on the left side. Besides being a very close friend, he also is a supreme cook of traditional Cretan dishes, and he has a most charming little veranda overlooking the valley with views to the sea. Here you can usually find us in September, during our breaks at midday, sometimes again in the evenings...just follow the scent of Sage...

Also this is a collection we especially enjoy, because we are near friends and the good village people of Argyroupoli during those days, and the evenings in September are mellow and soft...


A Salvia triloba population in Apokoronas, the plants in the foreground. You can see the dried withered flowerstalks and the new leaves emerging. Not the best picture, but you might get an idea of the area..

The leaves have to dry before being distilled, as they contain a substantial amount of moisture. A 4 hour distillation of leaves yields about 1% of essential oil/dry weight. The high content of 1.8 cineole, other monoterpene hydrocarbons, β-caryophyllene and several sesquiterpenes and the low amount of thujones and camphor show itself clearly in the scent of the oil. It is much more fruity and sweet- and much less pungent and camphorous than sage oils usually. Additionally, we chose our populations, because they have a significantly lesser camphor concentration than other Cretan populations we have tested.


Salvia triloba, the young leaves in early autumn

Dried S. triloba leaves


Our oil is typically composed of the following main compounds: 1.8 cineole (45%), α- and β-pinene (3% and 7%), β-myrcene (3.4%), α- and β-thujone (2.5% and 0.05%), camphor (2.6%), borneol (1.2%), α-terpineol (3.8%), trans-β-caryophyllene (6.5%), α-humulene (1.9%), viridiflorol (1.2%), terpinen-4-ol (0.58%), α-cubebene (0.83%), δ-cadinene (0.4%), γ-muurolene (0.29%), γ-terpinene (0.73%), α-thuyene (0.34%), camphene (0.66%), sabinene (0.3%), α-terpinene (0.37%), β-phellandrene (0.6%), α-terpinolene (0.26%).


No formal testing, seems to be safer to use than S. officinalis, however, as a caution, the same safety criteria as for the latter should be applied. That is avoid in pregnancy and nursing and do not use prolonged or at high doses. Nevertheless, with the low toxic ketone content in mind, it could be beneficial to experiment with this oil within the limits for S. officinalis.


Principle of Action

Since Antiquity considered a sacred, salvaging herb. Especially indicated for women’s gynecological problems. Mental stabilizer.



Beneficial in gynecological problems such as vaginae with leucorrhea (white discharge) and chronic genital catarrh. In Cretan traditional medicine, the oil is used as a cerebral sedative, in treatments of colds, bronchitis and coughs (high 1.8 cineole content) and excessive sweating. Externally used it relieves menstrual pains, stomach-aches and colic. Antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action, especially for the mouth and throat area. The have been some reports on blood sugar and blood pressure lowering activity of Greek sage.



Sage is considered a sacred herb since antiquity, a salvaging and saving herb. Its very name, Salvia, comes from the Latin "salvare", to salvage, save. Different Sage species have been used all around the world since thousands of years. Still today, the North American Indians use it to fumigate their sweat huts, to purify and facilitate the communication with the divine powers. It removes negative energy and is associated with wisdom. In the Medieval, sage was considered a 'panacea', a 'cure-all', and it has been cultivated in monastery gardens. Sage also plays a part in Muslim rituals, at weddings, births and as an incense.

The fragrance, burned in an aroma lamp alerts the senses, is tonic to the mind, sharpens the memory and is useful to have around in cases of mental fatigue, exhaustion and depression. More an intellectual fragrance, it aids in times of emotional upheavals and crises, brings clarity of mind and strength. Actually in 2003, sage (S. officinalis) was found to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease in a double blind, randomized and placebo controlled trial.


Greek sage oil has a more flowery, less pungent fragrance than common sage oil (Salvia officinalis).

Greek sage oil is generally more safe to use medicinally than common sage oil, because of a lesser concentration of ketones (thujones and camphor) in favor of a higher 1.8 cineole content. The reputation of the healing powers of sage is age old, who does not know the proverb ‘Cur moriatur homo, cui Salvia crescit in horto?’ Why should a man die, in whose garden sage is growing?..

A major pharmacological activity of sage is in the treatment of female disorders, in cases of painful menstruation, the oil diluted at 3% in a carrier oil and massaged in clockwise circles on the lower abdomen, as well as taken internally 1-2 drops in a small glass of alcohol brings rapid relief. Pregnant women should not use it, since it has abortive activity in higher doses, and nursing mothers should avoid it, unless they want to stop the flow of milk painlessly (same as above massaged on breasts and internally). Because it regulates excessive sweating, the oil is a great help for difficult menopause and can be complimented with baths (5 drops in a cupful of dairy cream added). As a washing (2 drops in 1 dl of warm water, used repeatedly) it helps in cases of vaginitis with white discharge.

Greek sage, because of its high 1.8 cineole (eucalyptol) content is also mucolytic, and can be used as a gargle (2 drops in a small amount of alcohol in a glass of water, gargle and spit out  a few times) to treat sore throats and infectious catarrh. This gargle is also helpful in case of foul smelling breath. Greek sage has an overall beneficial activity for the throat, and has become a favorite among singers, to prepare their voices and throats before a performance.


Brushing one’s teeth with a drop of sage oil added to the toothpaste strengthens the gums. People have used sage leaves to rub onto their teeth and as a mouthwash for centuries.

We have seen quite some dentists surprised over the capability of Greek sage oil to reverse periodontitis, treat gingivitis and bleeding gums. However, the oil added to the toothbrush has such astringent action on the gums, that it is important, to have your teeth cleaned well by the dentist first. Otherwise, plaque might be en-capsuled in the periodontal pockets.

To relieve headache, a drop of oil mixed with 1 dl of vinegar and applied as a compress onto the forehead is helpful.


In cosmetic preparations, sage is excellent for the treatment of oily, impure skin, cleaning and astringent it helps to regulate excessive sebum production. Mainly to be used as a tonic (recipe under cypress), or masque, less in cremes. To make a masque for older, oily skin with poor blood circulation mix 2 tablespoons of honey with 2 drops of sage oil, beat the white of an egg until stiff, mix these ingredients well with a little flour to make a paste, apply to face and neck  and leave 30 min. Remove with warm water and freshen skin with a tonic. In a tonic, sage is especially efficient for oily skin with enlarged pores. To treat foot sweat, one can mix 2 drops of sage and 2 drops of cypress oil in a small cup of milk or dairy cream and add to a foot bath.


A drop or two of sage essential oil can also be used in the kitchen, to flavor fatty meat dishes such as pork, sausages, sauces and marinades.


It is said, that some estimated 50-95% of sage dried herb sold in the US and probably elsewhere, actually is derived from S. triloba and not from S. officinalis. On the other hand, the essential oil of S. triloba is quite rare on the market.

This somehow astonishes us...

As for the essential oil, we certainly do prefer the gentler S. triloba over the more camphorous and harsh S. officinalis. However, for herbal tea we collect Salvia pomifera subsp. pomifera, another sage species, endemic to Crete and Karpathos. This species has an essential oil composition more similar to S. officinalis, in that the main components are α- and β-thujone. However, this species makes an extremely fragrant tea, a few leaves are enough...


Dried leaves of Salvia pomifera subsp. pomifera


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