Sage for the Ages

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We’re sometimes hard-pressed to find healthy dishes at the Thanksgiving table. The artichoke dip with mayo and cream cheese tips the needle for saturated fat–ditto for the deep-fried Turkey. Pumpkin Pie? Pecan Pie? Enough said. And while we wouldn’t usually consider the classic Thanksgiving dressing a reprieve from the onslaught of heavy fare, there is one key ingredient that will tip the wellness scale in your favor.

Among the usual suspects of parsley, rosemary, and thyme, the hallowed sage leaf is a holiday panacea. Don’t let the often-applied term “common sage” deceive you. This herb is anything but common in its ability to address general health issues. In fact, sage has one of the most renowned histories among medicinal herbs. The Greeks and Romans prized it for its numerous healing properties. The Egyptians used sage for fertility.

Its scientific name is Salvia officinalis, and the herb is often regarded as a sister herb to rosemary and mint. Sage does have obvious differences, though. It’s a short evergreen shrub of sorts, with woody stems and purple or blue edible flowers, which bloom in summer. This genus contains many types of sage, including Clary sage, Lyre leaf sage, White sage, Silver sage, Azure Blue sage and Purple sage. The plant is native to Mediterranean countries, but it will thrive in any dry climate.

The Honest Weight bulk herb aisle carries four different types of sage: whole white sage leaf; rubbed organic sage; cut / sifted organic sage; and conventional ground sage. The Wellness Department also sells white sage “incense” bundles for burning. White sage leaves are burned in ceremonies for cleansing, with the belief that the incense eliminates negative thought patterns and spirits. Keep this in mind before (or after) the extended family arrives to the Thanksgiving dinner table. You will also find fresh sage in the Produce Department. And for gardeners, the Plants Department offers sage plants, which work well as a perennial.

Today, sage is used for any number of health issues. Similar to its sister herbs, sage contains an array of oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, including rosmarinic acid, named after rosemary. All of these beneficial compounds can interact to enhance brain function, especially memory. Sage leaf also has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sage’s potency also deserves a note of caution, however, as it can slow milk production in nursing mothers.

Surely, fresh sage leaf is not something any of us are going to start chewing on tomorrow. So, what are some of the ways we can absorb sage’s many health benefits? While not very common among herbal teas, sage leaf can be infused as a remedy for an overtaxed nervous system. Sage leaf is far tastier, however, when it is added to food. Consider tossing sage leaf with cooked navy beans, olive oil and garlic for something similar to a bruschetta mix. It works well as a topping for white pizza, and as added flavor for an omelet or frittata. Martha Moscowitz, Assistant Manager in Honest Weight’s Bulk Department, suggests frying sage leaves in olive oil to a crispy finish and then using them as a topping over potatoes or any other savory dish.

And for anyone who is still taking the time to make homemade stuffing for Thanksgiving, the following recipe allows for a generous amount of this age-old herb.

Sage Stuffing

Ingredients (note that there are infinite variations on this recipe—diced apple, dried fruit, and additional spices such as fresh thyme also work very well here):
1-l ½ lbs crusty bread
1 cup walnuts or pecans
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 stick butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 cups chicken broth, depending on preferred level of moistness

Instructions

1. Toast the Bread and Nuts: Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the bread into small cubes, removing the crusts if desired, and divide between two baking sheets. Toast for 10 minutes. Stir the bread cubes and add the chopped nuts. Continue toasting until the bread is completely dry and the walnuts are toasted, another 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
2. Cook the Vegetables: Cook the onions in olive oil or butter with a sprinkle of salt, until softened. Add celery and continue cooking until the celery is softened. Add sage, parsley, cook another 1-3 minutes.
3. Combine toasted bread, nuts, vegetables and herbs, using any kitchen prep bowl. Whisk eggs and pour over stuffing, add a touch of salt and mix until coated. Add melted butter, mix again.
4. Transfer to baking dish. Add desired level of stock.
5. Bake. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until crispy.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles that highlights Honest Weight’s bulk herb section. Look for upcoming pieces on turmeric, schisandra berry, and others in the months ahead.

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Thomas Washington is Head Librarian at the Albany Academy for Girls. He has been a Co-op member since relocating to Albany from Washington, DC in 2015.