Anyone familiar with the world of psychoactive and hallucinogenic drugs – even if just from watching TV and movies – has heard of salvia.
It is an herb which has been used for centuries by some Indian tribes in Mexico to produce religious visions among users, and has more recently become a somewhat-popular recreational drug among young people in America and other nations. Salvia is illegal in some states, but still legal or only lightly-regulated in others.
But “salvia” is simply the name commonly used for this substance. It’s actually the product of a plant that’s only one member of the salvia genus, salvia divinorum. There are other salvia plants which produce completely legal substances, and at least one of them may be on your kitchen shelves.
Salvia officinalis is a shrub whose leaves are a cooking herb that’s a staple used for cooking; most people are familiar with (or have used) ground or fresh sage leaves, also known as common sage. And sage honey, made from the nectar of salvia officinalis or several other types of salvia, is one of the more common monofloral (produced from a single plants species) types of honey in America, although some varieties are rather rare.
Types and Uses of Sage Honey
We’ve established the general source of sage honey. But that doesn’t mean all sage plants or sage honey are the same, since there are a number of varieties of the salvia plant.
The most popular is black sage honey, which is harvested from black button sage plants (salvia mellifera) that grow naturally along the central California coast and in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The white sage (salvia apiana) is found primarily in Southern California, and its nectar is used to produce white sage honey. And the purple sage (salvia leucophylla) grows mostly in Texas but can be found across the Southwest, and produces – as you’d expect – purple sage honey.
These honeys are produced from both cultivated gardens and wild plants. Harvesting bee pollen from the plants in the California mountains can be quite a beekeeping challenging, though, as many beekeepers bring their honeybees a long distance to reach the plants, and mountain plants only bloom once every few years, after heavy spring rains followed by a dry, cool flowering period. For that reason, a large amount of black sage honey comes from easier-to-access black button sage plants growing along the coast
Most varieties of sage honey range between golden amber and very light amber in color, although some have a greenish-yellow color depending on their source plants. Purple sage honey is the exception, with a very dark purple color that can border on black. All sage honeys have a unique, sweet aroma.
Even though their tastes vary slightly, you’ll find that all varieties of sage honey have a delicate yet deep, sweet flavor with a slight and pleasant floral aftertaste and a silky, creamy texture. This honey has a high fructose content, meaning it may be several years before it crystallizes on the shelf when kept at room temperature. And like orange blossom honey, wildflower and Tupelo honey it has a low moisture content, making it thick and more suitable to spreading than most other, gooey honey varieties.
Sage honey’s delicious, extremely sweet honey flavor makes it one of the best honeys to match with savory dishes and strong cheeses, and to use as an ingredient in rich barbeque sauces and glazes. It’s nearly perfect when mixed with kefir or peanut butter, and is also a great choice for inclusion in most honey recipes or as a baking substitute for sugar (remember, ¾ cup of honey = one cup of sugar).
Other suggestions: spreading it on breads and muffins (try it on sourdough bread!), or taking a spoonful right from the container as a quick energy boost. It’s also an outstanding sweetener to use for herbal teas. If you give it a try it in the kitchen, you’re likely to find it quickly becoming one of your favorite honeys.
Nutritional and Health Benefits of Sage Honey
At 17 grams of carbohydrates and about 60 calories, sage honey is on a par with most other types of honey when it comes to nutritional value. It’s a better choice than sugar and fine when used appropriately, but a potential belly buster when it comes to dieting or healthy eating patterns. There are very slight levels of minerals and vitamins in sage honey, but not enough to make it a primary source of beneficial nutrients.
Sage honey, like most varieties, is a good source of the antioxidants that fight the harmful effects of free radicals in the body, thereby slowing or preventing the development of serious illness like heart disease and cancer. It also has a high concentration of pre- and probiotics, meaning it’s effective in helping digestion and treating problems in the gastrointestinal tract.
This honey is often used as a natural remedy for colds and flu, because its antibacterial properties fight the cause of the illnesses and its smooth texture helps with sore throats and coughs. In fact, sage honey is one of the most commonly-used varietals for this purpose, because it also acts as both an anti-inflammatory to calm the bronchial passages and an expectorant to help clear excess mucus.
Sage honey is also, like many honey varietals like manuka, an effective topical antiseptic treatment to help with wound healing and preventing those wounds from becoming infected.
All of these benefits are impressive, but only can be obtained by consuming raw sage honey. The reason is simple: many honey vendors heavily process their product in order to improve its appearance on store shelves and slow down its crystallization (which isn’t really necessary with sage honey). But when processors take unfiltered raw honey, and then pasteurize it and heavily filter it, they remove the pollen and “bee glue” (propolis) that are the ingredients that provide honey’s inherent health benefits.
You’re less likely to find processed sage honey than processed clover honey, since sage honey is more often sold directly by beekeepers or organic sources than in grocery stores – but it’s definitely something to watch for when you decide to give this exceptional honey a try.