Wood sage (botanical name Teucrium scorodonia) is a member of the genus Teucrium belonging to the Lamiaceae family. A perennial plant, wood sage is grown in gardens as an ornamental plant, which is also known as woodland germander.
This hairy herb grows up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 60 cm (12 inches and 24 inches). Wood sage grows straight and has branched stems. The leaves of this herb are petiolate, irregularly jagged at the margins, somewhat wrinkled and their shape varies from ovate to oblong. The flowers appear in inflorescences that are constituted by one-sided (all flowers appear to be on one side) yellowish or light green blooms, each having four stamens accompanied by violet or reddish filaments. These flowers appear in the upper leave axils and are hermaphrodite (having both sex organs) by nature. The flowers are also bilabiate (having two divided lips) and tomentose (densely covered with hair), but do not have any upper lip - similar to flowers of all other Teucrium varieties. Wood sage plants flower during the period between June and August. This species is primarily pollinated by insects belonging to the Hymenoptera species, such as wasps and bees. The plants produce copious amounts of seeds that feed numerous birds.
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"Hind heal" is one common name of wood sage and the plant has got this name from the belief that deer often consumes this herb to heal snake bites - in this case, the snake is a Martial critter. Similarly, in the Middle Ages, woodland germander was traditionally used as a strewing herb to ward off snakes from dwellings. Similar to various other Venus herbs, wood sage too has been employed to heal skin problems, particularly sores and old wounds. Wood sage is also a Venus herb because it not only belongs to the mint family, but is also effective for healing the above mentioned health problems. Many people are of the view that the smell of crushed wood sage is akin to that of sage, while there are others who assert that the plant's aroma is somewhat similar to that of garlic and when animals consume this herb, their milk has a garlicky smell. However, in no way is wood sage related either to sage or garlic.
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In a number of gardens, people use wood sage or woodland germander in the form of hedges and low borders. A number of people infuse the leaves of this herb into tea or tonic. However, not many people consume this herb.
Indigenous to Europe, the Greeks cultivated wood sage in their gardens for several centuries. Many species of this plant are extensively disseminated in the Middle East region. Some of the species have the aptitude to endure drought conditions well, as they are generally found in severe environments. Some of the species belonging to this genus are also known as "germander", but they all belong to the genus Teucrium. In addition, some plants of this genus are aesthetically more desirable compared to others. The two most common species of the ornamental germander that are often cultivated in gardens include the wall germander and woodland germander.
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Similar to all other plants belonging to the mint family, wood sage also has squared stems and the plant is extremely fragrant. This herb has a tendency to develop into a shrub form. Germander produces deep green leaves, with irregular teeth that appear opposite to each other on the stem. Provided the climatic conditions are not extremely chilly and the plants are pruned on a regular basis, wood sage will keep flowering till late fall. Moreover, trimming the plants at regular intervals also helps the plants to remain dense and green throughout the year.
Wood sage plants have an inclination to grow randomly - they spread out extensively and soon get out of hand. Regular pruning is essential to control their growth. However, the good thing about the plants is that they develop to shape well and, hence, many use these plants as hedges and borders in their gardens. As the plants establish themselves very rapidly and appear to be desirable irrespective of whether they are in bloom or not, wood sage can also be cultivated in the knot gardens that were prevalent in olden days. If you so desire, you may grow other plants in your garden with a view to coordinate their color with the wood sage flowers. Alternately, if you prefer more greenery in your garden, you may also shear the flowers of germanders before they open up completely.
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Several gardeners prefer to use wood sage in the form of a border in their herb gardens, as this plant has a sweet aroma and it also grows to form a wonderful shape. This herb also possesses some therapeutic properties and, therefore, can also be employed in the form of a medicinal or edible herb. However, it is important to note that when taken in excessive dosage, wood sage plants may prove to be toxic. Traditionally, germanders have been used for several thousand years to treat gout and also as a food for weight gain. Usually, only the leaves of this herb are used for medicinal and edible purposes. The stems and flowers are allowed to remain untouched. Like in the instance of any other therapeutic herb, it is advisable that you check with your physician before you start using wood sage either for medicinal or consumption purpose.
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Wood sage possesses astringent, alternative, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic, tonic, emmenagogue and vulnerary properties and is used for treating a number of health disorders. The herb is generally harvested during July and you may dry out the whole herb for use when needed. Usually, this herb is employed in the form of a domestic remedy to treat fevers, ailments related to the blood, skin complaints, cold and others. Wood sage is an excellent appetizer and is believed to possess the same tonic attributes as the gentian root.
Apart from promoting appetite, wood sage is excellent in the form of a topical wash for cleansing old sores, persistent ulcers, boils, and swellings. This herb has been found to be more effective when used together with chickweed.
Conventionally, wood sage has been employed for treating sore throat, fevers, colds, and quinsy, palsy, bladder and kidney problems. This herb is also known to augment urine flow and menstrual discharge.
When used fresh and in green state along with ragwort and comfrey, the combined herbs make a wonderful poultice for healing inflammation or old wounds in all areas of the body. All the three herbs are said to be effective in eliminating tumours from the hand, when physicians rule out treatment with medications and advice surgery.
In addition to its therapeutic uses, wood sage also has a number of culinary uses. The taste as well as flavour of this herb is similar to that of hops. In some places, people use the infusion prepared with the leaves and flowers of wood sage as a hops substitute to add essence to beers. In fact, it is believed to clear beer faster compared to hops. However, unlike hops, wood sage imparts excessive color to beers.
Earlier, wood sage was used to form a constituent of a formula for bitters in equal proportions with woodland germander, wormwood and lesser centaury (botanical name Centaurium pulchellum, which is a cousin of bitter gentians). In fact, this blend is awfully bitter.
Woodland germander or wood sage is a perennially growing herb that survives for a long period when grown in acidic to somewhat alkaline soils having a proper drainage system. This herb is found growing naturally in various habitats, counting woodlands, scrubs, heaths, dunes and hedgerows. Notwithstanding its name, woodland germander or wood sage can tolerate shade only to some extent, precisely speaking very fairly. In fact, this plant is seldom found growing in closed canopies or in profound woodlands. In addition, wood sage is also very sensitive to grazing (this plant is a favourite feed for sheep, but cows do not like it much) as well as trampling. Hence, these plants are usually not found in pastures and meadows. However, in places where this plant is found to be growing naturally, it can be frequently seen forming widespread patches through rhizomatous growth. It spreads very fast by means of its rapidly spreading rhizomes. Bees, especially bumblebees and honey bees, find wood sage to be extremely attractive.
Wood sage is generally propagated by its seeds, which are ideally sown in a cold frame during spring. The seeds need to be covered lightly with soil after sowing. When the seedlings have grown large enough for handling, you should prick them out cautiously and plant them in separate containers. The young plants may be transplanted outdoors in their permanent position of growth during the summer, provided they have grown sufficiently large. In case, the growth of the plants is not satisfactory, you may continue growing the young plants in a cold frame in a greenhouse and preferably in a semi-shaded place till the plants start growing robustly.
Alternately, wood sage may also be propagated by means of root division, which should ideally be undertaken during the beginning of spring. You can plant the relatively large root divisions directly into their permanent place outdoors. However, it is advisable that you plant the smaller root divisions in pots or containers and grow them in a cold frame or a greenhouse in semi-shaded locales till they start growing well. You may plant them outside in their permanent positions during the summer or in the subsequent spring.
It is also possible to propagate sage wood from semi-ripe wood cuttings. Preferably, the cuttings should be done during July-August and sown in a frame for best results.
The standard dosage of wood sage is half to one teaspoon of the plant's leaf extract taken every day.
Unfortunately, not much information regarding the safety of using wood sage or the potential adverse effects it might cause is available. Scientists are still not sure regarding the use of this herb by pregnant women or nursing mothers. In order to remain safe, it is advised that women should stay away from wood sage during pregnancy and while breast feeding.
Wood sage is a very good bitter and when used in conjunction with ragwort and comfrey, it has a very free and positive effect on the bladder.