Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Salvia sclarea L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Clary sage, Salvia sclarea L., is an erect herbaceous biennial, native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region. Also known as clary, clear eye, eyebright, clarywort, and musoatel sage, the species is widely cultivated throughout the temperate regions of the world. Principal production centers include France, the USSR and Hungary (14.1-8). Reaching a height of 1 to 1.5 meters during flowering, the plant is characterized by broad-ovate, green, pubescent leaves, and the economically important lilac to blue-colored flowers. The name sclarea is Latin for clear or bright, in reference to the color of the flowers, and the name "clear eye" refers to the traditional use of the plant for clearing the eyes (14.1-3).

The reported life zone of clary is 7 to 19 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.7 to 2.6 meters and a soil pH of 4.8 to 7.5 (4.1-31). The plant grows in dry calcareous soils of high elevation, and is sensitive to poorly drained soils. Rich, excessively fertilized soils produce tall plants with few flowers and low yields.

The biennial is sometimes cultivated as a short-lived perennial (up to six years) by fall planting, which satisfies the flower-inducing chill requirements the first winter. Flowers are harvested at the end of the blooming period and steam-distilled immediately to minimize volatilization of essential oil. Occasionally, two harvests a year are obtained.

The yield of essential oil ranges from 0.1 to 0.34 percent of fresh material, depending upon environmental conditions and plant genotype. The essential oil, known as clary oil or muscatel sage, contains l-linalyl acetate, linalool, and nerol (8.4-4, 14.1-8). The concrete and absolute of clary sage include linalyl acetate, linalool, sclareol, and sesquiterpenes (14.1-8).

Fresh and dried leaves of clary sage have been used as flavoring agents in adulteration of wine, in substitution for hops, and in adulteration of digitalis (11.1-50). The flowers are used in herbal teas, sachets, potpourris, and beverages. The essential oil is used as a fragrance and fixative in the perfume industry. The concrete and absolute, often blended with lavender, jasmine, or other scents, are used in soaps, detergents, creams, powders, perfumes, and lotions (14.1-8). Clary sage is also grown as an ornamental.

As a medicinal plant, clary sage is known for the mucilaginous seeds used to clear the sight and reduce inflammation of the eye. The plant has reportedly been used for its antispasmodic, astringent, and carminative properties. Clary sage has been used in treatment of cancer (14.1-16). The plant displays lecithinic properties (11.1-96), and the seed contains anti-Tn-specific agglutinins (7.2-4, 7.2-5). Antispasmodic activity is probably attributable the presence of nerol (8.2-69).

Wild clary or vervain are the common terms for Salvia verbenaca L., an erect perennial, native to southern and western Europe, Israel, and Syria (14.1-4). The plant has medicinal uses similar to those of clary sage (11.1-50).

Clary sage is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as both a natural seasoning/flavoring and as a plant extract/essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997